The Mapes casino in Reno opened just in time for Christmas parties in 1947, just two years after Mrs. Charles Mapes Sr. and her son, Charles Mapes Jr., first announced their plans to build the ten-story, 250- room hotel.
At 4:30pm the panoramic-view Sky Room opened on the top floor with a cocktail party, followed by a supper buffet on the mezzanine level at the stately price of $3 per person. The dinner was so popular the dining didn’t conclude until after midnight!
Downstairs in the bar and casino, crowds continued all night and morning as players plunked their coins into the sixty-six slot machines and tried their luck at the table. Dealers worked long hours as the one-dozen games seemed to have play that never ended. There were three craps tables, three roulette tables, and six blackjack tables in action, and while the casino did grow slightly in the years to come, the comfy confines prohibited any serious expansion.
Keno was added for casino guests soon after the grand opening and high rollers were also accommodated with special tables and limits found nightly in the Sky Room. The special casino had its own chips made of smooth clay with brass inlays that fit well with the ambiance of the Sky Room.
The opening of the Mapes ushered into existence a new look for Reno – one of sophistication and style – that included regular, big-name entertainment, and more big-money play at the city’s casinos. While Reno hotel-casinos like the Riverside (just across the Truckee River from the Mapes) and the Golden brought in more and more Hollywood entertainment for their guests, the Mapes continued to lead the way.
Just a few of the acts that played the Mapes were Liberace, the Will Mastin Trio (featuring Sammy Davis, Jr.), Mae West, Milton Berle, and Judy Garland. Big-name acts brought big money players, and the casino was run profitably by Bernie Einstoss, Grank Grannis, Leo Kind, and Lou Wertheimer. Lou’s brother, Mert, ran the casino at the Riverside at the same time. In 1955, the brothers purchased the Riverside hotel from George Wingfield after the gaming license at the Mapes was transferred to Charles Mapes.
However, in typical Reno fashion, questions about ties to organized crime or hidden interests were dealt with in discrete fashion. Bill Pechart, who had previously been denied a gaming license, was found regularly on the Mapes casino floor and Charles Mapes was questioned about his role at the casino.
Mapes explained that he was “watching the money” in exchange for $35 a day, a suite in the hotel, and $1,000 in cash for expenses. Since Pechart was unable to obtain a state gaming license, he took to sitting in his car on Virginia Street and taking hourly reports from the casino’s supervisors. He continued in this strange role, still running the casino and even handling employment decisions until the state threatened Charles Mapes with the loss of his own gaming license. Strangely enough, the state did allow Pechart to be licensed as the casino credit manager and he was given full rein of the casino two years later.
The Mapes casino and hotel did great business in the 1960’s, attracting a wide crowd of players like Ann Margret, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Eli Wallach, and even Virginia Hill, who liked to play craps with whoever her current gangster boyfriend was after “Bugsy” Siegel was killed the same year the Mapes opened.
The Mapes continued as a popular casino and hotel until the 1970’s when newer, larger casinos like the MGM and Sahara Reno opened. In the diminished role of second-fiddle, the casino struggled to meet overhead and was eventually closed December 17, 1983, 35-years to the day after it was opened.