Category Archives: History

A New Look At Old Las Vegas

A Las Vegas comedian/entertainer explores the colorful life of Willie Martello and his El Ray Club.

The King of Casinos: Willie Martello and the El Rey Club

The King of Casinos: Willie Martello and the El Rey Club

This tongue-in-cheek look at a little known chapter of Nevada history is meticulously researched and chock full of first-person accounts from Willie Martello’s family, friends and business associates. The author’s treatment of his subject is even handed and gives us a good sense of the charming, funny guy whose Big Plans for the desert town of Searchlight, NV crumbled under their own grandiosity. Andy Martello ( no relation to Willie!), a collector of memorabilia, stories, and friends is supremely present in his work. The story of how he came to write the book–and the challenges he faced completing it–are as fascinating as the main tale. He’s honest about his struggles with his material and the struggle to find a balance between his role as “objective” chronicler of history and a human being who truly admires his subject and has an emotional stake in rehabilitating the guy’s image.

And Willie Martello had his issues. Funny thing is the prostitutes (far fewer than you’d imagine) and financial recklessness (if this fellow had soundly reinvested a FRACTION of the money that came his way <>…) didn’t leave me with a negative impression of this larger-than-life character. There’s a certain sweetness and optimism that makes up for all of his excesses. Except for the burros. Nothing funny about selling wild creatures (under BLM protection, no less) to some anonymous guy on his way to Idaho. He might have ground them up for dog food for all anyone knows. Yes, the burro incident ticked me off. Were Willie still around, I’d go over to his assisted living facility and tell him exactly (and with plenty of profanity) what I think about that one.

Burro-gate aside, however, I like the Willie Martello I met in KING OF CASINOS, and consider his story a one-of-a-kind addition to the Nevada historical record