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A Brief History of Illegal Gambling In Ocean City
Written By: Newt Weaver
*Click images below to view larger versions.
 A Brief History of Illegal Gambling In Ocean City
Little Duke ten cent model, made by Jennings in 1933.
 A Brief History of Illegal Gambling In Ocean City
Slot Diamond Original
    Beginning in 1942 the Office of Price Administration was formed in order to prevent runaway inflation and act as an enforcement arm to bar folks from hoarding certain consumer goods and gouging patrons during World War II. The OPA instituted price freezes on prepared restaurant food and beverages as well as establishing guidelines for rationing consumer products. Owners of places where food was sold and drinks consumed had to roll-back prices to pre-World War II levels. Then they were required to file their price menus by April. These restrictions only encouraged area restaurants and local pubs to put slots in their respective businesses creating more revenue.
    Local favorites were Raynes on Dorchester Street, City Lunch  on Wicomico Street, and The Avenue (now known as Melvin’s Steakhouse) located on Philadelphia Avenue and First Street, owned by Bill Ruark.  Each eatery had several slots located in back rooms while serving grilled sandwiches, soups, and other hot-plate specials with beer and mixed drinks to dining patrons out front.
    By the end of World War II, gambling spots were conveniently located throughout Ocean City and they had expanded into Worcester County as well. Most of these places had slot machines accompanied by a race track bookie, a stable tout (one who had fair knowledge or privileged information on what horses were favored to win each race and perhaps influence the odds), as well as a few poker and craps tables privately stored in a back room.
    One of the more successful bookies  was Ed Davis whose sister, Elizabeth Davis, married future state’s attorney John L. Jack  Sanford, Jr.  Davis was also a shrewd entrepreneur who went into business with banker Levin Davidson LD Lynch to form the Davis & Lynch Fish Company. Both men had previously lost fish camp companies during the August hurricane of 1933 which created the inlet.
    This glaring epidemic of illegal gambling worried the powers that be and a change of attitude from blind acceptance to selective county enforcement quickly followed. The authorities feared that unregulated betting would ultimately lead to bad decisions of its citizenry and encourage organized criminal activities.
    Complaints from irate neighborhoods as well as members from the Methodist Church would often reach the desk of the County Sheriff while more serious incidents went directly to the State’s Attorney’s Office.  They usually consisted of unlicensed businesses selling alcohol after hours, on Sundays and to under-aged individuals. These allegations opened the doors for spot-checking on the violators as well as a means to assemble information on the gambling situation inside. Eventually the intelligence gathered would lead to organized raids being launched in order to stem the tide of illegal gambling in the guise of enforcing the state’s strict codes on alcohol sales and consumption.
    In March 1945, William Green Kerbin, Jr., Worcester County State’s Attorney, led a group called the flying squad consisting of Worcester County Sheriff Edwin D. Ned  Lynch (younger brother to LD Lynch), State Trooper Edwin D. McGee, and local police officer Arthur Lee Lynch and nephew to Sheriff Ned Lynch. This group, acting on secret disclosures, instituted specific raids and confiscated seven slot machines from thirteen stores in the Berlin area. Surprisingly, authorities in Berlin in 1933 had declared that Berlin was free of all slots and cleared of forces that promoted that type of illegal activity.  
    Occasionally, tips about such raids would light up on a telephone operator’s switchboard immediately informing local shop owners to hide the slots. Policy being, out of sight out of mind. Trooper McGee would often be seen leading the group on his brown Maryland State Trooper motorcycle.
    Gambling accusations and follow-up investigations influenced local elections. The Ocean City election of 1944 saw Daniel W. Trimper, Jr. defeating incumbent Clifford Potts Cropper for mayor while John B. Lynch, Sr., Rudolph D. Dolle, and Crawford Savage replaced E. Raymond Bounds, Harman Parsons, and Harold Rayne on the city council.  The next year Josiah Joe Savage replaced Lemuel J. Cropper as police chief. Cropper had served in that office from 1934-44.  
    On the county level in 1946, Franklin R. Upshur had replaced William G. Kerbin, Jr. as Worcester County State’s Attorney and Arthur W. Duer, a well-known Snow Hill barber, became the new Worcester County Sheriff over Edwin Ned Lynch.  A complete changing of the guard had taken place and it marked the beginning of the end of gambling in the county, or so it seems.
    Despite the July 17, 1946 raid on Rick’s Raft, where over 50 patrons were apprehended, gambling continued to run unabated throughout the resort.
    Even though owners Charlie Rickards and six others were later fined $250.00 each for operating a dice game, there seemed to be no deterrent in preventing others from participating in similar endeavors. The court under Judge James B. Robins also ordered Sheriff Edwin Ned Lynch to return $5,500.00 seized during this raid to Adam J. Pasela, one of the game operators.
    A little over a year later, The Baltimore Sun published a scathing letter along with a very critical story about unlicensed dealers selling alcohol and the prevalence of slot machines, pin wheels and bingo parlors going full tilt in Ocean City. The report so angered Mayor Trimper that he walked out in the middle of a council session. It also delayed by a week Sheriff Duer’s boardwalk raid which was conducted by a party of 15 deputies that netted 16 slot machines. The July 28, 1947 action resulted in $50.00 fines for ten slot machine operators including Mrs. Evelyn Adams, daughter of councilman Rudolph Dolle and Granville Trimper, brother to the mayor Daniel Trimper, Jr.
    Sheriff Duer ran another raid a few days later and found Stacey Ludlum running an illegal machine at his Hotel Essex. He also visited 20 other establishments that evening and discovered that the slots had all mysteriously disappeared. Ludlum pleaded guilty and paid the $50.00 fine.
    All this came on the heels of a May 1947 tax bill which would have taxed pinball machines, bingo joints, billiard halls, and slots. Governor William Preston Lane vetoed the controversial bill.
    Raids were executed in 1948 with mixed results. On June 14th a raid was run on three boardwalk hotels resulting in the seizure of several slot machines. It was led by Deputy Sheriff Wallace R. Carmean. Both Carmean and Sheriff Duer later refused comment. Duer was particularly upset as he wasn’t informed of the raid. Neither was Josiah Joe Savage, police chief of Ocean City. As a result, Worcester County State’s Attorney Franklin Upshur then preferred no charges against anyone! Then on September 1st the 21-Club  was raided. More than $2,600 was confiscated as well as a large quantity of alcohol. The raid was led by Sheriff Duer and Deputy Sheriff Simon Small. Four persons were being held on gambling charges. The  21-Club was located, according to The Frederick Post, about 8 miles north from Ocean City proper and under county supervision.
    A grand jury was convened in Snow Hill after a November 5th edition of the weekly Snow Hill Democratic Messenger published a front page editorial claiming that crime and gambling were rampant in the county. Called to testify was the editor, Jack Culver, Ocean City’s newly elected councilman Hugh Thomas Cropper, Jr., and Berlin police chief Elmer C. Shockley.
    With continuing reports of illegal activities and incidents rising, local officials were feeling the pressure from the public to get serious about crime. One deputy sheriff took this message to heart as he conducted back-to-back raids on Rick’s Raft  in 1949. The May 7th raid on a Saturday afternoon netted 30 patrons, one slot machine, $57.00 in cash, and a small pile of race betting slips. On June 4th Deputy Sheriff Vincent King Brittingham again raided the popular night spot taking into custody 11 adults and confiscating 86 betting slips and $325 in cash. Frank Darrow, an employee of the club, was fined $200 on the first raid and then Magistrate Fred Culver fined him $500 for the second time and directed Darrow not to appear before him again on the charge of bookmaking and running gambling tables!
    In fact, Deputy Sheriff Brittingham had done such a fine job that Sheriff Duer dismissed him, relieving  him of his duties.  Duer  replaced his chief deputy with Walter S. Ringler of Bishopville. This didn’t sit well with Brittingham and he swore out a warrant on his superior claiming corrupt failure to perform his duties (to stop illegal gambling). Once again, Duer was not notified of Britttingham’s repeated raids on  Rick’s Raft. The warrant charges that Sheriff Duer between May 1, 1948 and July 21, 1949 willfully disregarded his duties and violated the trust imposed on him by the people of Worcester County. Magistrate Horace G. Payne washed his hands of the warrant as he couldn’t find anyone to serve it on Sheriff Duer.
    With the pressure of a warrant listing serious charges, Sheriff Duer, along with deputies Walter Ringler and Solomon Small, visited more than 30 Ocean City businesses on August 11.  The officers warned the owners and managers that all games which paid off in cash must be removed immediately. All illegal gambling must go, Sheriff Duer declared.
    According to The Morning Herald of Hagerstown, Maryland, Duer’s hearing on the warrant was moved to the Ocean City court of magistrate James Robbins. No date had been set for the hearing.
    The season of 1950 marked the end of innocence in Ocean City according to local historian George M. Hurley. It began with a well planned armed robbery of none other than  Rick’s Raft. On January 4, two well-armed masked men robbed the club of $2,500.00 after barricading manager Frank Darrow and employee Jack Mariano in the washroom. The thieves got away with several bags of silver dollars and wads of cash. Later that year there was a shooting at the Pier Ballroom.
    In 1950 Ocean City police chief Josiah Savage was replaced by Walter Squires, a veteran of the Wilmington, Delaware Police Department.
    With Sheriff Duer under suspicion, Edwin Ned Lynch easily won the election as Worcester County Sheriff in 1950. John L. Jack  Sanford, Jr. became the next State’s Attorney.  Sanford, a devout Catholic, now claimed he had a mandate to end all gambling not only in Ocean City but also in the rest of the county.  He called it his clean-up campaign. Sanford even took on the Catholic Church by claiming that bingo parlors, especially those run by charities and having cash payments, were illegal and they must be terminated or risk prosecution. Several church officials were incensed by his comments.
    By the end of 1951 all slot machines and other forms of gambling had vanished from Ocean City proper. Now, roughly 60 years later, gambling has returned to the area. The legal slots at Ocean Downs have generated more than $3 million dollars in its first month of operation!
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