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By Jane Feehan
Illegal gambling flourished in Broward County in the 1930s and 40s, thanks to the hands-off policies of Broward County Sheriff Walter Reid Clark.
Claiming (perhaps falsely) to be one of the first children in the county to be born of a founding family, Clark believed the people of South Florida wanted gambling. Clark ignored mob betting activities at the Plantation Resort, Colonial Inn (not to be confused with the hotel of the same name in Miami), the It Club, and other establishments. He also operated, along with his brother Deputy Sheriff Robert Clark, the Broward Novelty Company, a bolita and slot machine enterprise that netted $750,000 in operations from 1945 to 1947.
Tables were turned on Clark by U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver. The crusading senator, a presidential hopeful, presided over hearings in 1950 on national crime. Some of those hearings held in Miami in July that year highlighted activities and shady affiliations (Meyer Lansky, Jake Lansky, Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo) of Walter Clark. A few days after the proceedings, Florida Governor Fuller Warren suspended the Broward sheriff who, to this day, holds the longest tenure of any sheriff of the county (1931-1939, 1941-1950).
Clark, his brother, and others in Broward were indicted but never convicted. The sheriff died a few months after the trial (April 1951) from leukemia. The curtain dropped on open gambling in Broward County by 1951 but not before it made the Clark brothers wealthy and earned millions for organized crime. Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.
For more on the Clarks, see:
Miami News, Aug. 19, 1950 p. 17.
Miami News, July 22, 1950 p. 26.
Gillis, Susan. Fort Lauderdale, The Venice of America. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Broward history, gambling in South Florida in the 1940s, gambling in Broward County during the 1940s, organized crime in South Florida,