The Wizard of Casin-OZ: The Story of Casino Stan Wertheimer, Pool Manager and Political Activist
By Jonathan Wertheimer
October 6, 2022
It's been 10 years since the passing of my father Casino Stan Wertheimer. I've written several memorial letters since his passing but never sent them out as I just wanted his memory to rest in peace. He would have been 79 years old now. His bedroom, furnished with the same desk, dresser and bed he had as a boy in Newark, New Jersey sits frozen in time. I wanted to write a bit about my father as I know he would want to be remembered and not forgotten.
Born in 1943 in Newark, New Jersey he grew up with the Doo Wop sounds of the 50's which he always loved. He was a camp counselor in his youth and worked at a used car lot cleaning and washing cars. He got into physical fitness in his teens and aspired to be a physical education teacher. His mother and father moved down to Florida with him in 1961 after he finished High School. In Newark, his parents had a Live Chicken Market but after moving to Hollywood opened up a little Shoe Store on Hollywood's Young Circle. My father got into the University of Miami and was on the track team but once he started working on Miami Beach as a pool boy he became too distracted and studying wasn't his top priority. He worked at several small motels on Sunny Isles Beach "Motel Row" until the Newport Resort Motel opened up. It was the biggest hotel on Motel Row at the time and he started as Assistant Pool Manager. After a year or so, he became the Pool Manager and in total worked at the Newport for 14 years. He loved working on the beach, he loved the sun and he was great with the people! Many would come back and stay at the Newport just because he was there. The Newport at the time was the place to be on Sunny Isles Beach and my father couldn't have been happier. They attracted the local crowd, out of state tourists and great entertainers. He ran a great pool deck and the weekends were packed as they offered Great Packages which included: Daytime Weenie Roasts and Evening Chicken Dinners ensuring that the guests left satisfied. He worked 7 days a week and late nights on the weekends.
Motel Row was very exciting in the 70's and the workers from different motels all knew one another. They all respected him for being able to work for Irving Pollack, a tough and unrelenting manager. In 1980 after 9 years of asking for a raise and being turned down, my father finally stood up for himself and gave his 2 weeks notice. Pollack, who knew my father's weakness (he loved the Newport and didn't want to leave) was ready when my father gave his notice telling him "I'll match whatever Lifter is offering you" but it was too late my father told him. Bennett Lifter owned the Marco Polo on the north side of Motel Row and had been after my father for several years. Before leaving the Newport Motel, he worked on the first Casino Petition Drive in 1979. Things were changing on Motel Row and with inflation, the Gas Crisis of the late 70’s, tourism was falling and he wanted the excitement and the "heyday" that he experienced on Motel Row back. Tourists were now going from Disney World passing though Miami only to hop on a cruise to the Bahamas. The small motels on Sunny Isles Beach would become outdated and without tourism there wasn't any money for upgrading. The hotel workers were rallied up to support Casino "gambling" as a way to get those tourists back. He collected petitions but the 1979 run for Casinos would fail. The Anti-Casino groups would argue Casinos would bring crime, the mob and it worked.
It was 1986, tourism was still off on Motel Row and things were going downhill. My father is now 43 years old. He was a Volunteer Coach for the North Miami Beach Optimist Club, a Volunteer CPR Instructor and also interviewed several Holocaust Survivors while working at the Marco Polo for the Holocaust Memorial Museum. There was a new push for Casinos and this time my father was eager to help out. After the 1979 Campaign, he had taken a small course on Public Speaking and was ready to Campaign for Casinos, hoping to lift up Motel Row once again to its former glory. A new Casino Campaign started, funded by several hoteliers, one being his boss, Bennett Lifter of Marco Polo. He collected petition signatures every evening after work at Corky's Delicatessen, Home Depot and Publix. His boss, Bennett Lifter took him off the pool deck and put him in an office working to get endorsements for the 1986 Campaign. He excelled in getting endorsements and took pride in all the important Florida figures that endorsed Casinos for him. He would soon start speaking publicly at the Miami-Dade and Broward County Legislative Delegation Meetings around this time. He read all of the local newspapers and started clipping articles related to casinos. He started writing in the "Letters To The Editor Sections” of the Newspapers and calling into Radio Shows when the topic of Casinos was mentioned. He would also be an invited guest on a few Radio Shows and always impressed the hosts with his knowledge. For a guy that loved working outside on the beach, he transitioned to the office environment seamlessly and enjoyed it.
The Campaign would collect enough signatures to put the 1986 Casino Amendment on the Ballot and my father was excited and hopeful. He attended the Campaign Party after the polls closed and they waited for the results to come in and when it didn't pass he watched the Campaign head get chastised for failing. This had a profound effect on my father. Soon after the Campaign fizzled out, his boss Bennett Lifter asked him if he wanted to lease the pool deck and run it as a concession. Lifter wasn't making money off of the pool deck with tourism down, so my father politely declined and was out of a job for the first time in 25 years. The big hotel owners invested a lot in the 1986 Campaign as a last ditch effort to save their hotels and Motel Row. Soon after, his mother would find an advertisement in the newspaper for a Pool Manager at a Condominium in Hallandale Beach. He had been warned about working the condos with the Alta-Cockers but decided to give it a try. He would end up working there for the next 26 years! It wasn't the beach, but there was no sand to sweep out of the pool. The Alta-Cockers would slowly wear on him. Most retired and with nothing to do but complain about picayune things. He would often tell them: "You are the King, but I have a thousand other Kings living here as well!" He soon figured out how politics worked in condo land and made the best of it. The key was to have the condo board behind you. If they supported you, you were covered and the condo board loved him.
My father knew it would be a while until the next Casino Amendment. The Campaign workers all left town to work on the next political campaign and my father decided to keep the torch burning. He learned from the errors of the loss and decided to keep Campaigning Casinos while nobody seemed to care. He wanted to keep the issue in the minds of South Floridians and keep drilling the benefits of bringing gaming to Florida, tax revenue! It had lost, it was over, it won't pass, the old people don't want it, the Panhandle will never vote for it, crime will go up, were all arguments and my father had an answer to all of them. The damage done by the NO Casinos Campaign had worked and it would be tougher and costly to get those voters near the fence. My father then started his own "Gorilla Campaign" for Casinos. He had nothing to lose and he started with a roll of stamps, his lucky 1950's Royal Typewriter and a telephone. He modified a stack of 1986 Campaign Bumper Stickers to read "YES CASINOS'' and plastered them on telephone poles wherever he passed. Like a graffiti artist trying to get their name or message out, his "tag" was Yes Casinos! After getting comfortable at his condo-land job he purchased a small portable radio with headphones and would keep one earphone in listening to AM Radio. If he heard the topic of Casinos come up, he would take his lunch break and call into the Radio Shows and Refute Anti-Casino remarks and keep everyone listening updated on the Casino Issues. Getting on air wasn't easy, he had to remain on hold for long periods of time but when his voice traveled over the AM Radio Waves it pushed through and the static was pleasantly distorted. Must have been that rotary phone he was still using!
After getting home, he would read 2-3 Newspapers and if there was a way to preach the Gospel of Casinos he would let it out in the letters to the Editor Section. By the early 90’s, he was still refining his style but getting very good at what he did. He was going to Town Hall Meetings regularly and his name was known in local political circles. Prior to speaking publicly, he would write his speech the night before and go over it several times to get the flow down and make corrections. When he got up to the podium the following day, he would grab the microphone like a performer, making contact with the audience and going right into his speech, always from memory. He memorized an incredible number of statistics, figures, names, House, Senate Bill Numbers and people took notice. Many thought he was a paid professional until they saw him drive away in his 1981 Chevette with a pocket full of free cookies from the refreshment table. He had Chutzpah! He didn't care and wasn't a phony! When asked, he would say he's a Pool Manager and a Political Activist. He would be diagnosed with Cancer in 1990 and didn't let it slow him down, only missing 1 week of work after Dr. Muss of the Fountainbleau’s Muss Dynasty performing surgery on him. 1994-My father is now 51 years old. Seven years had passed since the 1986 Campaign and while there were several Campaign Teams ready to get Casinos on the Ballot, they weren't tuned into the South Florida Scene like my father was. He was a seasoned veteran after going through two Failed Campaigns. He was wearing several hats, Political Activist, PR Man and Lobbyist. He had a deep understanding of who was Pro-Casino and who were protecting their own interests. He knew the politicians that were in and those that were out. He had an arsenal of past newspaper clippings and Casino Information that nobody had. Unfortunately, with 4 separate Casino Initiatives, it was a Free-For-All which confused the voter. Bally's/ Riverboat/Limited Casino, think it was Sheldon Adelson from the Sands/Tracks. They weren't all expected to get on the Ballot, but my father believed if one got on the Ballot, it would win. He was ready like a baseball pitcher that had stayed warm in the bull pen since the 1986 Campaign.
On his days off he would get up at 5:00 a.m. to get to the Hollywood Courthouse to get signatures. He spent the entire day debating the issue on the street and got the current view of the Florida voter. He occasionally ran into local politicians and made important connections. He would spend 8 hours on his feet in the hot sun only taking a short lunch break to eat his sliced chicken sandwich on rye with ketchup. The Law for collecting signatures was tough as you had to be a certain amount of feet away from the doors of an approved location. So there was no awning or shade to stand under. He told every campaign to make the X where people had to sign larger to help voters sign in the correct location, the Wertheimer X he called it. He would tell the Campaign, "Look I'm out there on the street in the hot sun and the people can’t see the little X you put on the petition!"
He was now getting published and calling into the AM Radio Shows at a rapid pace. He had his formula down. If he felt he had a good response to an Anti-Casino Letter in the newspaper, he would write a rough draft on paper with his chicken scratch handwriting and type it out on his Royal Typewriter. His letters had the aesthetics of a ransom note. Highlighted with fluorescent yellow marker, 2-4 stamps, low resolution, bad contrast copies of the original newspaper clippings and the typed letter corrected with white out. He would type those letters at his childhood desk or the kitchen table with a fan on high speed blowing hot humid air on him like he was in a convection oven! He didn't use the air conditioner in the house but a few times a year on the high Jewish holidays. He used his archive of newspaper clippings and official reports to back up statements. His files were separated by plastic shopping bags, put in cardboard boxes and in dresser drawers but nobody had a better archive of clippings ready. After copying his finished letters, he would highlight certain points and personalize the letter for its recipient. His finished letters were often edited by newspaper staff and often some of his best stuff was edited out if it was too sharp as the newspapers of the time were Anti-Casino. He was always polite and developed good relationships with the editorial staff from calling in to check if his letter was going to get in. Remember, he was limited to one letter published every 2-3 months in the South Florida Sun Sentinel or the Miami Herald. If he had a great idea and he had used up his Miami Herald and South Florida Sun Sentinel limit, he could always depend on Larry Blustein from the South Florida Suntimes to get him in! The shelf-life of a letter was often dependent on current issues, so he had to strike and refute while the iron was hot! Larry respected my father's dedication and saw how hard he worked on the issue tirelessly.
The old typewriter, the hot and humid house, were all part of what was working. He was a motivated man and would run 2 miles, 3 times a week and do his old school calisthenics as well to stay fit. When his letters arrived you better believe everyone knew it was a Casino Stan update hot off the press. He used the Jewish Proverb of a "worm in sauerkraut" often. He didn't want to get accustomed to even simple comforts and rest on his laurels. His car, a 1981 Chevy Chevette, he drove into oblivion until the paint all but wore off with the windows rolled down and his little sports walkman radio on because the radio had stopped working 10 years earlier. He enjoyed how much he was able to accomplish on his Personal Campaign Budget of $100. Officially it was more than that. He would call Tallahassee to speak with the Legislators offices frequently and would spend his lunch break making copies at Office Max. He needed to read 2 Casino Trade Magazines and they were pricey at $200 per year for maybe 8 issues but it kept him current with the industry. There was a certain satisfaction of his accomplishments knowing what he did on a shoestring budget, the poor man's DIY Campaign. When Local Politicians wanted to meet up for dinner and pick his brain he politely declined. He didn't want to owe anyone any favors and he just didn't have the budget for dinners. He didn't want to feel owned by anyone. He would talk for hours on the phone but didn't want to go in that direction and he was right. He stayed hungry and ate his broccoli and rice every night. There is a freedom of being a worm in sauerkraut.
The Mezuzah-my father proudly wore the Mezuzah his father put on him and tied in a knot. It can be seen on him in old photos from August 1960 on Bradley Beach, New Jersey. I am still curious as to who tied their necklace in a knot first as Lou Rawls was on the Newport pool-deck in the 70s........ Either way, he wore that Mezuzah around his neck the rest of his life and only took it off a handful of times when he had to have an X-Ray.
To Be continued......