Bob Martello /

By Rebecca Drew

THE SENSATIONAL story of the little-known charismatic womanising casino king who revamped a post-war town with his bustling business and even managed to steer clear of the mob has been revealed in a thrilling biography.


Willie hours before the El Rey burned to the ground. Bob Martello /

The accomplishments of Willie Martello and his El Rey Club are accompanied by fascinating black and white images which showcase his casino in its heyday. Pictures show the young casino boss posing next to his stylish car, in Navy uniform with his mother and brother and inside the El Rey club with his brothers.

Other photographs show Cinco de Mayo celebrations in full swing and Willie accompanying Hollywood actress Diane McBain as she deals a hand of cards to Sherry Jackson.


Diane McBain deals a hand of Blackjack to Sherry Jackson, March 1961. Wille is supervising. Bob Martello /

The incredible story charting the exploits of Willie Martello and his El Rey Club has been unveiled in the book The King of Casinos by author and entertainer, Andy Martello. It is now available on Kindle.

“Willie was like a tall tale character; a Paul Bunyan for the Las Vegas Valley. He was an extremely charismatic, charming man with as many foibles as endearing qualities,” said Andy.


Bob Martello /

“He was a man who loved life to the fullest and partied until a death at an early age. In his time, he loved more women, drank more alcohol, and had more fun than most would in ten lifetimes.

“The book is filled with so many fabulous tales about Willie. Among my favourites is how he stood on a ladder trying to put out a fire which would eventually raze his beloved casino by using a garden hose.

“In the wake of the disaster he ended up meeting a prostitute and decided to spend the night thinking about ‘something else’, instead of thinking about the loss of his casino. He ended paying her in now-worthless hundred-dollar poker chips from his demolished casino.


Roulette table inside the club. Willie’s poodles, Peppi and Pierre. Bob Martello /

“There were plenty of businesses which were not associated with the mafia. However, the fact he was Italian definitely made it seem more unusual at the time.

“He was no friend to the mob and they did everything they could to shut him down. He was, however, quite friendly with a few of the mobsters’ wives. That was more of a risk for him than not being involved with the mafia.”

Willie and his brothers opened the El Rey Club in Searchlight, Nevada, USA in 1946. The El Rey Club was the biggest business in Searchlight until it burnt to the ground in 1962.


Bob Martello /

After World War Two, Searchlight was a ghost town, the opening of the casino revitalised the area and brought an estimated five-million-dollars a year to the area through Willie’s use of prostitutes, plane rides, wild burros and celebrities.

There was more to Willie than his heavy-drinking and womanising ways, as Andy explained.
“That same man used to go into Las Vegas during the Christmas season, find kids who needed food and toys, and buy them everything they needed,” said Andy.


A junket from Hollywood to Searchlight, March 1961. Featured many Hollywood performers including, Mousey Garner (centre, front row), Diane McBain (right of Garner), Sherry Jackson (next to the bus driver), Sean Flynn (left of Jackson and Wille Martello (right of McBain). Bob Martello /

“He gave jobs to people down on their luck and brought major amenities to the town of Searchlight, Nevada, rivalling nearby Las Vegas for tourism and gaming dollars.
“When the town lost their only phone lines he utilised carrier pigeons to communicate with the outside world, as well as embarrass Clark County into running new phone lines to the town. He was quite a character.
“This is the biography of a little-known casino owner and a history of his casino.


Estelle in front of El Rey. Bob Martello /

“Willie Martello should easily be as famous as Howard Hughes or Steve Wynn is today thank to all of the innovations and ideas he brought to the Las Vegas gambling industry. Yet few know his name. It was my intention to change that.”

The King of Casinos by Andy Martello is now available on Kindle.