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Reno Casino and Hotel owner Charles Mapes

Charlie Mapes clowns with Boxing Champ Jack Sharkey
Charlie Mapes clowns with Boxing Champ Jack Sharkey
Photo Courtesy (William Pettite)

Charles Mapes is best remembered as the owner of the Mapes Hotel along the Truckee River in Reno. The Mapes Hotel/Casino was featured in the 1974 movie California Split staring George Segal and Elliott Gould as two down-on-their-luck gamblers who head to Reno for a big poker game, encounter a legendary player (Amarillo Slim Preston), and beat the game for thousands of dollars. The film, set in wintery conditions in Reno, shows the grim, somewhat seamy side of the town. The Mapes didn't start that way.When Charles Mapes and his mother first envisioned their future hotel, they saw a lavish, high-society destination never-before offered in Reno.

Charles was a privileged child, born into a successful Reno family June 30, 1920. He was a state tennis champion in high school and graduated from the University of Nevada at Reno, where he was student-body president. After graduation he served in Alaska with the Naval Air Transport Service. Upon his return to Reno he found that the town was bursting at its seams with service men from local bases, and former service men who had money to spend.

Bill Harrah and the Smith Family (Harold's Club) were already well on their way to riches with their casinos, but they didn't have hotels. Only the Riverside and the Golden Hotel had a casino inside their doors, and while the clubs were very profitable, they were small. Charles saw an opulent future for Reno, and he built a hotel that matched his tastes.

In the early days, Reno offered illegal gambling off the street level in many buildings, but after legalization of open gaming in 1931, the casinos were moved to the main floors. However, Mapes decided that his hotel would offer the finest gaming in the state, with a beautiful casino housed on the 10th floor. When the Sky Room opened, it attracted Hollywood legends, big-time gamblers, and was an instant success, but Charles wasn't running the show!

Instead, he leased the casino to a number of operators who had previous experience, like Bernie Einstoss, Frank Grannis, Leo Kind, and Lou Wertheimer, who's brother was running the Riverside. According to the book, Mob City: Reno, the Wertheimer's were skimming and sharing their profits with the likes of Meyer Lansky and the Detroit Partnership. Charles wasn't getting rich on his lease, but the hotel was full most of the time.

Charles battled through a succession of casino managers and owners, eventually taking-over control of the casino himself in the late1960's. By that time he also owned the concessions at the Reno airport and owned other real estate in town. While the Mapes plugged along, Charles purchase a building at 211 North Virginia Street and opened the Money Tree in 1969 with his sister, Gloria. It too fared well, offering keno, slots, table games, and poker.

The Mapes hotel was too large to renovate, so Charles concentrated on the Money Tree, taking a sizable loan against the Mapes property (some of which sat at 18% interest) and expanded the Money Tree across Fulton Alley on the corner of Second and Sierra Streets, in direct competition with the newly expanded Sahara Reno.

Unfortunately, at the time of the Money Tree and Sahara expansion, the Onslow Hotel opened between the Mapes and the Money Tree, the Comstock opened a block away on Second Street, and Circus Circus opened a block away on Virginia Street. If that wasn't too much competition for the Mapes, the opening of a 2000-room MGM a few miles away was, and every casino in Reno felt the pinch of competition.

Within three years, Charles and his sister were forced to close both the Money Tree and the Mapes, just eight-days before Christmas 1982. Employees never received a severance package or even their final paychecks. Charles moved from the area to San Diego, where he passed away in 1999.

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