Nevada’s State Line country club, located on highway 50 at the state line of California and Nevada, was South Shore Lake Tahoe’s premiere casino from legalized open gaming in 1931, until it became Harrah’s Lake Tahoe in the late 1950’s.
Cal Custer’s small casino at the state line was popular with the summer visitors at Lake Tahoe, but after gaming was legalized, he couldn’t pass-up the opportunity to sell the sixteen-acre property to Nick Abelman for $84,000, a huge profit. Custer was Los Angeles bootlegger, happy to return to his warmer hometown now that gaming and liquor were both legal in Nevada. Abelman was the owner of the Riverside Buffet, the casino inside the Riverside hotel in Reno.
Custer ran the club with a few slot machines as a cafe. A poker table in back was busy every night. Next door was a market with provisions as well as gasoline for the lake’s visitors. Abelman expanded the casino to the east, adding a tub crap game and blackjack tables for the coming season. Abelman left partner Bert Riddick at the Riverside and managed the South Shore casino with Steve Pavlovich during the summer of 1933.
The following year the partners spend nearly $50,000 upgrading the club, adding a large, hard-wood dance floor and a small stage for nightly entertainment. During the summer, visitors enjoyed Hollywood orchestras and danced the night away under chandelier light. Hollywood stars visited the club, and often stayed in Reno where they hob-nobbled with other stars like boxing champion Max Baer at Abelman’s Ship and Bottle casino.
How to Blow $2.50
The State Line Country Club built a fine restaurant, which offered a full menu of favorites for visitors. For as little as $2.50, diners could enjoy a four-course meal starting with a crab cocktail, soup and salad, a choice of Filet Mignon, Idaho Trout, or Louisiana frog legs, and a savory desert.
Diners often wandered into the 6,000 square-foot casino to enjoy the adult entertainment. The men congregated around the small craps table or the faro game. The ladies, while welcome in the club, were most likely to play a few coins in the slot machines or enjoy roulette. Blackjack was offered with a 10-cent minimum.
Post War Boom
In the mid 1940’s, clubs in Reno and Lake Tahoe were expanding and enjoying an increase in traffic and profits, but Abelman was ready to slow down. The 70-year old casino maverick was tired of the daily trips to the lake and wanted to spend more time in Reno with his wife, June. The three partners agreed to sell the property to Nick and Eddie Sahati, who owned several poker rooms in the San Francisco Bay Area and had no trouble meeting the $350,000 asking price.
The papers were signed at the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco, where Abelman kept a suite year-round for his meetings with other casino owners like “Bugsy” Siegel. “Bugsy” was working on a new property in Las Vegas to compliment his Las Vegas Club and El Cortez and needed cash. Abelman turned him down.
The Sahati’s also declined to be involved in “that one-horse town down south,” although their poker rooms were exceedingly popular, and profitable. At the lake, the club was christened Sahati’s State Line, and an even better line-up of entertainers was brought-in to entertain the clubs guests.
Eventually, Sahati’s was competing with the North Shore’s Cal-Neva for popularity, and it never hurt to have entertainers like Lena Horne, Sons of the Pioneers, Ink Spots, and Nate King Cole appearing regularly.
The club faltered a little after Eddie Sahati was jailed for heroin use and sale. He died of cancer in 1952 at the age of forty-one. His brother, Nick, became embroiled in divorce proceedings and then watched as his Bay Area poker games were systematically shutdown by the State of California.
Bill Harrah purchased George’s Gateway across the street in 1955. Nick had opened a club next to the Gateway that he named Itaha’s, but was struggling with maintaining a financial grip on his two casinos. Harrah had the cash, and convinced Nick to sell all his property to him. Harrah ran the casino on the lake side of the highway as his Lake Club until Harvey Gross agreed to sell his land across the street so Harrah owned all the property right to the state line. Harrah’s Lake Tahoe now stands tall at that spot.