There has rarely been a problem about betting a buck or buying a babe in Newport, Kentucky, a red brick town just a nine minute, $1.35 cab ride across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The town's traditions trace back to the female camp followers who camped around the local US Army barracks in the 19th century. Since then, Newport has developed such a gaudy brand of gambling and prostitution that it stands today as one of the nation's most blatant sin centers. Thoughtful Newport grocers used to keep stools handy so the local tots could climb up to play the slot machines. Cincinnati high school kids came roistering across the river to take advantage of the whorehouse specials: $1 for the prostitute, $1 for the madam. When one statistics minded citizen blocked the trade at Newport's biggest brothel, he discovered that the eleven girls averaged a new customer every seven minutes from noon Saturday until 6 a.m. the following Monday. The town had its spattering of killings, but they were generally shrugged off as “self-defense.” One Easterner was shot in self-defense - while sound asleep.
Old Virtues and New
As the years passed, Newport - like any limited industry town - hustled to keep up with the times. Newporters claim that the pari-mutuel machine was invented there. Gamblers from coast to coast discovered that Newport was a place where they could “lay-off” their bets (i.e. get well-heeled Newport gamblers who would cover all or parts of bets too big for the ordinary bookie to handle). Some 45 phone lines run into the Tropicana Club, where the lay-off headquarters is in room 315. One bar accepts as much as $75,000 a day in lay-off bets alone. In all, Newports take from gambling and other forms of assorted vice now amounts to $25 million a year. Thought the price has soared to $20, prostitution is still so common that bartenders seldom go through the formality of selling a customer a drink, merely shrug: “The girls are upstairs.” A man can still lose his wad in gambling joints that wink with neon along York and Monmouth Streets and glow softly in the bottom land down by the river. And though three whorehouses have recently flourished within a block of the station house, Newport's police still look on their town with innocent eyes. “I never seen gambling at the Tropicana,” Detective Pat Ciafardini has testified. “As for clear-off or lay-off betting or whatever you call it, I don't know nothin' about it.”
Of course, Newport has its share of reformed-minded citizens. Inevitabley, they have launched many a reform movement - with little success. “The reformers don't stay around here,” says Lawyer Daniel W. Davies. “They catch too much hell from the merchants. Everybody expects alittle gambling, a litle vice. Everybody's liberal around here.” Last week a latter-day reformer was about to be liberalized out of business before he even got started. He was George Ratterman, 34, father of eight and a one time T-formation quarterback who was a bench riding substitute for Johnny Lujack at Notre Dame, then for Otto Graham on the National Football League's Cleveland Browns. Although in his playing days he had never been noted for confining his antics to the football field, Ratterman was thrust forward as the candidate for sheriff by a local reform group called the Committee of 500. But fortnight ago, Newport's cops found Ratterman bedded down with a brillo-haired stripper named April (“I'm an exotic dancer”) Flowers in room 314 of the Tropicana. This week April testified that Ratterman was trying to complete a pass when the cops showed up. Ratterman maintains that he had been drugged and framed. After a trial of five days, he was cleared on evidence that April's lawyer had been involved in a plan to photograph an unidentified man at the Tropicana under circumstances suspiciously similar to those that plagued Ratterman. This week a county grand jury will start poking into Newport and next month a federal grand jury in Lexington will take up the chase with the backing of Attorney General Robert Kennedy himself.
Time Magazine, May 26, 1961