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Lutes Casino Gazette

       The décor is early eclectic, what might be called interesting junk. And it is everywhere. The 12-foot-high walls are plasters with posters, paintings, murals and decals of every description. Over there is a poster of Laurel and Hardy. And there’s Humphrey Bogart. The “Babe” rests his famous bat on his shoulder in another. Suspended from the ceiling is a full-size Signal Gas sign, and another for Western Union. The eye cannot travel one foot without coming to rest on some unique piece of memorabilia. A glance up will reveal the best of all- a raggedy foot crashing through the ceiling. Back on the floor, the patrons are an odd mixture of tourists drink beer and walk around looking at the walls and the regulars.

     The regulars drink beer and play dominos at tables near the front, or they chalk cues and seriously study their game on one of a row of pool tables in the rear. Some just sit at the bar or at a table discussing subjects of questionable importance, whiling away a pleasant afternoon. And there are lots of children of all ages drawn mainly to the source of those ping-ping and varoom noises- a whole wall lined with pinball machines are very large and adult-like. Upon first entering Lutes Casino, you might think, “This looks like a very rough place.” Not true. “I like to bull it as a family place,” says Bobby Lutes, who owns the Casino in partnership with his brother, Billy. “It’s a place for young and old.” He contends there’s hardly ever any trouble, except for an occasional drunk who wanders in. “In the old days, there were some vicious fights with pool cues,” he recounts, “but not anymore.”

     The “old days” date back to 1901, when the building was constructed the Molina Investment Co. The ground floor was housed by the New York Store, selling groceries and general sundries. Upstairs was the Central Hotel. That was more than six decades before the Main Street was closed off to become the Territorial Mall. Old photographs show the building fronting on busy Main Street. It has a balcony on the second floor and a sign, which reads, “Room’s for Rent.” Main Street was a dirt road in those horse-and-buggy days and it was lined with thriving businesses. Historians aren’t sure of the building’s history from the 1912 to 1920, when W.E. “Pop” McCaw opened the Casino Billiard Parlor. Sometime around 1945, McCaw sold out to a Somerton man named Walter Weatherford. After a year or so, he in turn sold the Casino to Clark “Cocky” Powers.

     According to Bobby Lutes, “Cocky was a gambler. He borrowed $10,000 from my father to buy the place. That cement building in back was built by Cocky as a gambling room, but he never finished it. Lutes claims Powers wasn’t able to pay off the $10,000 and gave the Casino to his father, R.H. Lutes, Yuma Businessman and former Justice of the Peace. “It was a bad deal for my father,” Lutes says, “but he had no choice.” The elder Lutes than operated the Casino, adding dominos and hamburgers to billiards and beer, making it perhaps the only domino parlor in the state.

     “I took over the operation in 1959 or 60,” Bobby Lutes recalls. After he’d owned it for five years, he bought a neighboring store, The Toggery, from the late State Senator Harold Giss. The Casino doubled in size. “I started collecting the wall stuff in about 1960,” he recalls. “People bring me stuff for the walls, but I collect the posters myself. The foot through the ceiling was also my idea.” He also had the wall of coin-operated games installed. Today, Lutes Casino is booming. It has become the place to go on a Saturday afternoon or after a show. People dressed to the teeth can be seen mingling with pool-shooting cowboys, ordering the famous “Special” or “Especial,” a combination cheeseburger and hotdog covered with hot sauce. “Martin and I thought up the Special,” Lutes says. “Martin Pelayo has been here since my father ran it.”

     Although the place has many employees, pelayo pretty much runs the Casino from behind the two-counter bar. Never a motion is wasted as he fills orders for food and drink at a hectic pace. Politicians, dignitaries, celebrities, and artists have paid visits to the Casino. In recent times, members of the San Diego Padres baseball team, including the famed “Goose” Gossage, have frequented the place for a beer and a game of pool. The establishment had been used for birthday parties, re-unions, and even a wedding reception, but the only gambling that goes on now is the sale of state lottery tickets. One additional curiosity is the window in the men’s room door. “That’s so nobody can sneak up and shoot you,” Lutes explains, tongue firmly planted in cheek.