King of the Slots:
William "Si" Redd
(from Chapter 5, The Luckiest Man Alive)
Another of Si Redd's "golden opportunities" came close to costing him his life.
Tennessee U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver was chairman and chief flag waver for the Senate Crime Investigating Committee, a now-famous group that studied the influence of organized crime in U.S. business at the beginning of the 1950s. During their proceedings, the committee released a list of seventy separate types of businesses into which "hoodlums had infiltrated." Among the list were the amusement industry and jukeboxes, giving Redd double exposure to potential trouble.
United Manufacturing Company of Chicago had introduced a coin-operated arcade game called "Shuffle-Alley". Bowling was beginning to capture the public's fancy in a big way, and United had come up with the idea for a coin-operated version of the sport. It was a miniature nine-foot long bowling alley built into a wooden cabinet that stood on four legs. Ten small bowling pins sat at one end of the machine, topped by a scoreboard type of device with blinking lights that kept a running score of the game.
One or two players would stand at the other end of the machine, drop their coins into the slot, and slide a heavy metal-encased puck down the alley to knock down the pins. The puck actually hit mechanical switches in the alley just in front of the pins that caused a relay to retract the toppling pins upward in a realistic pattern. Then the puck was returned to the player for his second shot.
An early ad for Shuffle-Alley, geared toward the trade, promised what the new machine could do: " . . . puts operators 'in the chips' almost overnight' . . . the first shuffle type bowler ever manufactured . . . making money for the operator every day."
By the time Redd got interested in the game, it was already a hit. He sensed the same optimistic future for this game that he had seen for pinball machines in Mississippi and jukeboxes in Illinois, so he arranged with United to become the distributor for Shuffle-Alley in Massachusetts. He got the machines licensed in the state - a formality that had to be followed with each new type of coin-operated amusement machine - and began selling Shuffle-Alley to area route operators and putting them out on his own routes.
At the beginning of every year Redd would arrange for a line of credit to cover his inventory purchasing expenses for the coming year. It was a practice he had followed for years, and he always paid his notes off promptly, so he never had a credit problem. One day as Redd was sitting in his office two tough looking characters came in to see him. "We're your new partners," they told him insolently.
"I don't have any partners. I run this business myself," Redd said, puzzled.
The men informed Redd that their associates had purchased one of his notes, and that twenty thousand dollars was due and payable. Redd knew the note was not due for another year, and that even then it was only a ten thousand dollar note. He told them so.
The two thugs smiled malevolently and told Redd the difference was the vig, or interest, on the note, and that it was due and payable immediately . . . or else. Then they left.
Si Redd knew he had come face to face with the Mob. The capo of the New England Mafia was Raymond Loreto Salvatore Patriarca, a Massachusetts born thug who ran New England for the Profaci-Colombo family in New York. Patriarca's underboss, Jerry Angiulo, ran the rackets in Boston, and raked a cut off every illegal gambling game in the city. The mob was always trying to muscle in on legitimate businesses that caught their fancy, and Redd had become their latest focus of attention.
Redd considered his circumstance for a few days, and decided to take it to the top. Patriarca was headquartered in the heavily Italian city of Providence, Rhode Island, and it was there that Redd headed.
Atwells Avenue sits atop Federal Hill in downtown Providence, the center of what was once the most densely populated Italian neighborhood in the nation. It served as "Little Italy" for the entire state. The strong smell of garlic lingers in the air from dozens of Italian restaurants and delis that crowd the neighborhood; and salamis, plump sausages and proscuittos hang from hooks in the windows of small grocery stores and meat markets. Other vendors sell their goods from pushcarts in the streets, and the sounds of live chickens and rabbits clucking and chattering in their wooden cages create a cacophony of sound.
This was "the hood" if you were Italian in the 1950s and 60s in Providence, and Si Redd elbowed his way down the crowded sidewalk to the office of Raymond Patriarca. What actually happened during his confrontation with the capo was known only the two men themselves, and perhaps to a few thugs who hung around to see that no harm came to their man. According to Redd's version, "I showed a lot of fight;" and as he told and re-told the story in years to come, the raconteur in him took over and he even adopted a heavy Italian brogue to go with his story.
His son-in-law Alan Green heard the story innumerable times, and he still smiles at the recollection. Redd said he had written a long letter to his friend, Mississippi's U.S. Senator John Stennis, and to major Mississippi newspapers, outlining the threats Patriarca had made against him. When he confronted Patriarca, he told him about the letters, and boldly challenged that if anything ever happened to him or his family the letters would be made public and Patriarca would go down. Whether it happened that way or not is open to speculation, but it's a great Si Redd story.
Redd may have been brazen, but he was not foolish. However the meeting with Patriarca had gone, Redd began to think about it afterwards, and the full impact of what could happen to him and his family finally sunk in. He decided to sell them the Shuffle-Alley distributorship, "for a very small amount," he said, and move on with his life.