Feature Articles

August 1999

Nick Scaglione

The Tampa Mob�s Gambling Man

By Scott Deitche

     When a statewide grand jury convened in the late seventies in to investigate illegal gambling in Florida, they decided to go to the source and sent subpoenas across the state to some of the top gamblers and mobsters around. One of the first was Nick Scaglione, long known as the man in Tampa gambling.

     Nick was born to Nunzio and Laura Scaglione on November 30, 1916 in Tampa. He was one of five brothers. Nick began working as a small time numbers runner in Ybor during the heyday of the bolita rackets, when gaming halls were lined up and down 7th Avenue. The Mafia had yet to cement a hold over illegal gambling, and worked alongside Cuban and Anglo gamblers and racketeers.

     In 1941, Nick opened his first restaurant in 1941, followed by a stint at the Dream Bar in the mid 1950's. It was there, in 1955, that Nick served the last drink to gambling boss Charlie Wall, before Wall was knifed to death in his home. Along with his brothers, he also opened the University Restaurant in 1960, which not only became one of the best known restaurants in Tampa, but a hangout for students at the nearby University of South Florida.

     Of all of Nick's endeavors, illegal gambling was the one that made his fortune. Nick and his brother Alphonso, were tops in pari-mutuel wagering, bookmaking, policy, and racetrack action. Many of the largest betting rings on the west coast of Florida were run by Nick, often times along with Al. (Nick and Al's other brothers preferred the legitimate route to financial success). They were also made members of the Trafficante crime family, giving them added protection and an insurance policy, should they ever take a loss on some bets.

     Along the way, Nick faced two major obstacles on his path to the top. The first was fellow mobsters. During his early years, Nick was tried not to get involved with the ongoing feud between the various gambling factions for control of Tampa. He once fell under the knife of a gangster in 1953, but was only slightly wounded and kept on working. Nick owned a house, or rather, a fortress where he employed an armed guard to keep would-be thieves from entering. If they did manage to get into the house, they would have a tough time penetrating the vault that he had built in the house. His precautions paid off and he was never robbed.

     Of course, the law remained a bigger problem. On the evening of December 19, 1941, Nick was arrested for conducting a lottery and possession of gambling supplies. It was to be the first in a long line of gambling-related arrests. Over the next forty years, Nick would amass quite an impressive rap sheet, including a particularly bad streak that began on Halloween of 1968. Over the next year Nick was arrested four more times for gambling offences, twice at the same location! He finally received some jail time, a whopping six months away from home.

     In January of 1976, the grand jury called Nick and Al to enlighten them about gambling in Florida. Of course the brothers provided no information, but did manage to get their $20,000 a week betting operation broken up a year later, in January of 1977. Nick then faded from view for a few years, leading many to believe he had retired. In 1984, however, an intensive undercover investigation was underway in Tampa, Operation Super Bowl (which would lead to the formation of Operation Cherokee in South Florida the next year). In Operation Super Bowl, police set up a fake bar where bets were taken. They soon found out that Nick hadn't lost a step and was still the man to see when it came to bookmaking in Tampa. He was arrested, along with 69 others, but managed to evade jail, netting only three months of probation.

     As the eighties wore on, the make-up of the crime family changed, and Nick may have seen it as a sign to retire. His brother Al, living at the time in the city of Lakeland, between Tampa and Orlando, still had his hand in the crime family business. Nick, however, was done.

     On August 27, 1994, in St. Joseph's Hospital, Nick died at the age of 77, and one of the last original Tampa mobsters was gone.

© 1999

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