The History of the family behind the Ultimate Fighting Championship
BY SCOOP MCTROLL
Before reading any further, please read our disclaimer first.
In the January of 2001, the ailing reality fighting contest known as The Ultimate Fighting Championship, was purchased from its founder, the SEG CORPORATION by ZUFFA LLC. Three men, Frank Fertitta III, his younger brother Lorenzo Fertitta and their brother in law, the low profile but nonetheless powerful, Blake Sartini, are the owners of ZUFFA LLC.
Lorenzo (Far left) and Frank III (Far right) with a friend.
The Fertitta brothers Frank III and Lorenzo, take the limelight in this partnership and have recently become known to millions of people through the reality television show ‘American Casino’. As the CEO and President respectively, of the Station Casinos Empire, they appear to be amiable and successful young businessmen. Las Vegas residents may know of Frank III through his involvement in many charities and community projects, including Catholic Charities, Opportunity Village and the Las Vegas Chapter of the I Have A Dream Foundation. They may know of Lorenzo Fertitta from his time on the board of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, or as the chairman of the Nevada Resort Association. The two millionare brothers donate hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to the Republican Party and they are an integral part of the Las Vegas A-list social scene. Many people have wondered just how they came to be so successful at such relatively young ages and where they came from. Our in depth report ‘The Z-Files’ will explore these issues and attempt to throw some light on the history of the family behind The Ultimate Fighting Championship. I hope you enjoy reading The Z-Files; it is the result of several months of research.
It is 1993 in Galveston, Texas and a relative to the Fertittas, 89 year old Vic Maceo has just shown how business is done in his family. The aging alleged mobster had walked into the Galveston Post Office, pulled out a .38 calibre revolver and started firing at postal worker Pete Miller, whom Maceo believed owed him money. Maceo’s aim was a little off since his hey day but he still managed to hit Miller in the right arm, shattering the bones and bringing him to the ground, wincing in pain.
When the Maceos and the Fertittas ruled the town a few decades prior, this was the way disputes were settled in Galveston, Texas. In this case Vic Maceo had sold a house to Pete Miller for $45,000 in 1968 and when Miller sold it in 1991, he sold it for $180,000. Naturally Vic felt that some of the profit should have been his. Miller had once worked as a busboy at the Maceo-Fertitta controlled illegal casino known as ‘The Balinese Room’ and Vic C. Mateo, who was also known as ‘Little Vic’ to distinguish him from his cousin Vic A. ‘Gigolo’ Maceo, could not cope with the fact that a busboy had seemingly gotten the better of him.
As Vic Maceo attempted to make his escape in his sports car, police apprehended him. He gave himself up willingly and when approached by the police, he said in a defiant and firm voice, “When you look a guy in the eye and tell him he owes you forty grand and he tells you, ‘Let me get the file,’ you know that the son of a bitch is lying.” As the police slapped handcuffs on him he retorted with “You don’t handcuff a gentleman in this town!” Such was the power that the Maceo and Ferttita gang once wielded in Galveston
Fertitta In-Law ‘Big’ Sam Maceo, The ‘Barber of Galveston’
It all began in the early 20th century when two Sicilian barbers arrived in Galveston from Sicily via Louisiana. Rose and Sam Maceo were soon to build an illegal gambling empire from simple bootlegging roots and become known as Papa Rose and Big Sam. Along with their relatives the Fertitta family, they would control the black economy, the organised crime and the politics of Galveston for many years. One of their more well known illegal casinos was ‘The Balinese Room’ but by the mid 1930’s, and the time that prohibition ended, they had built up an entire city block of illegal casinos and gambling dens in Galveston. Many people feel that they created the Vegas format before Vegas ever existed. Sam Maceo organized for all the big name singers and bands of the time to appear at his casinos, including Frank Sinatra.
The Balinese Room in Galveston Texas.
A gaming chip from the illegal casino
The Maceo-Fertitta gang was responsible for funding many things in the Galveston community and despite obvious connections to the New Orleans mob; no one dared to complain about the criminal benefactors of the town. In fact those that did complain usually ended up sleeping with the fishes, according to local legend.
The Maceo-Fertitta gang wielded great power and most of the other mobsters knew better than to tread on their turf. The Chicago crime czar Al Capone had heard about the lucrative gambling and bootleg empire that the Maceos and Fertittas had built in Galveston and he wanted some of that action. He planned to at first become a partner with them and then muscle them out of the picture once he had his hooks firmly embedded. Al Capone sent his main man Frank Nitti to Galveston to intimidate the Maceos into allowing Capone to “invest” in their businesses. The Maceos received word of Nitti’s impending arrival and they decided that they would flat-out refuse any offers from Nitti on behalf of Capone to take a piece of their illegal gambling pie.
They decided to call on the skills of the most ruthless member of their family’s gang, Maceo In-Law, Anthony Fertitta. Nitti arrived in town and was introduced to the Maceos and to Anthony Fertitta, Fertitta told Nitti that they needed to talk and he took Nitti for a drive in his car. The two men were gone for several hours and it is not clear what events took place during that time. All that is known is that Nitti was dropped at the city limits very late that evening, he appeared to be shaken but alive and well. No one knows what took place during the car ride but when Nitti made it back to Chicago, he told Capone that the Fertittas were no pushovers and it would require an all out war to move in on their territory. Capone never pursued it any further.
Rose Maceo was suspected of many gangland killings during the 1930’s. Including his first wife and her lover, but no Maceo was ever convicted of a felony.
Al Capone came off second best when he tried to muscle in on the Fertittas.
Sam Maceo, was the brain behind the Maceo-Fertitta empire and he was directly under the control of New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello, who later would be linked to the assassination of JFK. Sam also helped the pioneer Vegas hotelier, Moe Dalitz to get a gaming licence for The Desert Inn Las Vegas’s first casino, not very long before his death. Papa Rose and Big Sam had both passed away by the 1950’s and many of the remaining Maceo’s and the dealers who worked in their illegal casinos moved out to Las Vegas.
The Galveston gambling empire was under the control of mob boss Carlos Marcello, who would later be implicated in the JFK assassination.
The Fertittas, who were related to the Maceos by marriage, took control of the Galveston gaming empire, where they honed their skills in the casino and hospitality fields, a legacy that would remain lucrative to the family for generations to come. Unlike the socially more adept Maceos, who flaunted their success despite its illegality, the Fertittas did not take too kindly to publicity.
The August 1955 edition of Time Magazine that exposed the Fertittas as thugs.
In 1955, a Time magazine LIFE reporter visited one of the illegal Fertitta casinos in Galveston. In an article entitled ‘Thugs vs The Press’, he reported the following in the August 1955 edition of Time Magazine.
” Many a mug on the edge of the big time thinks there is a formula for dealing with newsmen: intimidate or bribe. In Galveston, Texas, where vice and crime abounds, Gambling Boss Anthony Fertitta tried that formula in an effort to prevent LIFE from getting pictures of his illegal operations. It did not work.
After LIFE Photographer Joe Scherschel and Reporter Hank Suydam took pictures (with a concealed camera) in one of Fertitta’s gambling houses, the boss and two henchmen followed the LIFE men to their hotel. Photographer Scherschel took his film upstairs while Reporter Suydam encountered Fertitta and his two strong-arm men in the lobby. Fertitta demanded an explanation of what Suydam and Scherschel had been doing, suddenly smashed Suydam in the face. By the time Suydam had picked himself off the floor, Fertitta had switched tactics, tried to stuff a $20 bill into the reporter’s pocket.
Last week, just before LIFE published “Wide-Open Galveston Mocks Texas Laws,” Gambling Boss Fertitta was tried for simple assault in the Galveston justice court. After Fertitta pleaded “not guilty” and then refused to take the stand, Justice J. L. McKenna found Fertitta guilty, gave him the maximum punishment: a $25 fine. The conviction was much more important than the small fine. In Galveston, where gang leaders like Fertitta have long tried to pose as legitimate businessmen, the criminal conviction reported on Page One of Texas newspapers helped to expose these “legitimate businessmen” for the thugs they are.”
Partially in light of the adverse publicity that they began to attract and partially due to the more conservative political climate of the mid to late 1950’s, the Galveston gambling empire began to slowly crumble. Many of the Fertittas also began to migrate to Las Vegas and it all finally came to a crashing halt in Galveston in 1957 when the Attorney General Will Wilson, along with the Texas Rangers, smashed the Fertitta’s illegal gambling racket. The glory days for the Maceos and Fertittas were over in Texas, for the moment at least.
With no choice but to shut up shop and leave town, a mass exodus took place. With the vast experience the owners and employees had gained in Galveston by running or working in the biggest chain of illegal casinos and live entertainment restaurants in the country, Las Vegas seemed to be the natural place to migrate. A pilgrimage from Galveston to Vegas of mobsters, card dealers, croupiers, hores and gamblers began. In those days Vegas was not as heavily regulated as it is today and offered the lure of an easy buck to such dregs of society.
In 1960, a 21-year-old man named Frank Fertitta Jr would arrive in Las Vegas and find work at a Casino as a bellboy. With him are his wife and newborn son, Frank III.
The fun for him, was just beginning.
(That was Part 1 of Scoop McTroll’s new series ‘The Z-Files’. Watch this page for part 2, coming to FS 24-7 soon.)