by Richard Senate
In 1929 the good people of Ventura woke to find a gambling ship moored beyond the three-mile limit off our coast! It was the Johanna Smith, a 257-foot wooden lumber schooner, converted into a floating gambling palace. As it was beyond the legal limit it could legally operate without fear of local or state laws. The craft had restaurants, entertainment and, naturally gambling tables and slot machines. What would be seen as tame today was viewed as the epitome of sin and degradation in 1929. The ship had operated off Long Beach before she pulled up anchor and moved to more profitable waters, as other gambling ships set up shop at her area. It was hoped she could attract new customers in Ventura County and in that she was correct. Large advertisements appeared in all the local newspapers announcing the arrival of the “amusement steamer” with a grill, cabaret, music and dancing. They even advertised a three-course meal for only a dollar, fifty!
To Visit the ship one had only to take a a speed boat called a “water taxi” from the end of the pier out to the moored vessel. The trip was a thrilling ride bouncing over the waves and many said that was the high point of the adventure. It cost only a quarter for the trip. At the ship visitors were greeted by Hawaiian singers and musicians and hula girls in grass skirts. Lots of people came to Ventura to see the ship and leave their money on the gambling tables and slot machines. People came up from LA, and down from Santa Barbara to enjoy the pleasures of the palace of the seas. But, its popularity proved its undoing. People parked all over, filling the streets, blocking driveways, and becoming a nuisance. Not only that people came home from a night on the steamer, drunk, singing and making noise, waking people up at all hours.. The benefits were outweighed by the headaches caused by the gambling ship. Besides that, the profits all went to the gangsters who operated the craft.
Church leaders warned of sin and corruption brought by the ship. Newspapers editorialized against the evils of the thing, even political people spoke out to force the craft away from Ventura. Soon laws were passed and the water taxis forbidden to operate off our pier. At last the ship moved on, back to Long Beach where she was moored and operated till 1932. But for a few months, Ventura was a bit like Las Vegas. Perhaps, to balance the state budget, the gambling ships should be brought back. A ride on a high-speed water taxi sounds rather fun, and it would be a lot closer than the Chumash Casino.