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Iconic steakhouse changed hands with roll of the dice

Iconic steakhouse changed hands with a roll of the dice on Christmas Eve 1945
BY RON J. JACKSON JR. Modified: December 24, 2012 at 6:18 pm •  Published: December 25, 2012

/articleid/3738664/1/pictures/1910548">Photo - Cattlemen's Steakhouse owner Gene Wade sits in a rocking chair at the restaurant in 1981.

Cattlemen's Steakhouse owner Gene Wade sits in a rocking chair at the restaurant in 1981. OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVE PHOTO GEORGE R. WILSON - STAFF PHOTO

A buzzer system was also used when police raided the club, prompting operators to dispose of chips and all other gaming paraphernalia through trapdoors.

This was the world of Percy Wade Sr. and his associates.

Wade Sr. preferred to run his high-stakes dice games in downtown hotels, his favorite seemingly being the Biltmore Hotel. Records show he hosted illegal games in the hotel as early as December 1943.

Police Capt. Walter Acord and his vice bureau squad raided a room at the hotel that month, arresting Wade Sr. for operating a gambling operation.

Police conducted three other raids simultaneously throughout the city, netting 36 arrests. Still, Wade Sr.'s arrest received special notice the next day in The Oklahoman: “At a room in the Biltmore hotel Acord and Lieut. L.D. Arnold walked in on six alleged gamblers, one of them Percy Wade, a 48-year-old man whose record shows six arrests on gambling charges, who was released after posting $20 bond for operating a dice game.”

Along with Wade Sr., police also arrested Marion Andrew Sheffer, a former Oklahoma City police officer. Amazingly, the nervy Sheffer told officers his name was Jack Andrews when he arrived at police headquarters and he was initially booked under that alias. Only the ruse didn't last long. Nor did Wade Sr.'s time behind bars. The gambling operator posted his bond, waltzed out of the police station and promptly returned to the only business he truly knew.

Wade Sr. melted back into Oklahoma City's gambling underworld — a dark world where the line between law enforcement and criminal behavior seemed murky at times.

Jack Jones, an inquisitive reporter with The Oklahoman, shed some light on this world in 1950 when a copy of a $220 loan note fell into his hands. The loan was for Jack Osborne — a “veteran gambling raider with the police vice squad” — from Charles E. McGuire, a bartender with strong ties to the gambling circuit. A co-signer on the note was Ivan Roy Miller, McGuire's friend and a known gambler with a criminal record.

Jones confronted Oklahoma City Police Chief L.J. “Smokey” Hilbert about the questionable loan, only to have the chief snap, “There's nothing wrong with the transaction.”

Jones pressed the issue, and Hilbert became more agitated.

“I don't think there were any strings attached to the loan,” Hilbert continued. “My investigation of it is closed right now. Osborne needed the money at that time. He borrowed it and paid it back. I see nothing wrong with that.”

Three weeks earlier Hilbert fired his chief of detectives for accepting a $5,000 loan from Frey, the Packingtown gambler.

As for McGuire, the chief admitted he was aware he had “loaned money to lots of policemen and to lots of firemen. When they're hard up he helps them out.”

Frustrated, Hilbert sternly said, “I don't appreciate this kind of stuff being made public information.”

Hilbert was clearly angry.

The reporter's investigation also inadvertently uncovered some details about Wade Sr.'s secretive gambling operations. Those details were provided by McGuire, who surprisingly volunteered the information during an interview with Jones. He told Jones he worked for Wade Sr. as a “door man” during many of his high-stakes dice games.

“My job was to work the big hotel games,” McGuire revealed. “I met the boys in the lobby and told them which room to go to. If I saw an officer it was my job to notify the boys.”

By then, Wade Sr.'s dice games were legendary. For whatever privacy he might have enjoyed surely vanished on Christmas Eve 1945.

The legend

The story is firmly embedded in Oklahoma lore, and rightfully so. Packingtown gambler Hank Frey is on a losing streak while rolling dice at Percy Wade Sr.'s operation at the Biltmore Hotel.

Finally, Frey runs out of money and wagers his restaurant — Cattlemen's Cafe. Frey bets Gene Edward Wade, Percy Sr.'s son, he can't roll “a hard six” — two 3s (10-to-1 odds).

A glossy Cattlemen's Steakhouse brochure glorifies the moment.

“Wade put up his life savings in the bet,” the brochure proclaims. “With one roll of the dice Wade became a restaurateur!”

The legend doesn't stray too far from the truth.

Gene Wade, a 26-year-old fresh from his wartime stint with the U.S. Army, did roll the dice that night, although someone else made the famous wager.

“My brother didn't place the bet,” Percy Wade Jr. stated. “He didn't have the money. My father was the one who had the money.”

Gene Wade, as the story goes, insisted he felt lucky that night. His father apparently agreed, staking a $25,000 pot against Frey's Packingtown cafe.

“I've heard the dice game story many times from people who knew — Percy's sister (Lahoma), and some of the men who used to run with that crowd,” Norma Wade said. “What kind of a man wagers $25,000 on a roll of the dice?”

Only a true gambler.

Percy Wade Sr. never changed his ways. A year later he was operating his illegal games at a new reputed gambling joint on Reno Avenue, The Big House. Police raided his establishment and arrested him almost one year to the day of the famed Biltmore Hotel game.

Then, in August 1948, a mysterious fire ravaged The Big House. Gamblers Howard McCormick, Frey and Wade Sr. were all linked to the building.

As for Gene Wade, he became an iconic figure at Cattlemen's Steakhouse where he often sat in a rocker by the front door and greeted guests. He died in 1994 at the age of 85, and was buried with his father at Roselawn Cemetery in Oklahoma City.

Cattlemen's Steakhouse has long since changed ownership, but Gene Wade's good fortune is still celebrated there today with a “33” brand on the wall in the restaurant's Hereford Room. The brand is also a symbol of a wilder time in Oklahoma City when gambling kingpins skirted the law, police engaged in shady deals and a single roll of the dice could change a man's destiny.

The Wades were living proof.

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Notable visitors

Below is a sampling of famous people who have crossed the Cattlemen's Steakhouse threshold:

John Wayne

George H.W. Bush (During presidency)

Ronald Reagan (Before presidency)

Trisha Yearwood

Garth Brooks

Bill Russell

Reba McEntire

Ben Johnson

Charles Barkley

Wilford Brimley

Toby Keith

Larry Hagman

Dr. Phil

Rudy Giuliani


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