Known as “Lucky Leo,” longtime Jersey Shore arcade operator Leo Whalen passed away on Nov. 27 at age 94. Jersey Shore Online said Seaside Heights residents and visitors knew him not only from his popular Lucky Leo’s boardwalk arcade – established in 1953 – but also from his “larger than life” personality.
Leo was born in November 1926 in the nearby city of Lakehurst, but spent most of his formative years in Toms River, N.J. In an unedited 2012 interview recently posted to YouTube, he detailed his long history in the arcade business.
“When I started, the games were illegal,” he recounted. “The town would issue a license for the games of chance and wheels at $200 apiece. We were not sanctioned by the state. Occasionally, they’d come down and we’d get information from the police that we should close for a couple of days and after the weekend we’d open up on Monday, which the whole boardwalk did.”
In those early days in the 1950s, Whalen also worked as a teacher in the Central Regional School District and used that money to afford rent at the arcade when he was shut down for six weeks in the summer of 1956. But as the games were made legal, Lucky Leo grew to be a powerful name on the boardwalk.
He further recalled: “In the ’60s and ’70s you didn’t have as many people and it was 100% families. Times have changed and sometimes it wasn’t always for the best. Seaside went through a change that wasn’t really great but now in the last few years my two sons, Steven and Tommy, tell me that it is going back to families, so it looks like it’s on its way up.”
A post on the company’s Facebook page made the announcement of his death, sharing a video of Leo and a message that they said “goodbye to a legend” that week. “Many people have been touched by this man who was larger than life,” they said. “The stories that have been shared all have a common thread of the wonderful memories create by Leo and a life full of love and character.”
Visit www.luckyleos.com/history to learn more about the famous Jersey Shore arcade and the man who was behind it.