For a portion of the twentieth century, the Italian Mafia had a foothold in Ybor. Among the criminal activities practiced in the city was the operation of the illegal lottery game known as “Bolita”. In this game, little numbered balls were mixed in a bag. Players could bet on which numbers would be drawn by whoever is handling the bag. One location which Bolita was played was the Yellow House Bar, which was owned by Italian mafia leader Augustine “Primo” Lazzara. The bar, located at 2201 15th Street, was the scene of numerous illegal games of Bolita. According to Tampa historian Tony Pizzo, players of the game stood in long lines at the bar to place their bets. It is said that a man sat outside the Yellow House as a lookout to watch for law enforcement. If any approached, he would signal to those inside the bar by placing a match into the keyhole.
Augustine Lazzara, who owned the bar, was an Italian mafia figure in Ybor City. Born in Florida to Italian Immigrants in 1906, he was accused of a number of crimes. In 1949, Lazzara and Augustine Frisca were charged with the assault of Arthur Velasco. During a mafia probe in the 1960’s Lazzara was charged with crimes related to a fraudulent tax return. He was described by Hillsborough County Sheriff Ed Blackburn as “‘the front man for the Mafia group here (Tampa) for years.’” Augustine Lazzara passed away on April 8th, 1968, at the age of 61, and is buried in the Italian Club Cemetery. He represents a part of the Italian community in Ybor which had a negative impact. The Italian mafia families had a significant presence in Ybor, and Lazzara was a part of their activities. The Italian Mafia is still an important part of Ybor City, for the Trafficante crime family still operates to this day. Organized crime remains one of the lasting legacies which was brought by Italian immigrants to the Tampa area. Augustine Lazzara seems to be an important player, not only in the story of organized crime in Tampa, but in the story of Italians in Ybor City.
The Yellow House Bar soon shut down in the late 1960’s. Plans were made to convert it into a coffee house. Soon, the building became the home of the Tampa Eagle’s Nest Restaurant. On November 16th, 1988, a fire broke out in the building, heavily damaging and gutting it. The remains of the former Yellow House Bar still stand on 15th street to this day. It was reported in April 2018 that plans have been made to restore the Yellow House into a commercial building, having space for six occupants. Today, what used to be the site of illegal Bolita games still stands as a testimony to the Italian presence in Ybor City.