Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Gambling in the Old West ~ Julie Lence


Casey's Saloon & Gambling Hall (reddit)

For centuries, gambling has been an accepted form of entertainment, dating back to the Old Stone Age.  The earliest 6-sided dice game dates back to 3000 BC. In the 1800’s, a good portion of the male population frequented saloons and gambling halls to imbibe in alcohol and play a game of chance. These establishments were often considered their ‘home away from home’ and generally accepted by women, who had their own form of entertainment with quilting bees and church revivals, where they had prayer meetings and sang hymns. Many of my novels feature a saloon, and some of my heroes are quite adept at cheating at poker to earn a living. Below are some other games of chance men enjoyed.


Keno (E-bay)

Played exactly like bingo, tables were set up in a room with Keno cards on them. Players would enter and choose which card(s) they wanted to play. The people) running the night’s game stood at the front of the room selling tickets and ivory chips the size of half dollars that had half-moons in the middle. The other person running the night’s game stood at the urn where the Keno balls were dropped in to. Behind those two was a large board with numbers above holes. Just like bingo, the urn holding the Keno balls has a handle. The man turns the handle, the ball drops out at the bottom, the number is called out and the ball is inserted into the hole corresponding with the number. The players use the ivory chips to cover the numbers and when they cover a row, they yell out, Keno!


Faro (Wikipedia)

Because of its fast action, easy-to-learn rules, and good odds, especially when players weren’t cheating, Faro rivaled poker in popularity. With one person designated the ‘banker’ and played with one deck of cards, any number of people (punters) could enter the game. To play, chips (or checks as some called them) were purchased from the banker, with bet values being determined by the house.  A board was placed on top of an oval table covered with green, with a cutout for the banker. One suit of cards (usually spades) was pasted on top of the board in numerical order. Players placed their bets on one or more cards in the layout. A deck of cards was shuffled and put inside the dealing box, (a mechanical device known as the shoe to prevent manipulations of the draw by the banker). The 1st card dealt (the soda card) was tossed away, leaving the remaining 51. The dealer then drew 2 more cards. The 1st (the banker’s card) was placed to the right of the dealing box. The 2nd card (the player’s card) was placed to the left of the banker’s box.

   Suits of cards didn’t matter, and the banker’s card was the player’s losing card. So if the banker’s card was the number the player had set his betting chips on the board on top of the table, he lost his bet and the house won. The players card was the winning card and all bets placed on that number won. The dealer settled all bets on those two cards, then the next round of bets were placed before the next 2 cards were drawn, continuing to the last  cards where the dealer would ‘call the turn.’ This was a special bet at the end of each round, where the object was to predict the exact order of the remaining cards.  If all 3 last cards were the same, there was no bet.  

Roulette (Wikipedia)

There are several theories as to who invented the game, dating back to the 17th century.  The modern version of the game appeared in 184, with Frenchmen Francois and Louis Blanc inventing the single ‘0’ Roulette wheel, that eventually found its way to America in the 1800’s.  Americans eventually rejected the single ‘0’ and returned the ‘00’s’ back to the wheel. Early American wheels had the numbers 1-28, 0, 00, and an eagle, which was a considered a house slot that gave the establishment an extra edge. The game is played on a table with a wheel to one side. On the other side of the table, players place their chip on the number or symbol they think the ball will land on when the wheel stops spinning. The person presiding over the game (croupier) spins the wheel in one direction. He then spins a small white ball in the opposite around a circular track running along the outer edge of the wheel. As the wheel slows, the ball loses momentum and falls into one of the numbered slots, declaring a winner (or winners).


Poker (Photos of old America) 

The game as we know it evolved in the U.S. in the 1800’s. Based somewhat on a game Three Card Brag where players were dealt 3 cards, hoping for a triple, the strategy for involved players remembering which was cards had been dealt and which were still in the deck when placing wagers as the game continued until a winner was declared. Early hands of poker in the U.S. were often played with a 20 or 25 deck of cards. Eventually, the game broadened 1850’s to a 52 card deck, to include stud poker with 5, 6 or 7 cards being dealt. Draw poker derived from that, and wild cards and jokers also came into play in the 1850’s. From the Civil War through the net 5 decades, draw poker was the basis for all other versions of the game.

   Usually played with 1- people, with players tossing chips into the center of the table for their ante, the dealer which variation of the game is to be played (5 card stud) and deals 5 cards to each player. In turn, each player either bets his hand will beat the other players or folds, meaning he doesn’t think his cards will win. Hands are determined as 2 pair (often Jacks or better); 3 of a kind, full house, straight,  of a kind and a royal flush. A fun game, and in many of my books, the dealer is a professional card sharp playing for the house to win money for the house.

Here is a scene from Luck of the Draw, capturing Royce’s skills at a poker table.


As Royce broke open a new deck of cards, he had no trouble pushing aside the ethics he lived by. Honesty and morality had no place at the poker table, not when Paige’s life and the life of their unborn child rested, literally, in the palms of his hands.

He’d spent the three days holed up in Waco due to the rain practicing the tricks Paige had taught him. This morning he shuffled the stiff cards with the ease and dexterity of an accomplished gambler.

Royce picked up his cards and looked them over. His heart beat fast at the sight of the two aces, and as Paige had taught him, he made sure that relief didn't reflect in his gaze.

“How many?” He looked to Mendoza seated across from him and all confidence he felt skidded to a halt. Mendoza no longer had that cocky arrogance about him. He had masked all feeling and thought, emitting a look so blank Royce thought he had dealt Mendoza the wrong hand.

“One,” Marcus answered.

As he tossed one card, face down, to the center of the table, Royce's confidence was restored. He hadn't dealt the wrong cards. By asking for only one card, Royce was certain the landlord was chasing after a full house, betting that the two pair he held would still be enough to beat Royce’s hand if he didn't get his card.

“Dealer will take three,” Royce announced then tossed his throw-away cards, face down, to the center of the table and dealt himself three cards. At the sight of the last card, a lone heart beat jolted him so hard it threatened to burst from his chest, but somehow he managed to keep his entire body from flinching.

Senor Weston.” Mendoza caressed his chin with the side of his index finger. “Your senorita is going to make a lovely addition to my cantina.”

“Is that so?” Royce kept his gaze impassive.

The landlord’s smile broadened as he laid his cards on the table, face up. A pair of queens, a pair of tens, and an eight stared back at Royce, and for a long moment, a deafening silence filled the air.

“You accept defeat graciously, Senor.” Mendoza’s grin widened as he shoved his chair back from the table. “I would say I am sorry for your loss, but I am not. I will send your child to you after the senorita gives birth.”

“Sit down, Marcus,” Royce ordered tersely. “I have not shown my hand.”

Though his eyes narrowed, Mendoza’s tone remained friendly. “You are correct. It would be rude of me to leave the table without viewing your hand.”

A sharp retort hung on the edge of Royce’s tongue, one that would have the landlord turning red, but Royce swallowed the comment in exchange for ending the game. Slowly, with his gaze bearing down on Mendoza, he laid his cards on the table one at a time; an ace, a deuce, another ace, a five, and last, the third ace.

“Paige stays with me.” Royce's tone left no room for argument. And though he would have loved nothing more than to wipe the disbelieving, murderous look from Mendoza’s face, time was of the essence. Paige had been gone from his side too long.

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