Casinos: At the Turn of the Century

At the turn of the century reform-minded politicians took direct aim at casino gaming throughout the United States.

Public opinion was molded by religious leaders who put together traveling revival shows that toured the country preaching against the evils of gambling and drinking.

These religious meetings held under large tents, featured reformed gamblers who gave vivid testimonials as to the chicanery and crookedness of the 'sporting life'.

In cities from New York to San Francisco, reform administrations spurred by religious leaders closed down gaming casinos.

Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, and New Orleans all raided gaming operations. Hot Springs, Arkansas, known as the 'Monte Carlo of the Midwest', had several gambling clubs that offered faro, roulette, poker, dice, and slot machines.

In 1910, Judge Woods, elected on a pledge to rid Hot Springs of the 'gambling hells', closed down all the casinos.

French Lick, Indiana, long known as an open gambling town, severely restricted the operation of its many casinos.

The course of gambling reform in Canton, Ohio, is typical of what occurred in many locales. In 1911, two traveling preachers, Quinn and Ashby, convinced Canton officials that gambling was rampant in their town.

The officials prevailed upon the sheriff, who responded by raiding two of the largest gambling halls. According to police reports, several wagons of gambling paraphernalia were taken to the dump and burned.

After a few months, the raided casinos reopened to business as usual.

Reverend Recard, pastor of the United Brethren Church, described local conditions that gambling is the abysmal hole in the city known as Canton.

The city is known among the good and wise to the ends of the earth as the home of McKinley.

Quinn and Ashby returned to Canton and secured evidence of continued gambling. The once again convinced canton council members to take action, and the sheriff was ordered to 'clean up the town'.

Subsequently, ninety gambling arrests were made; operators, convinced of the council's resolve, closed their casinos and left town.

Local reform efforts often prompted state legislatures to prohibit or restrict gambling. In 1907, New Mexico and Arizona passed statewide anti-gambling laws that banned even card playing at home.

Nevada followed suit, prohibiting all gambling in 1910. New York, California, Missouri, Illinois, and Alabama legislatures passed bills to facilitate action against illegal gaming operators.

Bet-A-Million Gates (who had once wagered thousands on the number of flies lighting on a sugar cube) echoed a commonly held view of gambling participation during a speech before the Methodist church in Port Arthur, Texas, on December 5, 1909.

Gates's statement was, 'Don't gamble. Don't play cards. Don't bet on horse races. Don't speculate in wheat. Don't speculate on the stock exchange. Don't throw dice. Don't shrink honest labor. Don't be a gambler.'

Gates's last statement to the religious conclave, however, proved prophetic for the American public: 'Once a gambler, always a gambler.'