Gambling and its Leverage Across the United States
Many of the gamblers who did not flock to the cities of New York and Chicago followed the pioneers who traveled to the West.
The climate was ideal for gambling; there was little interference of any kind, especially on the part of the authorities.
Gambling establishments were much more primitive than those in the east, and the suckers weren't nearly as wealthy. The favored games were, for the most part, the same--- faro, roulette, and later, poker.
In some parts of the West, the game of Monte was also popular.
San Francisco became the gambling capital of the West during the first Gold Rush. Her first gambling houses were the Bella Union, Parker House, Mazourka, Ifontne House, Alhambra, and Verandah.
Free bar food and entertainment were provided to lure the customer into playing the popular games of the time--- roulette, vingt-et-un (later called blackjack), three-card monte, and faro.
Poker didn't become popular until the 1870s. Most of the games were dishonest, but that didn't deter the players.
Denver became another prominent gambling city of the west. The gambling houses in that town went a step further than those in San Francisco; they offered, in addition to games of chance, saloons, dance halls, and a type of bawdy theater.
Card sharps like Soapy Smith flocked to Denver; Soapy dominated the scene until his brother murdered another gambler and Soapy sailed up to the Klondike in 1897 with his gang, and opened a gambling saloon in Skagway, where he commanded the scene for six months.
He was shot by a city engineer when he tried to interfere with a meeting of town residents who were discussing how to rid Skagway of Soapy.
Kansas City, Missouri, was a smaller gambling town, and boasted 40 gambling halls by the 1870s.
By 1881, however, Missouri passed a strong anti-gambling law and gamblers were forced to play in social clubs, a euphemism for places housing high-stakes poker games.
Those gaming establishment owners who didn't convert to clubs moved across the river into Kansas City, Kansas, where they were allowed to operate by bribing political officials.
Southern Texas also had its share of gambling establishments in the cities of San Antonio, Fort Worth, and Austin. Players who wished to indulge were welcome to play in a game of three-card monte or poker.
One of Texas' most famous gamblers was Ben Thompson, a notorious gunslinger who owned a gambling house, but was so clumsy a card sharp that he killed over twelve men who accused him of cheating.
He was murdered while he attended a theater show in San Antonio in 1884.
Some of the most notorious towns in the West were Abilene and Dodge City in Kansas; Deadwood, South Dakota; Leadville, Creede, and Cripple Creek, Colorado; Tombstone, Arizona; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Virginia City, Nevada.
Of these towns, Dodge City, gained prominence as the shipping center for the herds of cattle from Texas during the 1870s.
It attracted all sorts of drifter and criminals, and was known for the number of murders committed there.
Deadwood, after gold was discovered in South Dakota in 1874, was almost as bad. Deadwood is remembered as the town where Jack McCall murdered Wild Bill Hickok when he was holding a poker hand of aces and eights.
Tombstone came into being in 1879 after silver deposits were discovered in Southern Arizona.
This tough mining town attracted all sorts of criminals; it earned a place in American history because it was the site of the gunfight between Wyatt Earp and his brothers and the Clanton and McLowery gangs.
Tombstone dominated the Arizona territory as a center of gambling until its decline in the 1890s.
After the turn of the century, both Arizona and New Mexico territories had over eight hundred gambling resorts which attracted frontier gamblers from all over the country. This happy state of affairs lasted until both territories applied for admittance into the Union.
New Mexico passed extraordinarily rigorous anti-gambling laws in 1907 and Arizona quickly followed suit. Except for a few pockets of resistance, the era of wide-open frontier gambling was over.