Gambling Reforms in the Past
The round of reforms directed against cards, dice and other casino games can be directly traced to events that occurred in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
At July 5-7, 1835, Vicksburg was a typical frontier town in that casino gaming was tolerated, widespread, and openly conducted.
Several gambling casinos catered to a bustling town of 2,500 that was becoming an important cotton center and railroad terminus.
Compatibility with gaming had earned Vicksburg the title 'the liveliest gambling place in the whole Southwest.'
By 1835, a sizable middle class existed--- a group that believed the ubiquity of gambling blacklegs was severely damaging Vicksburg's reputation and inhibiting commercial growth.
In June 1835, Vicksburg officials uncovered an alleged plot to arm Negro slaves for the purpose of overthrowing white rule.
The conspirators belonged to a shadowy group called the Clan of the Mystic Confederacy, which supposedly included some white gamblers who planned to profit from the disruptions that would follow an armed insurrection.
The 'plot' was foiled and five 'confessed' slaves were hung on June 30. The gambler-conspirators were never located, but by July 4 strong public sentiment against anyone connected with gaming had risen.
When a drunken gambling saloon owner disrupted a July 4th gathering, anti-gambling interests seized the initiative, forming a vigilance committee made up of the town's 'better citizens' and passing a resolution ordering 'all professional gamblers' to leave Vicksburg within twenty-four hours.
On July 6, the vigilantes marched through town tearing down the casinos and burning gambling paraphernalia such as cards, dice, faro boxes, and roulette wheels.
Five professional gamblers who had refused to leave town were summarily hung, while several others were tarred and feathered.
The wrath of the vigilance committee was described by a local resident: 'At this time while I am writing they are whipping, tarring and feathering for stealing. They have driven the gambler from his town and all law is according to the will of the victors. All gamblers that can be found are hung, insurrectors hung, other offence, whipping. If a man says aught against the [militia] Company's proceedings he is either whipped or hung.'
The actions taken by the Vicksburg committee encouraged other anti-gambling groups, and a wave of reform swept frontier towns from Mobile to Chicago. Several jurisdictions banned gambling altogether, while others made it difficult for casinos to operate openly.
The authorities of Natchez, a notorious gambling center, threatened casino owners with vigilante action operators heeded the warning and left on steamships heading westward.
Signs in public squares ordered 'sporting men' to leave town. The manufacturer and distribution of cards and dice was prohibited in some towns.
The more established Eastern cities also participated in the anti-gambling fervor.
In New York, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, campaigned diligently for the abolition of gaming. He convinced businessmen to join him in forming the New York Association for the Suppression of Gambling.
The goal of the organization, according to an association member, was 'to pluck the victim from the gambler's clutches'.
Most if his protection was to be afforded the working classes, who, according to Greeley and his associates, were being regularly fleeced by gambling blacklegs.
After considerable lobbying by anti-gambling forces, the 1851 New York legislature passed several anti-gambling ordinances, which, according to backers, 'if faithfully enforced would close every gambling hell within the state'.
Some of New York's gaming establishments did in fact close, 'while many moved underground and operated by bribing enforcement officials.
The reforms directed against casino gaming during this period had two effects: many gambling casinos were forced to operate illegally, and open gaming moved westward to the gold fields of Colorado and California, the frontier towns of Kansas and Texas, and the riverboats of the Mississippi.