London’s fame as famous gambling center dates back to the mid-18th century when gaming clubs like Almacks, White’s Brooks’s, and the Cocoa Tree first became fashionable.  But the peak of this fame was not reached until some 50 years later, with the founding of a new club (in 1827) by a one-time fishmonger and freelance gambler named William Crockford.  And though many of the old clubs still enjoy wide reputations among gamblers today, Crockford’s remains the most internationally famous.

William Crockford’s career was a remarkable one from start to finish.  He had been fishmonger of Fleet Street with a sideline in bookmaking and such small-scale swindles as three-card trick.  In 1816 he bought quarter-share in a gambling tavern in St. James’s.  But Crockford realized that this tavern could only have a limited success.  He knew that the most popular clubs (like White’s and Brook’s) were popular because they were selective, and that if he wanted to compete with them he would have to plan on a much grander scale, and go all out to get the top people as members.  And William Crockford certainly wanted to compete.
Accordingly, he bought four adjoining houses around the corner in St. James’s Street (a very fashionable area of London), decorated them lavishly, offered the finest foods and wines at very reasonable prices, and enrolled a number of distinguished members.  Among the first of these were the Duke of Wellington and Lord Chesterfield (who gained the place early notoriety by losing the equivalent of $ 115,000 in a single seven-hour hazard session).  Not long after, Lord Rivers, Lord Sefton, and Lord Grenville joined and added to the club’s reputation by losing the equivalent of nearly $ 500,000 each in an evening.

Big stakes were common in London texas holdem tricks, but there was something about Crockford himself (apart from the splendor of his club, the titled company, and the fascination of watching big-time gambling) that attracted members, and gained their confidence.  He allowed heavy debts (he is said to have been owed the equivalent of $ 1,000,000 at one time) and was scrupulously attentive to the demands of secrecy.  This was made quite clear when (in the early 1840's he was called before the House of Commons Committee on Gaming Houses, for he adamantly refused to answer questions about his members, saying: “I do not feel myself at liberty to divulge the pursuits of private gentlemen.” But apparently his stout defense of his members (many of whom were important members of parliament, including Disraeli, the prime minister) was of no avail.  The Committee legalized entry by the police into “any gaming house on a request being presented by any two householders.”  This clearly meant the end of the kind of privacy that members and previously enjoyed.

One of the high-state chemin-de-fer tables.  The seat charge on this particular table is $5 ($14) per shoe.

Four days after the decision (on May 25, 1844) William Crockford died, at the age of 69.  he left behind a fortune estimated at the equivalent of $ 5,000,000.  after his death, the club faded into obscurity.  But it was resuscitated nearly 100 years later as a bridge club; and more recently (as we will see shortly) it rose to fame again as an opulent, high-class gaming club.

London’s fame sumo boxing as a gambling center diminished after the middle of the 19th century; but despite the new laws, the two great clubs of the 18th century, White’s and Brooks’s struggled on.  At White’s, especially, bets had always been made ob every conceivable event.  Members bet on births, deaths, marriages, on the length of individual lives, the duration of ministries, the name of a mistress, and most natural phenomena.  In one of his letters, the English writer Horace Walpole wrote of a member of White’s staff who, “on coming into the club on the morning of the earthquake [in 1750] and hearing bets laid whether shock was caused by an earthquake or the blowing up of the powder-mills, went away in horror, protesting they were such an impious set that he believed if the last trump were to sound they would bet puppet-show against Judgment.”
The fact that, in White’s piety played second fiddle to enthusiasm is underlined in another letter of Walpole’s: “A man dropped down at the door of White’s; he was carried into the house.  Was he dead or not?  The odds were immediately given and taken for and against.  It was proposed to bleed him.  Those who had taken odds that the man was dead protested that the use of a lancet would affect the fairness of the bet; he was therefore left to himself and presently died – to the great satisfaction of those who had bet for that event.”

Since the 1960 Betting and Gaming Act (which legalized many continental games that had previously been banned in Britain ) a great number of gambling clubs have sprung up in modern Britain – particularly in London.  (The Sunday Mirror recently estimated that the equivalent of about $ 750,000 changed hands nightly in London’s West End alone.)  These clubs vary considerably in size and intention: Some are small combined drinking and gaming clubs (drab but usually honest); a few, though they make a pretense at luxury, are completely crooked (with rigged roulette and loaded dice); others are thoroughly reputable high-class clubs, run with all the strict propriety and meticulous attention to detail that characterizes the big French casinos.  Into this last category come clubs like Aspinall’s Les Ambassadeurs, Quents, the River Club, Almack’s, White’s Brooks’s and, of course, the new Crockford’s (now removed to premises in Carlton House Terrace).

Today, Crockford’s has nearly 2500 members.  It is estimated that approximately $ 75,000,000 is staked annually at the tables and that the nightly profit to the proprietors is about $ 4500.  (under the new Act, proprietors may not take a percentage of the money staked at their tables.  But they can charge seat money.)  Two very successful innovations at Crockford’s are the new chemin-de-fer tables (which earned the club a gross profit of about $ 500,000 in their first four months) and the even newer roulette table (used for the first time in October 1963).  The introduction of roulette at Crockford’s raised some tricky legal questions: Roulette played in the continental manner (i.e., with the zero giving the bank a favorable perscetage)  contra venes the 1960 Act, which states that roulette is only legal providing that the game is so conducted that the chances therein are equally favorable to all players.

Many clubs have avoided the problem by employing roulette wheels without zeros, relying mainly on seat money for their profits.  This often proves extremely costly, for there is nothing to stop players with unlimited capital from doubling up their stakes indefinitely.  (Some clubs have imposed low house limits, but this drives away the big-time gamblers.)  Crockford’s, however, has found another way of presenting roulette legally.  To get into the roulette room, members must pay an entrance fee equaling $ 2.80 for which they are given a ticket that has printed on it the words, “This portion has to be handed to the croupier if participation in the bank if they so wish (they rarely do ) and offers each player a completely equal chance.  And to ensure that the game is run with a maximum of efficiency, seven croupiers have been imported from France at a cost of over $ 1800 a week in wages.
           
New Orleans was America’s first big gambling center: It was in New Orleans that the famous gamblers who flourished before the American Civil War learned the tricks of their trade, and it was New Orleans that started the gambling fever that swept like wildfire throughout the United States after the war.  New Orleans, in fact, was a gambling town from its earliest beginnings in 1718, with all its coffee houses and taverns providing rooms and tables for private gaming.
As the town prospered and grew, the number of gambling houses grew accordingly, despite attempts by provincial governors to check the “corruption.”  Eventually (in 1811) a law was passed prohibiting gambling anywhere in the state; but gambling houses continued to flourish underground.  In 1823, the municipal authorities, desperate for money, persuaded the legislature to compromise and pass a law permitting New Orleans to license six gambling hoses at $ 5000 a year each-the money to go toward a hospital and a college.

In Las Vegas, America’s gambling capital, most hotels are glorified casinos, almost every store (even the airport ) has a bank of slot machines, and gambling goes on for 24 hours a day.  The favorite games are craps, blackjack, and “slots.”  Far left, the dealer hands the dice to the shooter in a craps game; left, the slot machines (different models take anything from a cent a dollar).

This led to the establishment of the earliest of the large gambling houses that were to dominate the American gambling scene.  The first and most famous) of these houses was started in 1827by an entrepreneur named John Davis.  Davis’s extremely lavish gambling house was open day and night (there was even a branch house open at week ends); he supplied gamblers with the finest food and wine free of charge, provided expert croupiers and private rooms for “aristocratic” gamblers.  The games played were faro, roulette, vingt-et-un, brag, écarte, boston, and blackjack.

Davis’s virtual monopoly of New Orleans gambling came to an end in 1832, with the removal of the restriction on the number of gambling licenses that could be issued.  Very soon there was a great number of flourishing rival establishments.  Gambling, in fact, so dominated life in New Orleans that a few years later, in an attempt to restore some sense of moral conduct to the city, the state of Louisiana revoked all the gambling license laws and made gambling of every kind illegal.

But the war that broke out between the United States and Mexico in 1846 brought troops in thousands through New Orleans and, though gambling was still officially forbidden, it was soon flourishing throughout the city.  Wholesale bribery and blackmail of politicians and police kept the saloons open, and by the end of 1850 there were over 500 “sawdust joints” where card and craps games could be played 24 hours a day.  Most of these water-front shacks (they could hardly be called casinos) were completely corrupt, and honest  poker games of craps could be found only in private homes.