An 18th century English country person, William Wiley, mentions in his diary that “acertain gambler has come into the village to live, now retired, as he says, from his obnoxious trade and prepared to live a life of good work.  It is galling to me to accept his ill-gotten gains for the work of the parish, but I do so ne’er the less.  And in truth I have found him a most Proper Person in all his manners.  I ventured to ask him if he ever regretted his trade and he told me that he had found it monstrous hard and that if life came his way again he would as life be a peasant in the fields.”

The person was also assured by his gambler acquaintance that gambling can be an honest profession as well as a difficult one.  “He shocked me with tales of gamblers who have wasted their own substance and the substance of others for greed, but told me too that he himself had always played his Faro and Whist as a business, producing to himself a Balance at each year’s end and learning from his Ventures what might not be done and what might, for Profit.  Many a year he has subsisted on the charity of others but promises me he has robbed none.  It is the goats that give the stink to the sheep, he says with some truth, and a gambler can be an honest man, as any can, but it is not in the eyes of Others to behold him thus.”

An illegal three-card Monte (find-the-lady) game being played in London street.  The operator has already switched the three cards and is accepting a player’s bet. 

A professional gambler can indeed be an honest man.  Probably the best living example of the professional who is both skilled and straight, who knows from experience the hardships of the gambler’s life, and yet who has become almost as legendary a character as any gambling man of romantic fiction, is America’s most famous gambler, known everywhere by his nickname-Nick the Greek.

Born in 1893 in Rethymnon, Crete, and educated at the Greek Evangelical College in Smyrna,Nick (whose real name is Nicholas Andrea Dandolos ) is the son of a rug merchant and the godson of a wealthy shipowner.  When he was 18 years old, his grandfather sent him to America, giving him an allowance of $ 150 a week.  In Chicago he met and fell in love with a girl, but they quarreled and Nick moved on to Montreal.  There he became friendly with a leading jockey of the day, Phil Musgrave; assisted by the jockey’s advice and his own natural ability for working out odds, Nick won $ 500,000 in six months’ betting on horse races.

The final stage in the game:  The operator is about to turn up the bettor’s card.  Professional “street dice cheats” of this kind generally use accomplices who act as stooges and watch for police.

Nick then went back to Chicago and promptly lost the entire amount playing card and dice games that were unfamiliar to him.  But he was not at all deterred from continuing in his chosen profession.  He began to study these games assiduously and in a few years had become so well known as a freelance gambler that casino proprietors were offering him large salaries to work them.  He usually refused, but became an enormous attraction at the casinos nevertheless merely by playing –partly because he would seldom stop gambling even after losing (as he frequently has done) as much as $ 100,000 in a single session at the tables.

Nick the Greek follows one basic gambling principle: to give himself as near an even chance as possible, so that his skill and his insight into his opponents’ character may be given a fair contest.  Thus he usually avoids games like roulette where he considers the house percentage to be too great.  He enjoys playing craps, though his real genius is for cards faro and particularly low stud poker at which he has won, throughout his career, over $ 6,400,000.  But, whatever the game, he always draws crowds of people anxious to witness one of the huge side bets that have made him famous.  When playing a game like craps (which often has comparatively low house limits) he has been known to make side bets of $ 5000 and more.

Although Nick the Greek is a relentless, calculating gambler, he seems to enjoy losing as much as winning.  With him the gamble seems to count more than the money; once away from the tables he treats his money as casually as the ash of his famous cigars.  He has often carelessly left huge sums in his hat-hands or in suits sent to cleaners.  It has been estimated that $ 500,000,000 has passed through his hand, and on his own admission he has swung from the extremes of poverty to the extremes of wealth 73 times.  Yet he always plays on credit, pays all debts punctually, and is scrupulously honest.

Naturally this unpredictable gambler with a degree in philosophy and a passion for Aristotle and Plato is the source of endless speculation and rumor.  It is widely believed that he once won a city block in Los Angeles, that he challenged an arrogant opponent to draw one card for $ 550,000 (the other man backed down), that he played faro for 10 days and nights without sleep.  These stories may or may not be true.  But one thing is certain: Nick the Greek has been gambling honestly for many years on an unprecedented scale, and he is still in business.  Which shows that, given the necessary skill and capital, you don’t have to cheat at gambling to make it pay.

Some professional gambling gamblers, of course, hold a different view.  They prefer to ensure their winnings by resorting to various forms of crookedness.  Consequently they never participate in the competition with chance that is the dedicated gambler’s chief source of pleasure (although the cheat may gain similar thrills from backing his skill at cheating against detection and punishment).  This urge to cheat at gambling is by no means new: Evidence of it can be found in the early history of mot nations.

In Britain the first recorded mention of dishonesty in gambling dates back to the reign of Cymbeline (a first-century a.d. king of Britain, if we accept his self-styled kingship on his coinage).  Because London was not then established, the seat of power was variously at St. Albans and Colchester; and in the histories of both towns are references to punishments inflicted for what (freely translated) was “the unlawful defacing of the coinage in the cause of deceit and false victory.”
Over a thousand years late the records, in this case of the City of London, contain innumerable reports of prosecutions and punishments.  For example:

            “Elmer de Multon was attached, for that he was indicated in the Ward of Chepe for being a common night walker; and in the day is wont to entice strangers to a tavern and there deceive them by using false dice game.”

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