Sports Gambling, 1877 style

The subject of sport gambling arose on another post, and the opinion stated that it is fine so long as it is not rigged.  Here is how they rolled back in 1877.  By way of background, mentions of “pool” don’t refer to a game related to billiards, but to a particular form of betting popular in the day, in which the house acted as stakeholder, taking a cut, for individuals buying and selling “pools.”

An experience related to the writer yesterday may be of interest to those people who are in the habit of frequenting pool-rooms to bet on innings in ball games. The speaker was a well-known sport of the better class, and what he had to say was this: “The man who bets on innings in the pool-room is, as a general thing, burning up his money; he cannot win except by chance, and I will tell you how I know. I will give you an instance. The day the Chicagos and St. Louis played their second game in this city my friend {call him Jones} went out to see the game and stayed until it was over. Then he came down on a car and stepped in to tell me about it. As soon as he had given me the result I went over to the pool-room to see if they had posted the returns from the Boston-Cincinnati game which was going on in Cincinnati. When I got over there, judge how astonished I was when I found them selling pools on the Chicago-St. Louis game, which had been over fully forty minutes, or long enough for Jones to come down in a street-car. While I was there a man got up and offered to bet $100 to $50, then to $25, then to $10, and finally to $5, that the Chicagos would win. At this time the eighth and ninth innings were not posted on the board. Now I say that if the pool-man gets his dispatches by telegraph, and then don’t post them fast enough to beat the street-car, there is ‘funny’ business going on. It is pretty good advice to men who bet to let up betting on innings in ball games.” There is more than a little sense in the advice about the betting on innings given above. It is quite possible for a man to get a fair show for his money if he bets on a game before a ball is struck, but if he goes in for innings he is quite likely to be opposed to a man who knows the result of the matter on which he is arranging to rob the unsuspecting innocent.  Source: Chicago Tribune June 10, 1877


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Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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3 thoughts on “Sports Gambling, 1877 style

  1. Gambling is a hell of an addiction and some people are so in thrall they might as well just print Sucker on their forehead. Doesn’t mean it should be illegal just that the ways the house can win need to open, transparent and based on rules that let the gambler win on lucky days.


  2. It was a frequent enough con over the course of a hundred years that both The Sting and an episode of MASH were able to use it as plot devices.


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