Gamblers and Gambling
By Rev. Henry
Copyrighted, 1896, by Henry Altemus.
Henry Altemus, Manufacturer,
GAMBLERS AND GAMBLING
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took hisgarments and made four parts, to every soldier a part, and alsohis coat. Now the coat was without seam, woven from the topthroughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rendit, but cast lots far it, whose it shall be. These thingstherefore the soldiers did.
I have condensed into one account theseparate parts of this gambling transactionas narrated by each evangelist.How marked in every age is a Gambler'scharacter! The enraged priesthood offerocious sects taunted Christ's dyingagonies; the bewildered multitude, accustomedto cruelty, could shout; but noearthly creature, but a Gambler, could be solost to all feeling as to sit down coollyunder a dying man to wrangle for his garments,and arbitrate their avaricious differencesby casting dice for his tunic, withhands spotted with his spattered blood,warm and yet undried upon them. Thedescendants of these patriarchs of gambling,[Pg 4]however, have taught us that there is nothingpossible to hell, uncongenial to these,its elect saints. In this lecture it is mydisagreeable task to lead your steps downthe dark path to their cruel haunts, there toexhibit their infernal passions, their awfulruin, and their ghastly memorials. In thishouse of darkness, amid fierce faces gleamingwith the fire of fiercer hearts, amid oathsand groans and fiendish orgies, ending inmurders and strewn with swelteringcorpses,—do not mistake, and supposeyourself in Hell,—you are only in its precinctsand vestibule.
Gambling is the staking or winning ofproperty upon mere hazard. The husbandmanrenders produce for his gains; themechanic renders the product of labor andskill for his gains; the gambler renders forhis gain the sleights of useless skill, ormore often, downright cheating. Bettingis gambling; there is no honest equivalentto its gains. Dealings in fancy-stocks areoftentimes sheer gambling, with all itsworst evils. Profits so earned are no betterthan the profits of dice, cards, or hazard.When skill returns for its earnings a usefulservice, as knowledge, beneficial amuse[Pg 5]ments,or profitable labor, it is honest commerce.The skill of a pilot in threading anarrow channel, the skill of a lawyer inthreading a still more intricate one, are assubstantial equivalents for a price received,as if they were merchant goods or agriculturalproducts. But all gains of mere skillwhich result in no real benefit, are gamblinggains.
Gaming, as it springs from a principle ofour nature, has, in some form, probablyexisted in every age. We trace it inremote periods and among the most barbarouspeople. It loses none of its fascinationsamong a civilized people. On thecontrary, the habit of fierce stimulants, thejaded appetite of luxury, and the satiety ofwealth, seem to invite the master-excitant.Our land, not apt to be behind in good orevil, is full of gambling in all its forms—thegambling of commerce, the gambling ofbets and wagers, and the gambling of gamesof hazard. There is gambling in refinedcircles, and in the lowest; among the membersof our national government, and of ourstate governments. Thief gambles withthief, in jail; the judge who sent themthere, the lawyer who prosecuted, and thelawyer who defended them, often gambletoo. This vice, once almost universallyprevalent among the Western bar, and still[Pg 6]too frequently disgracing its members, is,however, we are happy to believe, decreasing.In many circuits, not long ago, andin some now, the judge, the jury, and thebar, shuffled cards by night, and law byday—dealing out money and justice alike.The clatter of dice and cards disturbs yourslumber on the boat, and rings drowsilyfrom the upper rooms of the hotel. Thisvice pervades the city, extends over everyline of travel, and infests the most moraldistricts. The secreted lamp dimly lightsthe apprentices to their game; with unsuspecteddisobedience, boys creep out of theirbeds to it; it goes on in the store close bythe till; it haunts the shop. The scoundrelin his lair, the scholar in his room; thepirate on his ship, gay women at parties;loafers on the street-corner, public functionariesin their offices; the beggar under thehedge, the rascal in prison, and some professorsof religion in the somnolent hoursof the Sabbath,—waste their energies bythe ruinous excitement of the game.Besides these players, there are troops ofprofessional gamblers, troops of hangers-on,troops of youth to be drawn in. An inexperiencedeye would detect in our peacefultowns no signs of this vulture-flock;—so ina sunny day, when all cheerful birds aresinging merrily, not a buzzard can be seen;[Pg 7]but let a carcass drop, and they will pushforth their gaunt heads from their gloomyroosts, and come flapping from the darkwoods to speck the air, and dot the groundwith their numbers.
The universal prevalence of this vice is areason for parental vigilance; and a reasonof remonstrance from the citizen, the parent,the minister of the gospel, the patriot, andthe press. I propose to trace its opening,describe its subjects, and detail its effects.
A young man, proud of freedom, anxiousto exert his manhood, has tumbled hisBible, and sober books, and letters of counsel,into a dark closet. He has learnedvarious accomplishments, to flirt, to boast,to swear, to fight, to drink. He has letevery one of these chains be put aroundhim, upon the solemn promise of Satan thathe would take them off whenever hewished. Hearing of the artistic feats ofeminent gamblers, he emulates them. So,he ponders the game. He teaches what hehas learned to his shopmates, and feelshimself their master. As yet he has neverplayed for stakes. It begins thus: Peepinginto a book-store, he watches till the sobercustomers go out; then slips in, and withassumed boldness, not concealing hisshame, he asks for cards, buys them, andhastens out. The first game is to pay for[Pg 8]the cards. After the relish of playing for astake, no game can satisfy them without astake. A few nuts are staked; then a bottleof wine; an oyster-supper. At last theycan venture a sixpence in actual money—justfor the amusement of it. I need gono further—whoever wishes to do anythingwith the lad, can do it now. If properlyplied, and gradually led, he will go to anylength, and stop only at the gallows. Doyou doubt it? let us trace him a year ortwo further on.
With his father's blessing, and hismother's tears, the young man departsfrom home. He has received his patrimony,and embarks for life and independence.Upon his journey he rests at a city;visits the "school of morals;" lingers inmore suspicious places; is seen by asharper; and makes his acquaintance. Theknave sits by him at dinner; gives him thenews of the place, and a world of advice;cautions him against sharpers; inquires ifhe has money, and charges him to keep itsecret; offers himself to make with him therounds of the town, and secure him fromimposition. At length, that he may see all,he is taken to a gaming-house, but, withapparent kindness, warned not to play.He stands by to see the various fortunes ofthe game; some, forever losing; some,[Pg 9]touch what number they will, gaining pilesof gold. Looking in thirst where wine isfree. A glass is taken; another of a betterkind; next the best the landlord has, andtwo glasses of that. A change comes overthe youth; his exhilaration raises hiscourage, and lulls his caution. Gamblingseen, seems a different thing from gamblingpainted by a pious father! Just then hisfriend remarks that one might easily doublehis money by a few ventures, but that itwas, perhaps, prudent not to risk. Onlythis was needed to fire his mind. What!only prudence between me and gain?Then that shall not be long! He stakes;he wins. Stakes again; wins again.Glorious! I am the lucky man that is tobreak the bank! He stakes, and winsagain. His pulse races; his face burns; hisblood is up, and fear gone. He loses; losesagain; loses all his winnings; loses more.But fortune turns again; he wins anew. Hehas now lost all self-command. Gains excitehim, and losses excite him more. Hedoubles his stakes; then trebles them—andall is swept. He rushes on, puts up hiswhole purse, and loses the whole! Thenhe would borrow; no man will lend. Heis desperate, he will fight at a word. He isled to the street, and thrust out. The coolbreeze which blows upon his fevered cheek,[Pg 10]wafts the slow and solemn stroke of theclock,—one,—two,—three,—four; four ofthe morning! Quick work of ruin!—an innocentman destroyed in a night! Hestaggers to his hotel, remembers as heenters it, that he has not even enough topay his bill. It now flashes upon him thathis friend, who never had left him for anhour before, had stayed behind where hismoney is, and, doubtless, is laughing overhis spoils. His blood boils with rage. Butat length comes up the remembrance ofhome; a parent's training and counsels formore than twenty years, destroyed in anight! "Good God! what a wretch I havebeen! I am not fit to live. I cannot gohome. I am a stranger here. Oh! that Iwere dead! Oh! that I had died before Iknew this guilt, and were lying where mysister lies! Oh God! Oh God! my headwill burst with agony!" He stalks hislonely room with an agony which only theyoung heart knows in its first horribleawakening to remorse—when it looks despairfull in the face, and feels its hideousincantations tempting him to suicide. Subduedat length by agony, cowed and weakenedby distress, he is sought again bythose who plucked him. Cunning to subvertinexperience, to raise the evil passions,[Pg 11]and to allay the good, they make him theirpliant tool.
Farewell, young man! I see thy stepsturned to that haunt again! I see hopelighting thy face; but it is a lurid light, andnever came from heaven. Stop before thatthreshold!—turn, and bid farewell tohome!—farewell to innocence!—farewell tovenerable father and aged mother!—the nextstep shall part thee from them all forever.And now henceforth be a mate to thieves,a brother to corruption. Thou hast madea league with death, and unto death shaltthou go.
Let us here pause, to draw the likenessof a few who stand conspicuous in thatvulgar crowd of gamblers, with which hereafterhe will consort. The first is a taciturn,quiet man. No one knows when he comesinto town, or when he leaves. No manhears of his gaining; for he never boasts,nor reports his luck. He spends little forparade; his money seems to go and comeonly through the game. He reads none,converses none, is neither a glutton nor ahard drinker; he sports few ornaments, andwears plain clothing. Upon the whole, heseems a gentlemanly man; and sober citizenssay, "his only fault is gambling."What then is this "only fault?" In hisheart he has the most intense and consum[Pg 12]inglust of play. He is quiet becauseevery passion is absorbed in one; and thatone burning at the highest flame. Hethinks of nothing else, cares