GENERAL ARTICLES

WHERE TORONTO GAMBLES

THOMAS PERCY October 15 1932
GENERAL ARTICLES

WHERE TORONTO GAMBLES

THOMAS PERCY October 15 1932

WHERE TORONTO GAMBLES

Yes, Toronto has its little Monte Carlos —and some are not so little, at that

THOMAS PERCY

IT’S BETTING TIME, men, time to bet. Bet ’em right or bet ’em wrong, get a little bet down. How’ll they roll? You can’t win if you don’t bet.” The monotonous monotone of the croupier drawls on.

No, this gambling scene is not laid in Monte Carlo or any other foreign country, but right in Toronto the Good and its immediate suburbs.

“Fiddlesticks,” the average Canadian scoffs. “There may be an odd poker or crap game played among the boys, but as for any organized gambling on a big scale in gaming houses in Toronto—Toronto the Good—why, it's impossible!”

But not only is it possible—it exists! In Toronto and its suburbs there are no less than twelve recognized gambling houses recognized by the fraternity who patronize them, if by no others. There may be more. In the course of a two weeks investigation the writer visited an even dozen, not in the hope of making a quick, easy fortune, but to find out whether or not the stories he had heard of “big money” being won or lost were true, and, if possible, how these gaming houses keep open.

The stories of fortunes won or lost on a crap table in one evening are true. But how the backers of the houses keep their places open, without more than perfunctory police interference, is still a mystery to the writer.

Two of the twelve gambling houses seem to be better patronized than the others. They have larger buildings and bigger staffs, and they operate in a more wide-open manner than the others, which apparently are more or less upstarts in this hard-to-find, easy-money world where a dollar means less than a cent to the average man—until he goes broke. Then let him try to raise a small loan and see how quickly his erstwhile playmates turn him down!

The game of craps, played with two identical six-sided dice, marked with spots from one to six, is the most popular game in every “joint,” although “blackjack,” sometimes called “pontoon” or “twenty-one,” is another popular game. In two of the gaming houses roulette wheels have been installed and are getting a good play.

Let us visit one of these so-called “clubs” and see what manner of men keep the wheels going round.

“Nice People”

ENTRANCE is by introduction, it was found.

So, having reached a man who was already a “member,” we started out for gambling house No. 1, situated in the west end, but strategically placed outside the city limits.

“Drive in this laneway and keep going to the rear.” my guide directed.

I drove in, and a flashlight blinked from behind the big building, picking out a parking spot in the midst of forty or fifty cars already there. The time was just after eleven o'clock in the evening, and I was informed that we would likely be a little early for any big play, which usually starts shortly after midnight.

The car parked, we walked back to the entrance, a glass^nclosed porch with a locked door. On ringing the bell we were kept waiting a moment, probably being scrutinized by unseen eyes from some vantage point; then the automatic door-catch clicked and we entered the porch. Another heavy, locked door barred our way. but in a moment it, too, opened, and we walked into a small square room fitted with a desk and a few chairs, where two men silently looked us over.

“Been here before?” one finally asked.

“Yes,” my guide answered. “Name of . . . .This is a friend of mine. He’s all right.”

“Sign the register,” we were ordered. That formality completed, we were perfunctorily searched for weapons or liquor—neither of which is allowed on the premises of any of the houses, I later learned. Finding nothing, the searcher called out, “Okay, George,” and a third door opened, letting us into the “club” proper.

“Did you see the fellow in the cage watching?” my guide asked.

“What fellow and what cage?” I asked in turn, bewildered, for as far as I knew no one but the pair in the reception room had seen us so far.

"At one end of the small room where they searched us, there is a false wall made of steel plates. A man sits behind there with a gun all night long and watches every one that comes in to see they don’t make any trouble. These places have been held up, you know. He looks through a slit in the steel up near the ceiling, and shoots through that slit, too, if necessary.”

“Nice people,” I thought. “At the next place we go to I must watch for the gunman.”

Up the stairs we went and into a small office. An elderly man, sitting behind a desk and reading a newspaper, glanced up as we entered. He smiled and motioned us through another heavy door, unlocked, into the gaming room. On the inside of this last door there were several heavy catch locks, as well as a steel bar, presumably a precaution in case of a raid. By the time the raiding officers could get the door open or batter it down, the gambling apparatus could be stowed away in a safe “hide.”

Elaborate precautions are taken to guard against any surprise raid, my companion informed me as we stood just inside the door. The man with the flashlight in the yard would be the first one to give an alarm, he stated. Several push buttons placed at strategic points about the building would come into use at the first sign of anything wrong. These would warn the persons inside that a raid was in progress, and the work of getting rid of the apparatus would start at once. By the time the police got in everything would be hidden, and unless the dice, chips, sticks and crap layout could be found, gambling could not be proved against

those frequenting the house.

How to Lose Your Shirt

TNSIDE the room in which -*• we now stood were three large billiard tables, only two of which were in use. Wooden sides about eight or nine inches high, covered with green cloth, had been erected along the sides of the table to keep the dice from going off to the floor. Black markings on the table at each end showed the bettors where to place their money, while a smaller cloth, covered with figures that meant nothing to me but apparently had real meaning to the gamblers, was set in the middle of the table.

Three employees of the house work at each table, one handling the dice from the centre of one side, while two others pay off and take in money at the ends. The players -often as many as forty crowding around one table—take up what space is left. The dice pass from one player to the

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W here Toronto Gambles

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next in turn, going round and round the table in the course of the night's play.

Crap, as played in these gambling houses, is a much more complicated game than that usually indulged in by the average players who get down on the carpet and "roll the bones” at some parties. Basically, the idea of the game is to roll a seven or an eleven on the first roll. If seven or eleven comes out on the first roll, the shooter wins the amount of money he has bet and gets his own back as well.

If, however, he rolls a "point” that is, anything but two, three, seven, eleven or twelve he must make the "point” he shot first before he makes a seven or he loses. Also, he loses if he rolls a “crap" on the first roll. A "crap” is either two ones, a three, or two sixes.

In addition to this comparatively simple way of betting, the gaming houses have worked out a system of "odds” by which the gambler can get action on every roll of the dice. If lucky he can make a fortune in five minutes; conversely, if unlucky he can lose one in the same time. There is a fascination to the game that draws the heavy gamblers as a candle draws moths.

"It's betting time, men, time to bet. Bet ’em right or bet ’em wrong . . .” the croupiers’ voices repeat steadily.

Edging up to the table, we sUxxl watching for several minutes until we caught the eye i{ one of the employees who, on a stepladder at one side, was watching the progress of the games.

“If you’re not playing, step back from the table and let some one else in who will,” he advised us, and guiltily we stepjxd back.

“Better play a little or they’ll notice us again.” my guide advised me, so I stepjxd up and bought ten chips. One dollar is the smallest lx*t that can be placed either for or against the dice, although some of the "odds" bets can be made foras low as fifty cents.

How much money changed hands after each roll of the dice is problematical, but the two pay-off men at each end of the table had in their hands neatly piled bundles of twcnty-dollar bills at least two inches thick. Each must have had over $2.(XX). Every now and then another employee would come along to gather up the smaller bills which had tx*en received from the bettors.

Finally the dice came to me. Eagerly, for the gambling urge was descending upon me after seeing others make money easily, I placed a dollar chip on the line and rolled the dice.

Seven! Sure enough, there it was. The croupier dropped a second chip on top of the first. I left it there.

This time 1 rolled a five for a |x;int. Almost at once another five came up. I had won a second time. Now my original dollar had multiplied until it was four.

"You’re hot. Put six with it and lx*t ten dollars!” my guide and craps adviser whispered.

"Easy money,” said I to myself, and placed another six chips on the four I already liad out. But this time 1 milt'd a ten. one of the hardest jxiints to make, and shortly afterward up came the seven. I had lost my three dollars profit and seven of unoriginal ten.

"Tough luck,” said the gambler next me. “Bet your dough that my bet is wrong. I haven’t made a |x;int all night."

This time I Ix t my remaining three chips that the dice would go against the shooter. For me to win, he would have to throw craps on his first roll, or get a point and then not make it. Instead of doing that, he made a seven on his first roll. I had guessed wrong again, and was out ten dollars which I had bet.

For another half hour we stayed at the table, watching others win and lose, depending on how the luck ran. For the most part, the players were silent, each and every one watching every turn of the dice with hawklike stares. And all the time the croupiers

continued their chant: "It’s betting time, men, lime to bet ...”

Embryo Embezzlers

WI10 patronizes these gambling houses?

At this one alone there were men who, by their looks, clothes and actions, came from widely separated classes in life. Some were jxxirly, even raggedly, dressed. Others were more presentable than the average business man. Most were young men, although there was a liberal percentage of middle-aged and a few well beyond that. A large number of the players were Jewish. All were white, although craps is generally thought of as a negro game.

Many of the players might have worked in offices, as clerks in stores, in any of a thousand capacities. Most of them did work. The gambler who makes his living by gambling alone is hard to find in Toronto, I was told.

“How about these stories one hears about men losing their homes and fortunes in places like these?” I asked my companion.

"True enough, in lots of cases,” he replied, “although it’s not so common as to happen every night. What does happen is that young fellows, working on a salary, often come out here and lose their week’s wages. They come back again the next week and do the same thing. Then, being already in the hole and hoping to get out of it, they may borrow money to come back again. Usually they lose what they borrowed, and the first thing they know they are in so deep they get desperate for money, especially if they are married and have homes to keep up. Then anything is liable to happen. They may steal money from their employers, hoping to win back what they have lost and replace what they have stolen. Again, they may go out and stage a hold-up.

“That young bank robber they caught a few weeks ago used to come here quite often. He got away with about $15.(XX) in three bank hold-ups, and you can bet that these gambling houses got more than their share of it. He was so well known here that he borrowed $700 from the "boss” and $500 from the proprietor of another joint, giving them I O U’s for it. A few weeks before he was caught he came back here and paid them both up.

"1 know of another case where a young Jewish chap here in Toronto started up in business for himself. He was going to get married, and the girl put up part of the money to get his business going. Things weren’t so gxxj, but he would have been able to scrajx* along until times got better. Instead, he decided to risk everything on one night's gambling. He didn't pay the bills that came in for a couple of weeks, got together about a thousand dollars in cash, went to one of these places and lost the whole works in one night. Now he’s lost his business and his girl as well."

Gamblers’ Honesty

r"PHE hour was now well past midnight, •L and we decided to make our way to another "big money game” which, my guide advised me, would lx' well under way bv now. This place was well across town, north and east, and again just outside the limits and the jurisdiction of the city police.

Set well back in from the road, passers-by. unless they were looking for it, would fail to note this place at all, or if they did chance to look at the building, would not give it a second glance. Every window is darkened, not a beam of light shines through. Yet at the rear there is parking space for 200 cars.

and on most evenings the yard is comfortably filled.

Here again the flashlight flickered as we drove in. In almost the same manner as previously we were escorted to a parking spot, and again we entered the building bymeans of a heavy barred door opened by a watchman. This building, much older than the first and apparently used in other days as a hotel, now poses as a boxing club. Again we signed the register and were passed in. Back of the desk in the office, someone with a sense of humor had hung a large sign, "No Gambling Allowed in this Club.”

This time, when we entered the tiny room where we were to be searched I kept my eyes open for a sign of the unseen watcher whom I had missed at the first place. He was there all right, peering through a narrow slit in the wall near the ceiling, carefully watching our every movement. The search completed, we were allowed to enter the next room, which had been fitted up into a gymnasium of sorts. A boxing ring was in one corner, a rubbing table in another, while pictures of old-time fighters adorned the walls. A few men, apparently employees, lounged around the room, while from upstairs could be heard the click of dice and chips and again the drone of the croupiers: “It’s betting

time, men, time to bet ...”

Up a flight of rickety stairs was the gambling room. As in the other place, three large billiard tables had been transformed into gaming tables. The markings were the same, the croupiers’ talk the same. But here were also three blackjack tables, each with its little ring of players sitting before a house dealer, whose lithe hands riffled and shuffled the pack of cards with amazing speed.

Blackjack bets may be made as low as fifty cents, and most of the players seemed to be betting as low as they could.

"When the crap players get low in cash they come over here and play a few hands of blackjack so they can go back with more money,” my companion informed me. “It seems to be easier to beat the blackjack game than the crap game, but, of course, you can’t make it as fast at blackjack.”

Perhaps the card game is easier, but three dollars of my remaining ten departed, seemingly on wings, before the night was ten minutes older. Again I tried the crap table, lost two dollars, and decided to call it a night.

“How late do these games run?” I asked.

“Four o’clock in the morning is quitting time, but usually only one table runs that late. Most of the players go home about three, if not before. This place and the other one we were at supply taxis to take the players home if they haven’t cars. Taxis leave about every half hour for the east and west end of the city, so even if a man goes broke and has no car he doesn’t have to walk home.

“These two places have lunch counters where you can get sandwiches, soft drinks and tea or coffee free for the asking. Plenty of fellows come out here, lose a couple of dollars, then eat enough to get their money’s worth. But if they try that more than once or twice they don’t get in again.”

“Are the games on the square?” I wanted to know.

According to my informant, they are.

"They can’t afford to be anything else,” he stated. “There’s too much competition right now to make it gcxxi policy to chisel any one or get a bad name. The men that run these places know how quickly that kind of news gets around, and. rather than have any argument about it. they often pay off when they know they are right and the

gambler is wrong. Mistakes can happen in placing bets, especially where the odds are concerned, but I have seen the pay-off men pay out good money when they really didn’t have to. Of course, if they think the gambler is deliberately trying to put it over them they don’t give in, and that gambler isn’t welcomed back.

“Another thing I’ve seen. A youngster of about twenty was here one night, and he was really lucky. He started with about twenty dollars, and his luck was so good he ran it up to four or five hundred. He was betting the odds, and just taking what was given him without stopping to figure it out. One of the pay-off men made a mistake of forty dollars in paying him on one bet, and the kid just pocketed the money without noticing the shortage. But the stickman had noticed the mistake. He called the pay-off man’s attention to it, and the kid got the forty dollars due him. Was that square or wasn’t it?”

I had to admit that it was.

A High-Class “Joint”

ONE surprising feature of these gambling houses was the class of employees. Where one expected to find flashily dressed, diamond wearing, pasty-faced men, one found well-dressed but not too well-dressed men such as are met in everyday business life. Most of them were tanned and healthy looking, and in their off moments they talked of their golf scores and other amusements even as you and I.

At that, theirs is a well-paid job. Each man receives $90 per week of six nights work, or $15 per night. They work from ten in the evening until four in the morning, and have Sunday nights off. As far as could be found out, there are no gambling houses operating in Toronto or suburbs on Sunday. It is strictly a six-day business.

"How about something different. Isn’t there any really high-class gambling place here like we read about in the big cities of the States?” I asked my companion.

"There was a place here that you couldn’t get into unless you wore a tuxedo or full dress,” he replied, "but since money got tight they’ve had to loosen up a bit on that regulation. It’s the only place in Toronto that I know of where women gamble. We can go there if you like, but with your luck five dollars won’t last long. Besides shooting crap, you can play roulette end bet as low as a quarter.”

So off we went, north on Yonge Street, to this high-class gambling joint. It proved to be a roadhouse not too far north of the city. One section appeared to be a legitimate dining and dancing place, but this was only the “blind" for the bigger game of gambling going on behind locked doors.

Here again we gained entrance to the gaming room without too much difficulty. Only one table was in use for craps, but another held a roulette wheel. Here both men and women, some in evening clothes and others in ordinary business suits, were intently watching the little white ball as it slipped and skidded around the wheel, finally coming to rest on a red number 19.

A young girl -she could hardly have been over eighteen— literally squealed with delight as she saw where the ball stopped rolling. The croupier solemnly pushed toward her a handful of bills, while the other players quickly dropped their money on their choices and the wheel was given another spin.

And so it goes, every night except Sunday, in at least a dozen places in or adjacent to Toronto. How these places continue to run under the noses of the police is as much a mystery to me as it is to the average citizen who has never entered their doors.

Some make money there. More lose it. And still the croupier drones on: “It’s

betting time, men, time to bet. Bet ’em right or bet ’em wrong, but get a little bet down ...”

The find