Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Tempted London : Young men, [Anon.], [c1889] - Chapter 7 - Gambling and the Law : An Indictment of the Police

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WE come now to inquire whether gambling clubs as they exist at present are permitted by law. And in the first place it is an indubitable fact that at various periods the Legislature has placed upon the statute-books a great many Acts dealing with "gaming-houses" and providing for their suppression. As early as the reign of Henry VIII. an Act was passed, and is still of effect, prohibiting the keeping of "common gaming-houses." But as any one is aware who is in the slightest degree acquainted with legal quibbles and quirks, there might be much difficulty in deciding the precise meaning of a "common gaming house." Such vague phraseology renders comparatively easy that interesting process familiarly known as driving a coach and four through an Act. However, although the earlier enactments in the matter admit of considerable latitude in interpretation, the last one does not. In 1854 was passed "an Act for the Suppression of Gaming-houses," which leaves small chance of escape for the gambler even though he have the assistance of very expert wigs and gowns. On this Act we shall rely. We propose to quote [-126-] such sections of the statute as apply to the question before us. And happily our authority does not end here. In 1884 the Queen's Bench Division decided the case of "Jenks v. Turpin," a case which in almost every material point covers the facts of all gambling-houses; and in giving decision Mr. Justice Hawkins made perfectly clear the interpretation which the Bench puts upon the Act"17 and 18 Vict., c. 38."
    Section 4 of that Act provides that " any person, being the owner or occupier or having the use of any house, room, or place, who shall open, keep, or use the same for the purpose of unlawful gaming being carded on therein, and any person who, being the owner or occupier of any house or room, shall knowingly and wilfully permit the same to be opened, kept, or used by any other person for the purpose aforesaid, and any person having the care or management of or in any manner assisting in conducting the business of any house, room, or place opened, kept, or used for the purpose aforesaid, and any person who shall advance or furnish money for the purpose of gaming with persons frequenting such house, room, or place may, on summary conviction thereof before any two justices of the peace, be adjudged by such justices to forfeit and pay such penalty, not exceeding £500, as to such justices shall seem fit, and may be further adjudged by such justices to pay such costs attending such conviction as to them shall seem reasonable, and on the non-payment of such penalty and costs, or it the first instance, if to such justices it shall seem fit, may be committed to the common gaol or [-127-] house of correction, with or without hard labour, for any time not exceeding twelve calendar months." It wi11 be seen that a penalty not exceeding £500 or twelve months' hard labour attends upon (1) the owner, occupier, or manager, (2) those who assist in managing, and (3) those who lend money for the purposes of unlawful gaming. In connection with the owner or keeper it should be mentioned that by 25 Geo, II., c. 26, s. 8, any person who shall act as the person having the care or management of any gaming-house shall be deemed to be the keeper thereof, and may be punished as such, notwithstanding that he is not in fact the real owner or keeper thereof. Thus "the keeper" of a gamb1ing-house has no back-door for escape.
    Now the case of Jenks v. Turpin (13 Q.B.D.,p. 504) which we have mentioned is so pertinent to the question we are considering that a short account of it will set before our readers a clearer idea of how the law actually stands than could otherwise be conveyed.
    A. was the proprietor of the Park Club, and was also occupier of the premises used by the club, and received the profits; B,, C., D., and E were members of the committee of management, whose duty it was to regulate the internal management of the club, and, amongst other things, to make bye-laws and regulations for carrying it on and for the government of its members, who were elected by them ; F, G., and H. were members of the club. 
    The game of baccarat was played nightly. An information was laid charging the eight persons with having committed offences against the section [-128-] of the Act of 1854 which we have quoted. By the magistrate the proprietor, A., was adjudged to have been guilty of "keeping and using the Park Club for the purpose of unlawfu1 gaming," and was fined £500 ; the four committee-men were found guilty as "persons having the care or management of and assisting in conducting the business" of the house so kept and used for the purpose of unlawful gaming, and was fined  £500; the three players were also found guilty as "persons who assisted by playing in conducting the business" of this house, and each was fined £100. The defendants appealed, and the case came before Justices Hawkins and Smith. In an elaborate judgment the Bench found that the proprietor and the committee-men were properly convicted, but that the players could not be reached by the section under which they were prosecuted. The players therefore got off scot-free. To a consideration of their position we will return in a while ; in the meantime it should be noted that without a shadow of doubt the proprietor, keeper, and committee-men of a gambling-house are liable to punishment.
    But what constitutes unlawful gaming? On this point Mr. Justice Hawkins is very clear. "Gaming may be unlawful by reason of (1) the place in which it is carried on, or by reason of (1) the unlawfulness of the game itself." That is to say, the gambling at a club may be unlawful because the house is a common gaming-house, in which all gaming, (1) even at games in themselves not prohibited, is illegal, or because the house is opened for playing at (2) a game in itself illegal.
    [-129-] First, as to the place. A common gaming-house - and again it is Mr. Justice Hawkins who speaks- is a house in which a large number of persons are invited habitually to congregate for the purpose of gaming; but a club is not less a common gaming- house because gaming therein is restricted to the members of club. "To no gaming-house is the public at large invited to go without restriction of some sort or another. The keeper of such a house has always the right to permit or refuse admission to any one he pleases, or to make such rules as he may think fit for the regulation of such permission. The law does not require that it shall be a public gaming-house; a common gaming-house is that which is forbidden." Further, the fact that a club is used for ordinary social purposes in addition to gaming will not prevent its coming under the description of a house "opened and kept for the purpose of gaming." And here we may quote from 8 and 9 Vict. 109, s. 2: "In default of other evidence proving any house or place to be a common gaming-house, it shall be sufficient . . . to prove (1) that such house or place is kept or used for playing therein at any unlawful game, and that a bank is kept there by one or more of the players exclusively of the others or (2) that the chance any game played therein are not alike favourable to all the players, including the banker or other person by whom the game is managed, or against whom the other players stake, play or bet." It is quite immaterial whether the bank is kept by the owner, occupier, keeper, or manager of the house or by a player. 
    [-130-] Second, as to games which are unlawful apart from considerations of place. Justice Hawkins divides them into two classes: those which are absolutely forbidden by name, and to the gaming at which a penalty is attached ; and those not altogether prohibited under penal consequences, but which have nevertheless been styled "unlawful" by the Legislature, inasmuch as the keeping of houses for playing them and the playing them therein by anybody were rendered illegal. The former class includes ace of hearts, pharaoh or fare, basset, and hazard, explicitly made illegal by  12 Geo. II, c. 28 ; passage, and every other game with a die or dice, except backgammon, expressly made illegal by 13 Geo. II., c. 19 ; and roulet, expressly made illegal by 18 Geo. II, c. 34. The latter class comprises every game of cards which is not a game of pure skill, and every other game of mere chance. It is for the courts to say what particular games come in this category.
    Fortunately, in the case Jenks v. Turpin the illegality of baccarat*

[* The manner of playing baccarat varies somewhat with different clubs, and more in different countries; but in all cases it it the same in principle - a game of pure chance. The following is, in brief, the usual mode in vogue in London clubs: The "bank," being put up for auction, is bought say for £25. The banker sits in the centre of the long side of the table; on the right and left of the banker sit the two main punters. There are several men seated on the right and left of the bank called punters, but one for each side will represent sufficiently the manner of play. Three packs of cards are shuffled and placed before the banker. He draws one card for himself and one each for the right and left punters, and then one for himself and one each for the punters again. The three men show their cards; the game is to exhibit nine points (ordinary cards counting according to their "pips," and court [-131-] cards at a recognised value). If the banker shows, say, four, the right punter nine, and the left eight points, then the bank loses and all the punters on both sides receive from the banker double the stakes which they had previously laid on the table. Suppose the banker had eight, and the punters had five or six respectively, then the banker would collect all the stakes. The stakes are tabled before each "draw" of the cards; and the banker is forced to permit the staking by players of money up to the amount of his "bank," which we supposed to be £25. Thus there is not the slightest skill in the game; it is one of pure chance. That is to say, when the cards are shuffled and dealt fairly the game is pure chance-work; but as a matter of act, in the clubs with which we are concerned there is more cheating than fairness, and consequently the bank (which alone has the chance of cheating) almost invariably wins in the long-run. On this point hear Hoffmann, the celebrated sleight-of-hand expert: "In fact, to the gambler, veteran or novice, who may be desirous of being swindled out of his money in the easiest possible way and with the smallest possible amount of satisfaction we commend the game of baccarat as combining these qualities in a degree scarcely equalled by any other card-game." In case any reader needs further evidence that baccarat is dangerous, we mention the fact that Cavaillé, in his "Les Filouteries du Jeu" devotes one hundred pages to the various swindles practised in baccarat. No wonder Mr. Justice Hawkins found the game "illegal."]

was decided. This game is played in so many clubs in London that even were there no [-131-] provision against "common gaming-houses", nine-tenths of them would be covered by the illegality of the single game. Says Justice Hawkins, "It is a game of cards. It is a game of chance; and though as in most other things, experience and judgment may make one player or banker more successful than another, it would be a perversion of words to say that it was in any sense a game of mere skill. It is therefore, in my opinion, an unlawful game within the meaning of the statute. This is clear enough and it is excessively important to remember that after this judgment the playing of baccarat, apart from considerations of time, place, or persons, is distinctly illegal and punishable as such.
    [-132-] The players, therefore, in the Park Club case might have been convicted had the information laid against them charged them with playing an unlawful game, instead of with "assisting in the management of the business of a gaming-house."
    We have given descriptions of the structure and function of London gambling-clubs. We have seen what the Legislature declares to be illegal gambling, and also what interpretation the courts have put upon the words of the Legislature. Is there any one who will doubt that the clubs are amply covered by the law as ist stands ? We think not. But as we are to frame an indictment against the executive of the law, there is every reason why, at the risk of iteration, our grounds must be made perfectly clear. We have shown what is illegal. To obviate any possibility of vagueness, we shall now show in detail that the clubs do come within "what is illegal".
    Gambling-clubs are certainly "houses in which a large number of persons habitually congregate for the purpose of gaming;" therefore they are common gaming-houses, an as such are forbidden for section 4 of the Act of 1854. The "large number of persons" are for the most part members; but, as will be remembered, the restriction of gaming to the members of a club does not make it any the less a common gaming-house within the meaning of the law. Gaming is not the only purpose of some of the clubs; but the fact that billiard-playing, dancing and ordinary social functions are carried on in them does not prevent their coming under the head of houses "for the purpose of gaming." Most of the clubs have elaborate rules and regulations ; is there [-133-] anything in such an arrangement whereby the law may be evaded ? No; in the Park Club case rules were produced which justice Hawkins described as a admirable, and admirable as they were, they did not hinder judgment against the club. The plain question to be answered is, Do people habitually congregate for the purpose (among others, it may be) of gaming? Yes, they do. Then the places where they so congregate are common gaming-houses.
    And supposing that proof were wanting in any particular case that people habitually gathered to gamble, we can then turn to the question, What game were the people playing on the occasion out of which the case arose? And for our purposes it is sufficient to say that baccarat is played in almost every gambling-club in London. (Other games are of course played, among them being hazard.) Then is baccarat an illegal game? Yes, according to Justice Hawkins it comes under the meaning in the statute, as being a game of cards which is also not a game of mere skill. Therefore, apart from any dispute as to whether a club is, in the eyes of the law, a "common gaming-house," if baccarat be played there all persons concerned in the game are punishable.
    Thus we submit-
1. That all the clubs of which we have spoken are "common gaming-houses" without any manner of doubt; and-
    2. That games are played in those clubs which are in themselves illegal, apart from any consideration of place.
    Will the law, then, touch the club-managers? It [-134-] will, most effectually. The managers of the London clubs are usually proprietors also. Some are merely deputies of the proprietors; others are appointed by committees ; but they are all covered. Whether owner, occupier, caretaker, or manager appointed in any way whatever, the person in charge of a common gaming-house is punishable, under the Act of 1854, by fine not exceeding £500 or twelve months' hard labour. But even were it possible for such a person to evade this Act, he may be indicted, irrespective of any statute, for committing a common nuisance. So says Mr. Justice Hawkins.
    Committees, too, arc punishable. They are held, as in the case of Jenks v. Turpin, to "assist in conducting the business" of the gaming-house, and are liable to the same penalties as the proprietor or keeper. Whether the club be proprietary or not, any committee, whether appointed by the proprietor or elected by the members, is directly responsible to the law for the gaming which is carried on in the club in whose management it takes part. This is under section 4 of the Act of 1854. 
    Then as regards players. In the Park Club case the three players indicted succeeded in freeing themselves on appeal. They were summoned as "assisting in the conduct" of the club. Justice Hawkins ruled that "it is not an offence to add to the profits of a common gaming-house;" the law requires that there shall be evidence of share and part in the care or management of the house. But though the player is not liable in respect of a common gaming-house, he is distinctly liable if he be indicted as playing a game illegal in itself. Moreover, by 33 Hen. VIII., [-135-] c.9, s.12,  a penalty of 6s. 8d. is imposed on every person who plays in a gaming-house for every time of playing therein.
    As baccarat is the game with which in considering London clubs we are concerned, and as Justice Hawkins has declared baccarat to be an illegal game, therefore if the players in our clubs be proceeded against on proper grounds they will be convicted.
    Thus then, it must be evident to a little consideration that so far as gambling-houses are suppressible by any law, all that is requisite is the vigorous enforcement of the existing law.. There are alternative modes of attacking the gaming as illegal, either of which would cover nine-tenths of our clubs. The proprietor is punishable in whatever guise he may appear; dancing may be carried on as well as gambling, and rules and regulations formulated by the dozen, without making a club legal; the committees of all kinds are indictable ; and the players may be convicted if care is but taken. The evil is great but the law amply provides for its effectual repression; and why, then, is it not repressed? There is no need to ask whose duty the repression is ; what we have to ask is why that duty is not fulfilled. There are but two excuses which it is possible to put forward on behalf of the police. The first is that they are ignorant of the existence of the clubs, and it is an excuse which can be safely disregarded by any one who knows anything of the metropolitan police. The ordinary policeman is as well acquainted with the whereabouts of gaming-houses as are gamblers themselves. As a whole, the [-136-] force knows every foot of London. The authorities will tell you that their men know each stone in such a district as Seven Dials. It is not possible that an officer shall be on duty one night in the vicinity of a club without learning about it. He sees men and women going in at all hours, and coming out early in the morning; many of the people who go in are perfectly well known to him as thieves, as hard drinkers, as prisoners of some kind at some time or another. Complaints of robbery are made to him, and it cannot be supposed that he will not be fully aware of the nature of the house.
    Furthermore, from our own knowledge we are prepared to make a more serious charge, and we do it most deliberately and on extensive information. The members of the police force are constantly receiving "tips" both from frequenters of the clubs and from the proprietors. These tips are in reality bribes. The officer distinctly understands what the money is for - to keep his mouth shut. We are far from saying that every policeman accepts silence-money from the clubs ; what we do affirm is that bribes are by no means rare. The result is easily imagined. Policemen are human, and the fact is that their interest lies much more in the direction of remaining silent about gaming-houses than in reporting them. In the one case they spare themselves trouble and at times make money by so doing; in the other they would be making extra work for themselves and doing away with one class of tips. For example, an officer told a commissioner that he had repeatedly received a sovereign at a time from swindlers and others frequenting the old [-137-] "Austro-Hungary" club in Greek Street, Soho ; and he hinted that existing clubs do likewise. But it may be said, whilst the rank and file of the force are aware of the clubs, the superior officers, whose duty it is to give the orders for raids on clubs, may be quite ignorant of the state of affairs. To this we answer that the vast majority of the superiors have risen from the ranks, and are just as we acquainted with the dens of all descriptions in London as are the men on night duty. And, in addition, we would point out that over and over again cases of robber are reported which involve clubs, and which are bound to come under the notice of the superintendents and inspectors. In fact, it is merely for the sake of completeness that we have considered the probability of the force being unaware of what goes on in connection with gambling, for any one who has the faintest idea of the workings of a huge police  force would never doubt for a moment that gambling-houses are as little hidden from it as are public-houses.
    We spoke of another possible excuse; it may be by a stretch of the imagination considered possible, but certainly not probable. It is that the police are unable to get definite evidence. On this point we shall merely remind our readers that our commissioners had very small difficulty in obtaining access to the clubs. Is it likely that Scotland Yard is behind Paternoster Row in facilities for collecting information? Scarcely! And if a concrete argument is wantd it may be found in the fact that policemen in plain clothes were the chief witnesses in the recent case of the raid near the "Elephant and Castle." [-138-] Further, the law has made everything smooth in this respect. By 8 and 9 Vict,, c. 109, s. 6, the Commissioners of Police are authorized to enter, forcibly if necessary, any house suspected to be a common gaming-house, and seize all instruments of gaming, and take into custody all persons found therein. That is to say that if the police merely suspect a house, and cannot he bothered to send detectives first, all that the Commissioners have to do is to send down to the suspected house a superintendent and some men, and collect evidence of the most direct and conclusive kind in the most direct and forcible manner. There is no reasonable ground on which the police may be absolved from the neglect of their duty. To put the matter into a series of propositions, we claim to have shown-
    1. That the law declares gambling such as is carried on daily in London to be illegal.
    2. That it grants the police special facilities for obtaining information and evidence of gambling.
    3. That is provides very effectively for the conviction of offenders.
    And we further assert-
1. That the inferior members of the force are constantly in the habit of accepting bribes from those interested in maintaining illegal gaming-houses.
    2. That the superior officers of police are fully cognizant of the entire circumstances of London gambling. 
    3. That the few raids upon gambling-houses which have been undertaken in recent years have been, without exception, forced upon the police by external influence.
    [-139-] We may therefore sum up in the following censure :- 
    That the neglect on the part of the police to carry out the commands of the Legislature is absolutely inexcusable ; that the inferior officers are deserving at the least of severe reprimand for their gross perversion of duty, in not reporting gaming-houses and in accepting bribes; but that the real responsibility for the neglect rests with the superiors, who have refrained from enforcing the law, have passed over without reproof the misdeeds of their subordinates, and have so been guilty of a most serious and reprehensible breach of trust towards the public.
    We have only a few words more to say before quitting the consideration of gambling in London. And first, we would shortly draw attention to the enormous liquor traffic carried on in connection with the clubs. This matter is rather outside what is at present our more immediate object, but we gladly give additional publicity to the following quotations from the St. James's Gazette : "The vast majority of the smaller and least reputable of London 'clubs' are what is called proprietary; that is, the concern really belongs to one or more persons, and not to the members as a whole. The effect of a decision given in the Queens Bench Division is to make the sale of intoxicating liquors in such clubs illegal. The proprietor in the case in question was fined by the magistrates, and the court has now affirmed the conviction, We may expect this decision to be followed by a zealous activity on the part of the Excise officials, who have not had for many years [-140-] so fair a chance of bagging great numbers of both large and small game.
    It is indeed to he hoped that this expectation with regard to the Excise officials will be fulfilled in the fullest manner, as it is one more method of getting at the clubs and forcing them under the notice of the police.
    Next, we would once more impress upon our readers an extremely important comparison. There are many pressing social questions the practical answer to which is beset with innumerable serious difficulties, but the question as to how to deal with gambling-clubs is easily answered, Some things cannot be stamped out to any extent, if at all, by means of law ; gambling-clubs can be repressed to a very great extent. If mere law would suffice to check certain evils we have not vet made the law, whilst for diminishing and almost extirpating the noxious influence of gambling-clubs the Legislature amply provides. We may not know how to approach other tasks; this work, at all events, lies ready lies ready to our hands, and the tools are forget wherewith to accomplish it. It is therefore no credit to us that we are passive.