Sharps and Flats: The Secrets of Cheating
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foreword to the online edition


I. introductory

II. common sharpers and their tricks

III. marked cards and the manner of their employment

IV. reflectors

V. holdouts

VI. manipulation

VII. collusion and conspiracy

VIII. the game of faro

IX. prepared cards

X. dice

XI. high ball poker

XII. roulette and allied games

XIII. sporting houses

XIV. sharps and flats










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The Crooked Nature of Gamblers

Please note that the above sub-heading, The Crooked Nature of Gamblers, is not part of the original text. It has been added here simply to organize the text into separate web pages.

There is only one course to pursue of which it can be said that it is absolutely safe. It is an extremely objectionable one, no doubt; but we are speaking, just now, of absolute safety. There is nothing for it but to suspect your best friend, if he is a gambler. The desire for gain affects equally the high and the low. The instinct of theft is rife alike in rich and poor. To use a colloquialism, all are tarred with the same brush. The only difference is that what is called stealing in the poor starving wretch who takes a loaf, to save the parish the expense of a funeral, becomes, in the case of his more fortunate and richer fellow-sinner, merely a little intellectual peculiarity, which is dignified with the name of kleptomania. The poor man envies the rich man his wealth; the rich man envies the poor man his solitary ewe lamb. Instances of this kind have never been wanting at any time in the world's history, and even in matters of everyday life; but once a man becomes a gambler, there is every prospect that his desire for gain will eventually overmaster all the finer feelings of his nature. You doubt it? Well, search the columns of your newspaper, and every day you shall find at least one case where some foolish fellow has stolen property, or money, entrusted to his care, and has devoted the proceeds of his theft to gambling purposes. There is every reason in the world for suspecting anyone of dishonesty who is found to have taken to gambling. If it is not so, then all history lies, and past experience counts for nothing.

Closely allied to the subject of conspiracy is that of the maintenance of places in which gambling is systematically carried on, in defiance of the law, and in spite of the utmost watchfulness of the police. It is true that one of the most familiar head-lines upon the newspaper placards is: 'Raid on a Club! The accused at Bow Street.' Every week our attention is attracted by some announcement of that kind, made in letters six inches high. But we hardly ever give the matter a second thought; the whole thing is too common an occurrence. Yet not one tithe of these gambling-dens is ferreted out. Crushed here to day, they spring up there to-morrow. They are perennial. Like the phoenix, they arise from their own ashes but under another name. And where the players are to be found, there will the sharps be gathered together. That is a thing which goes without saying, and is open to no manner of doubt.

In these cases, of course, both sharps and flats are drawn together by one common bond of union that of defeating the aim of the law for the suppression of gaming-houses. The dupe merely sees in the efforts of the Government to protect him from the consequences of his folly an unwarrantable interference with the liberty of the subject. Therefore, he conspires with the sharp to run counter to the law, and thus plays right into the hands of his natural enemy. That he suffers in consequence is no one's fault but his own; unfortunately, it is not he alone who suffers. Those who are nearest, and should be dearest, to him are those who suffer most.

The devices resorted to by the occupants of clandestine gaming-houses in order to conceal all traces of the appliances used for the purpose of gambling would fill many volumes in their description, but as they do not form part and parcel of our subject we cannot enter into an account of them. Probably one of the most ingenious ideas ever conceived for the immediate removal of all signs of gaming apparatus in the event of a police raid, was that which was actually utilized at a so-called club a good many years ago. The plan was briefly this. Upon the fire in the card-room a large kettle of water was kept constantly boiling, ostensibly for the purpose of diluting the ardent liquors imbibed by the members. The whole of the gaming utensils, dice-boxes and everything else, were made of one of the alloys known as fusible metals, which melt at a lower temperature than boiling water. An alloy of bismuth, tin, lead and cadmium can be made to melt at a far lower temperature than that of boiling water. In the event of a raid being made upon the club, then, the whole of the appliances were put into the kettle, where they at once melted, and even though any one looked in the kettle during the search there was nothing to be seen.

It is in places of this kind where collusion and conspiracy are most rampant. Those who have the ability to devise methods of cheating the police may well be supposed to have sufficient ingenuity to cheat the players. Those who must gamble, therefore, should be very wary when they entrust themselves and their money to the tender mercies of the society encountered at such resorts. With this word of caution we will bring the present chapter to a conclusion.

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