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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Cheating Against Faro Banks

It is possible for the dealer and players alike to be in a general conspiracy to cheat the bank. The dealer is not necessarily the banker. The bank may be found by anyone; the proprietor of the gambling saloon, for instance. But a dealer would be very foolish to cheat his employer. In a private game, if a dupe can be put up to find the bank in money, that is all right for the sharps. They are, one and all, at liberty to go in and win and they do.

In the previous paragraph, Maskelyne says, "...a dealer would be very foolish to cheat his employer." Interestingly enough, statistically speaking, nowadays, the biggest casino scams in history involved some kind of inside help -- in other words, the dealers (or other employees) were involved in the scams, to defraud the casino (i.e. their employers). In fact, casinos are most worried about any kind of scams that involves their dealers, and not so much about possible scams where some players may attempt to cheat on their own.

However, in the following paragraph Maskelyne explains some details that offer some clarification.

The reader may be interested in knowing that in America some of the dealers who are employed by proprietors of gambling houses, or saloons as they are called, will demand a salary of four or five thousand dollars. It is said that a very expert dealer is worth that amount per annum, and that he can get it. It strikes one as being a somewhat high rate of pay for a man whose sole duty is to shuffle and deal out cards for a few hours a day, if that is his sole duty. Suspicious persons and there are a few such in the world might be tempted to believe that there is more in the dealer's duties than meets the eye, and a 'darned sight' more. Whatever opinion may be entertained upon the subject, we can all join, at any rate, in hoping for the best, and in praying for the better. Though when a man is idiot enough to lose his money, as some do day after day, in a game where his own common sense ought to tell him that he stands every chance of being cheated, he may be looked upon as a hopeless case. There is nothing that will ever knock intelligence into him, or his gambling propensities out of him. The only system of treatment that could be expected to do him any good would be a lengthened course of strait waistcoat, to be repeated with additions upon any sign of a recurrence of the malady.

So, as Maskelyne explains, it would seem logical that a crooked dealer in those days was better off cheating for the house, and getting his cut (and enjoying protection from his employer), then taking a risk cheating against the house. Of course we cannot dismiss the possibility that there were also some dealers that were cheating against their own employers, even in the days of the Wild West. There must be quite many unmarked graves around the US that bear the remains of such dealers.

Two or three years ago an Englishman won 5,000l. in one year at the Cape, in a sort of rough-and-tumble game of faro. He ran the bank without either cue cards or case-keeper, and also without a dealing-box, as in the prehistoric times in America before the losses experienced by those who 'bucked against the tiger' forced these implements into use. He dealt the cards out of his hand. The miners played against him for gold-dust and he nearly always won. His operations were of the most primitive kind. He simply had a lot of packs of cards, apparently new, but which had been opened and arranged. Some were packed for the high cards to win; some for the low ones. He would take a pack down, give it a false shuffle and begin to deal it. If he wanted to alter the run of the cards, he could at any time do so by merely dropping the top card on the floor. This he did very cleverly, and nobody noticed it, because the floor was always littered with used cards. Having no case-keeper to record the game, the missing cards were never missed. What about the poor miners? Well, they must have been flats if their equilibrium remained undisturbed through a lively game such as that. They deserved to lose all that the dealer won.

This sharp is now in England 'mug-hunting.' He is at present acting as bear-leader to a young man who has just come into 1,00l. a year. He makes most of his living at 'lumbering' and 'telling the tale,' and his stronghold is the bottom deal. The writer has great pleasure in acknowledging his indebtedness to him for much of the information as to the methods of the common English sharp. He is a swindler, but a most agreeable and gentlemanly one.

This Faro is a hard-hearted monarch whose constant delight appears to be a slaughter of the innocents; though one can hardly suppose that his victims are often the heirs male of Israel. Be that as it may, however, Faro's victims can hardly hope for succor from a daughter of Faro, for his only offspring are greed and fraud. And those who bow the head and bend the knee to Faro are simply ministering to these two, his children. Those who waste their substance on Faro are merely forging fetters for their own limbs, and giving themselves body and soul to a taskmaster from whose thraldom they will find it difficult to escape.

To descend from metaphor to matter of fact, there is no game which gives freer rein to the passion of gambling than faro. There is no game in which money is lost and won more readily. Above all, there is no game in which the opportunities of cheating are more numerous or more varied. If these are qualities which can recommend it to a man of common sense, call me a gambler.

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