A Soho gambling den is raided but Mr Hannay shows some leniency

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Gamblers playing at Faro in the American midwest 

In November 1889 detectives and regular police constables led by Superintendent Heard of C Division raided a suspected gambling den at 14 Meard Street, Soho. The rounded up about 20 suspects, all of them Jewish immigrants, and took away several packs of playing cards and a Faro table.

Faro (or Pharo) was a old card game closely associated with gambling. It used a table, often covered in green baize and marked out in squares. There was a banker and the players laid bets. It was a simple game but, like other card games such as Poker, it was open to cheating by the ‘house’ and players. As a result it was banned in most European cities.

Despite the large number of participants the police only found small sums of money were involved. The men were gambling with their weekly wages, not their life savings and so Mr Hannay, the presiding magistrate at Marlborough Street (where the case was heard) was not inclined to penalize them overmuch.

Charles Levi, a tailor, was held to be the most responsible and was convicted of ‘keeping a common gaming-house’. He was fined £20, a large sum but still ‘small when compared with the fines that had been imposed in other cases’, Mr Hannay told him.

All the others were liable to fines of 6s 8dbut on this occasion the magistrate said he would be lenient and simply demand that they all entered into recognizance of £5 each to ensure they did not offend again. He also allowed Levi time to find the £20 fine, paying by installments if he chose, and so saved him from the default of going to prison for a month instead.

I wonder if Mr Hannay enjoyed a flutter himself and so considered moderate gambling no bad thing. He had to act of course, since a large police operation had been carried out; but he was able to be as lenient as possible.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, December 1, 1889]

Seven immigrant workers are caught gambling for their supper

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Seven men were sat around a table in house in Whitechapel at 10.30 at night, playing at cards when there was a loud knock at the door. The knock was followed by the cry of ‘Police, open up!’ and the arrival of Inspector Frederick Abberline and H Division’s finest.

Abberline was acting on a tip off that the house was being used as an illegal gambling den, which sounds quite exotic but was actually very far from that. The seven men were poor ‘jobbing tailors’. All were Polish Jews, recently arrived from the Russian Pale, escaping from economic misery and religious persecution. They had come to the East End (as so many of their fellow congregationalists had, before and since) because there was an established Ashkenazi community there where they could find work, kosher food and others that spoke their language. Many dreamed of making the longer journey to the ‘golden medina’, the promised land of America, land of the free.

They worked very long hours, often in cramped conditions for little pay. The ‘sweating system’ of small workshops was endemic in Whitechapel and Spitalfields and drew the attention of Parliament and campaigners like Annie Besant. On this occasion however, they had drawn a different sort of attention and it had brought the police to the house that Harris Straus owned in New Castle Street.

The men were arrested and brought before the Police Magistrate at Worship Street on the following Monday morning. Straus (a 36 year-old tailor) was charged with keeping a gaming house’ and the others, with being found there, ‘contrary to the Act’.

None of the men spoke English and so an interpreter (Mr Carameli) was called to translate proceedings. The lack of English amongst the Jewish community was something which frustrated the local police during the Ripper investigation, and a few officers were eventually trained to speak Yiddish. The seven men were named as Barnett Coplin (28), Morris Green (18), Louis Gasoniviter (19), Morris Friedman (25), Abraham Lewis (28), Simon Nathan (19) and Hyman Lawer (19).

Nearly all of them lived at the house and they insisted they were only playing cards to pay for their supper.

The police case was presented in court by superintendent T. Arnold. Arnold explained that men Abberline and his men had gained entry they had found the men sat around a table in a back room. ‘Money and cards were on the table’, and in a drawer they found yet more cards and ‘about the room more cards’. This was not then, simply a case of some friends meeting at home to pass the time with a harmless game, he argued, this was organised gambling.

Arnold said the police had received an anonymous letter informing them of the gambling den, which Abberline had acted upon. He understood the game they were playing was called ‘sixty-six’ (or schnapsen, a game of German origin). If you want to know how to play it (not for money of course!) then the rules are here.

Straus admitted allowing players to gamble in his house and further admitted to charging them to do so. He didn’t ask for much, ‘a penny or a halfpenny from each of them to use the room’, was all, but that was illegal just the same. A witness appeared for the police, named Albert Stern, and he said he had played  other games such as Faro and Bank there, for upwards of four hours for ‘stakes of 1d up to 4d‘.

Mr Busby, the magistrate, said it was clear all were guilty as charged and Straus would be fined £5 for running the house. He accepted that most of the others lived there and were only playing for small stakes, so would be lenient. He fined them 20s each. To put this in some sort of context this meant that the arrest had cost each man about £25 in today’s money, and their host 10 times that amount. For the police it was a victory in the ongoing war against illegal gambling but I hope that Abberline and his team were just as assiduous in busting employers that forced their staff to work in sweated industry for long hours at substance pay; sadly I doubt it.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, July 08, 1879]