Gambling was evidently a problem in early Jamestown.
At least it was a big enough concern that it brought condemnation by Bishop Shanley from the pulpit of the Catholic church and an official order from Jamestown Mayor Fuller ordering the end of all such activities.
The game of choice was craps, according to a front-page article in the Nov. 20, 1890, edition of The Jamestown Alert.
The article noted that gamblers had openly operated games of craps in the past in Jamestown. In 1888, city law enforcement officers had cracked down on gambling. This hadn’t ended the activity. It did force the gamblers to be a bit more discreet.
The bishop was so concerned about the gambling he railed against the crap-shooters in the Sunday morning church sermon and in a Sunday evening Bible study.
He said the games were giving Jamestown an unenviable reputation within the state.
“He delivered a scathing denunciation of the particular game and characterized it and the gambling habit in language befitting the subject,” wrote The Alert.
The bishop’s comments prompted the editor of The Jamestown Alert to send a reporter to check out the status of gambling in the community.
“The Alert is now informed that the mania has recently broken out afresh,” the reporter found. “… For some time past two or three games have been running.”
Mayor Fuller had actually issued his order shutting down all gambling the week before the bishop’s sermon.
“Bishop Shanley’s timely remarks come as a weighty supplement to Mayor Fuller’s order and will have great influence in the eradication of the evil,” concluded The Jamestown Alert as it wrapped up its front-page article.
Times have changed in the 132 years since Jamestown cracked down on the crapshooters of the area. Dice games such as craps are still rare but other forms of gambling such as pull tabs, bingo and poker are legal and openly practiced. And there is a wide variety of gambling options available on the Internet.
From that, we can assume that a Jamestown mayor’s order and a bishop’s condemnation came up a little short when it came to eradicating evil.
But there are differences in the gambling of today and a century ago. Gaming is regulated and the player can assume that the contests are run fairly and honestly. The odds are still against the player but there usually is none of the cheating that could occur in the illegal and unregulated games of long ago.
Regulations against things folks find enjoyable are seldom successful. Rules against alcohol and gambling are generally difficult to enforce and there is usually some segment of the population that carries on with the activity even if it is outside the law. Which may have been the basis for the article in the Fargo Argus relating the incident in Jamestown regarding the craps games.
The Fargo Argus laid the odds at 5 to 1 that Jamestown would be successful in eradicating gambling in the city.
Author Keith Norman can be reached at Keith@KeithNormanBooks.com