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The Queen of the Gambling Cities
(Part 3 Of 4)



For ten years the two of them cheated suckers together, shared each other's money, and stuck together faithfully when angry victims were out for vengeance on them. It took the discovery of gold in California to break up this idyllic partnership. Bryant headed for the new E1 Dorado, Jones thought he could do just as well in the Mississippi River Valley, so the men divided their money, shook hands, and dissolved their "Orestes and Pylades" partnership.

Jones, with New Orleans as headquarters, had a rocky few years. His skill at cheating was not great and he had to fight off suckers he did succeed in fleecing, singlehanded. Though he left the local bagnios alone and did not drink to excess, he had one besetting weakness - faro. And he always lost to slick dealers.

What he lacked as a dealer himself he made up for by his success at roping in customers for low and crooked gambling resorts. His talents were appreciated, and in the fall of 1852 he got a full-time job steering strangers to a recently opened gambling house in return for an interest in the establishment. This was the turning point in Allen Jones's life.

That winter he received $10,000 as his share of profits and, for the first time, did not head for the nearest faro table. Instead he did some serious thinking and decided that since he was such a capital roper he could do no better than have a gambling house of his own to which he could rope men with a great deal of money. He found two other shrewd cheaters who were flush with ready cash and late in 1853 opened a resort on Royal Street. By the time the house closed for the summer, the partners had $55,000 in profits. The next winter they did even better.

The establishment on Royal Street, though unpretentious, enjoyed big play from first to last. Besides being a partner in this bonanza Jones had the distinctive reputation among gamblers in the know of operating the crookedest gambling house in the city. One of his techniques was never to employ a dealer for longer than one season lest customers catch on to his style of play and method of cheating. Every summer saw a mass firing of personnel, and new housemen greeted customers when the house reopened in the fall.

In a periodical wave of reform Allen Jones was arrested. Other gamblers, arrested with him, were set free, but Jones, as chief partner in the therT biggest gambling house in New Orleans, was brought to trial and, to show gamblers that the reformers meant business, found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison.

The reading of the sentence was greeted with a roar of jubilation by the reformers in the packed courtroom, but Jones showed little concern. He had friends in high places, and the governor's pardon, handed to him before he left the courthouse (some said he had it in his pocket during the trial), gave him the last laugh. He hit back. Through his political friends he had the antigambling law emasculated. By contributing heavily to the next city election; which was "disgraced by violence and bloodshed," men of his stripe took over and were released from the danger of oppression by reformers.

Jones was on top of the heap, but every success made him more mercenary and possessive till he began practicing deception and cunning on his own partners. He allowed rich plungers to run up gambling debts and collected them himself. When the partners caught on and tried to make him divvy up "neither threats nor entreaties could induce him to disgorge a single penny."

The partnership dissolved with Jones retaining the Royal Street premises and thenceforward cheating his dealers and his customers with almost equal enthusiasm. Crime had paid: he owned two imposing houses and other valuable real estate in New Orleans, a large plantation about fifteen miles above Vicksburg and two hundred twenty-five slaves who raised cotton and profits for their master.

All this went down the drain in the Civil War but when the carpetbagging civil government took over the reins from the military in 1866 he opened a gambling resort on St. Charles Avenue with his old friend and mentor, Colonel J.J. Bryant.

Bryant had made and lost a fortune at the San Francisco gambling tables but had had the foresight to ship home $110,000, which enabled him to open a fashionable gambling establishment in Mobile. Money, that is, Confederate money, was plentiful the first two years of the war and the colonel cleaned up better than a million dollars before the military closed his house. When the North won, the colonel had a million dollars worth of nothing. He headed for New Orleans, where the sight of his former partner's poverty struck the one remaining spark of generosity in Allen Jones's flinty heart. He gave the colonel a half share in his new business. The colonel was to act as roper for the firm.

Money was scarce, especially for crooked gambling houses, but they managed to stay in business for two years until Bryant steered one Colonel Tate of Texas to the place and Jones relieved him of all his cash plus a hundred dollars on credit. A few days later Bryant ran into Tate in the lobby of the St. Charles Hotel and demanded his money. Angry words followed and some say that Bryant reached for his handkerchief but the Texan thought it was his gun, pulled his pistol, and finished the colonel on the spot. Tate was tried for murder and acquitted.

Jones's establishment did not long survive the partner's death. No dealer or roper worth his salt would work for Allen Jones, so odious was his reputation, and the thinning ranks of patrons forced him to shut his gambling den in 1869.

He returned to his old folly, the faro tables, which he had resisted since 1852, playing on the sucker's side. In a year he succeeded in losing the money he had plus $70,000 from mortgaging his city properties. Fortunately for his family Jones had signed the deed of his plantation over to his wife at the outbreak of the war and she declined to let him add this to his losses. When he had no more money he disappeared from New Orleans, perhaps returning to the plantation. Nobody in the gambling fraternity knew for sure and nobody cared what happened to Allen Jones.

New Orleans swung between extremes of gambling and reform. When the winds blew cold on the resorts in the city, they mushroomed outside the limits of town. The Queen City was never less than well supplied with outlets for sucker money, from immense sums down to the five-cent wager.

Policy was popular in the '80s when "As much as $5,000 was paid for the use of a specially choice location, which might be a space about four feet square with just enough room for a small table or chair. Long lines of Negroes and whites formed in front of these [policy booths] to bet their nickels, dimes or dollars on innumerable combinations of figures which superstition dictated."

After the biggest lottery of them all, known as the Serpent, and its follow-up, the Honduras Lottery, came to grief in a tangle with a U.S. court, policy took an upswing and crossed into the twentieth century still going strong. Any convenient but not obscure corner in restaurants and bars was apt to be set aside for writing slips. They closed during the drawings, then immediately reopened. If the bettor felt lucky, a "gig," three numbers picked to come up in one drawing, was for him, and if he wanted insurance on his bet he would put a "saddle" on it so that if any one of his numbers showed he would win something. A ten-cent gig and a ten-cent saddle would generally bring eighty cents if only two of them came up.

Any and all public events sent policy players to their dream books for clues to winning numbers, and so many people picked 7-10-11 when Will Rogers was killed that policy operators refused to write slips for over fifty cents.

New Orleans cherished a special fondness, too, for slot machines. Invented in 1895, they were the biggest and most unscrupulous snare of all. Taking pennies (real money then) nickels, and quarters, they were mercilessly rigged from the beginning.


[Continue To Part 4 Of Article]




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