Gaming Houses Of London
( Originally Published 1851 )
The gaming-houses of London at least those on a great scale are all situate in the modern and elegant quarter of the town, and are among the greatest wonders of this world of houses and human beings. In the slang of the town, such dens of vice and plunder are designated Hells, a name too applicable to the nature of the business transacted within them. We are credibly informed by the author of Life in the West a recent production, that these houses are fitted up in a style of extraordinary splendor, and that their expenses are enormous, though nothing in comparison to the profits realized. One house is supported at an expense of a thou-sands pounds a week. The next in eminence costs a hundred and fifty pounds a week, and the minor ones vary from fifty to eighty pounds. Each house has a regular compliment of officials, who are paid extravagant salaries. The inspectors or overlookers, are paid from six to eight pounds a week each; the " croupiers," or dealers, three to six pounds; the waiters and porters, two pounds; and a person who keeps a look out after the police officers, to give warning of their approach, two pounds. The money disbursed for secret information, wines, &c., cannot be easily ascertained, but must be very large.
Every thing in the interior of these mansions is elegant; but certain things betoken the dreadful and hazardous nature of the establishment. The doors and window shutters are fortified with strong iron plates, so that an ingress by violence is a tardy and difficult matter. There is one of these iron doors at the bottom of the stairs, one near the top, and a third at the entrance into the gaming room. These are opened and closed one after the other, as the person ascends or descends. In each of the doors there is a little round glass peep hole, for the porters to take a deliberate view of all persons desirous of admittance, in order to keep out or let in whom they choose.
An unsophisticated person would naturally enough suppose, from this account, that none but those of great courage would dare to penetrate into the heart of these establishments; but it must be explained that there is nothing like gruffness or jailor-ism in the keepers of the mansion. The whole is placed on an easy genteel footing. No civility can equal that of the waiters, while the condescension of the proprietors, or bankers, the refreshments and wine, all combined, have an interesting and deceptive influence upon the inexperienced and unreflecting mind. But what kind of people are they who keep such houses? are they born a particular class? By no means. In London there is always a large number of individuals, the refuse of every rank, and the natives of every country floating on the surface of society, ready to engage in any desperate undertaking, providing it can bring money into the pocket, and indulgence to the passions. The proprietors of these houses are composed of a heterogeneous mass of worn-out gamblers, black-legs, horse dealers, jockeys, valets, pettifogging lawyers, low tradesmen, men in business, who have failed through their debauchery, and others of a similar stamp. They dress in the first style of fashion, keep country houses, carriages, horses, and fare sumptuously; bedizen themselves out with valuable gold watches, chains, seals, diamond and other rings, costly snuff-boxes, &c.---property, with but little exception, originally belonging to unfortunates who had been fleeced of every thing, and who, in the moment of distress, parted with them for a mere trille. Some have got into large private mansions, and keep first-rate establishments. Persons, with a very superficial knowledge of the world, can easily discern through the thin disguise of gentlemen they assume.
The degree of blackguardism, villany, and wasteful profusion which characterize these infamous establishments, will, doubtless, appal the minds of thousands of our respectable and industrious readers; but there is a use in thus unfolding scenes capable of scaring the unwary man of property, or those in desperate circumstances, from the gaming table, while the virtuous portion of the community, in reading such accounts of what is hourly transacting night and day, Sunday as well as every other day in the week in the metropolis, will draw closer together, and learn to be thankful that their simple and honest occupations do not lead them into the way of such unhallowed temptations.