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Miscellaneious Gambling Stories

“Canfield and Bradley”

The best-known casino operator in any period of American history was Richard Canfield. He operated rug joints in New York City and Saratoga, New York, from 1890 to 1905 and had he most distinguished clientele in the country. His three best-known casinos were the Madison Square Club and the gambling house at 5 East 44th Street next to Delmonico’s in New York City, and the Saratoga Club House which ran during the racing season in Saratoga. To minimize the possibility of police raids, many casinos of this period were incorporated as private clubs and issued membership cards. But Canfield still had the iceman to deal with; he paid $100,000 a year as protection money in order to be able to run his two New York City rug joints without police interference.

In 1898 a soft-spoken 39-year-old man, Edward Riley Bradley, later famous as Colonel Bradley, opened the Beach Club in Palm Beach, Florida. In strange contrast to Canfield’s expensively decorated casinos the Beach Club was in an ordinary frame house costing perhaps $4,000 to build. It housed four Roulette tables and one Hazard game. No women or Floridians were admitted, or men not wearing evening clothes, or anyone under the influence of liquor. The no-women rule was rescinded in later years. A new building containing an octagonal gaming room was built in 1912. This, too, was an unpretentious frame house, distinguished from its neighbors only by the initials B.C. lettered in white on the wide lawn in front.

I visited the Beach Club in 1932, had a pleasant chat with the colonel, who was then about 73 years of age, and did some card tricks for him. At this time the club had nine Roulette tables and one game of Hazard. The Roulette limits were $25 on a straight number and $1,000 on an even-money payoff such as red, black, odd or even.

I asked what the house percentage was at Roulette (the tables had both the 0 and 00). "Young man," Colonel Bradley said, "it’s 5 5/19%, no matter how you bet."

This surprised me a bit. "Colonel," I said, "are you saying that every wager made at your Roulette table has the same 5 5/19% house percentage?"

"That’s correct, young man. I’ve been watching these wheels for about 50 years and I ought to know."

The colonel wasn’t far wrong. The house percentage on all bets at Roulette is 5 5/19% - except for one. I walked over to an unoccupied table and put a stack of chips on a five-number bet.

"Colonel," I said, "that bet has a percentage of 7 17/19% against the player."

He didn’t take my word for it; I had to prove it, but after I had explained the mathematics, he said, "How do you like that? A kid walks into my casino and tells the old colonel something about a wheel he never knew before." The gracious old gentleman treated me to a wonderful dinner at the Beach Club restaurant.

Colonel Bradley’s Beach Club had the longest run of any illegally operated casino in America - from 1898 until he died in 1941. And that is ample proof that he ran a percentage game, not a crooked one.

This gambling story courtesy of:
"Scarne’s New Complete Guide to Gambling" (1986), written by John Scarne

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