Chicago Horse Parlors, An Underworld Racket, May Be Legalized by State with O.K. of Prof.

Westbrook Pegler

Evansville Press/July 8, 1935

Professor Ernest Burgess, of the Sociology Department of the University of Chicago, is one of those who advocated the bill in the Illinois Legislature to legalize the horse-parlor in Chicago. The bill passed and was sent to the governor.

The horse-parlor is a gambling exchange, resembling, in a general way and in miniature, a stock or cotton exchange. It is connected by wire with the horse-parks all over the country and its clients are kept posted on the fluctuating odds or prices on the horses just as the clients in a broker’s office are advised of stock fluctuations by the illuminated tape which creeps across the wall. They bet with the house just as the broker’s clients bet with the broker, except that the broker is supposed to put thru an actual purchase or sale.

Most horse-parlor operators are criminals, for theirs is an underworld racket, as Professor Burgess observed, which has existed for many years by the sanction of thieving politicians and police executives. Many of the horse-parks which have sprung up, strictly as promotions, are conducted by underworld characters, including some with criminal records. Even their mutual departments are nominally supervised by state inspectors, the customers’ only reliance is the conscience of the racketeers.  

Recommended by Bosses for Jobs

The Inspectors are political appointees recommended for their petty, seasonal jobs by the same sort of boss politicians who have permitted the parlors to operate all this time. 

The inspector’s principal concern, officially, is to see that the state receives its stipulated share of the gross mutuel receipts every day. If the racketeer who runs the horse-park decides to drop in a bet on the winning horse after the race is run and another little retroactive bet for the inspector and the Politician who got him his appointment it would be most ungracious, and not merely unusual but miraculous, of the inspector to roll his eyes to Heaven and say that, no, he couldn’t be a party to the deal, as that would savor of dishonesty. 

The horse tracks and horse-parlors, though many miles apart, have been drawn together in the present phase of the twin rackets. The parlors are virtually a chain store system and some of the tracks are controlled by the trust that owns the parlors. Under this system the chain of parlors is able to control the prices which are paid to the client gamblers who sit taking their ease and their chances far from the scene of the races, saving the expense of transportation and tickets to the track.

Trust Would Have a Monopoly

Of course, the profit is incalculable even with the parlors operating more or less furtively; but with open rooms in Chicago, the trust would have a monopoly under legal sanction. The toll which would be taken then defies the imagination. 

Most of this profit would go to a small group of well known racketeers who have been consolidating their trust by shrewd methods and the effective devices of bribery, sabotage and physical intimidation during the development of the horse-park boom. 

Independent parlors could not hope to operate under the plan indorsed by the professor of the University of Chicago. At the outset they would find themselves unable to obtain reliable reports by wire. So the Illinois law proposes, in effect, to issue an exclusive charter to a small group of racketeers whose scope of operations is national to rob the citizens at will. 

Of course, the citizens have been similarly robbed in their gambling operations in the brokerage offices thru the manipulation of stocks. Mere vulgarity should not he held against the horse-room. Given time and imagination, the horse-parlor chain might install luxurious chairs and the club atmosphere which impart respectability to the broker’s trap. For they are both gambling houses and the broker’s client has no more interest in the actual commodity in which he is supposed to be investing than the horse gambler has in the actual horse which is running for his money. 

How Easily Were They Persuaded!

Legislatures are what they are, and the Illinois Legislature is a little more so than most. So it would be interesting to know just how much persuasion it took to convince the statesmen in Springfield that it would be for the interests of Illinois to confer this monopoly on a group of racketeers who have applied big business methods to the development of a national organization. 

Professors have made a pathetic record for themselves in their attempts to shape conditions to fit their theories since they were called into consultation on public affairs a few years ago. I wonder if Professor Burgess knows what it is all about.


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