College Courses in Gambling Not a Bad Idea

Westbrook Pegler

Evansville Press/July 10, 1935

What are the odds against a crap-shooter with 10 for his point? 

What are the odds against his making 10 the hard way? 

What is the hard way? Is it 6-4 or a pair of fives? And why? 

I ask these questions not for information, having learned the answers at great expense in years gone by, but merely to suggest a line of public instruction which should be considered in Illinois at this time.

Ernest Burgess, a professor who teaches sociology in the University of Chicago, John D. Rockefeller’s old school, has proposed in all seriousness that all forms of gambling be legalized.

The proposal itself, issuing from tha University of Chicago, might seem frivolous, even scandalous, at first glimpse. But these are strange times. A A. Stagg has withdrawn his pious influence from the Midway and, in New York, Mr. Rockefeller’s son, young John, is proprietor of a roof garden intimately known to the night-side of the town.

At this rate of progress it is hardly inconceivable that in some future day, the law permitting, persons of sporting blond might find an opportunity to go against the wheel, the bird-cage and the bank in the roof garden. After all, they do go against his champagne, and who would have predicted that 10 years ago? 

However, for the moment I am considering the problems of the people of Illinois should they find themselves suddenly emancipated. There is a curious vanity in Americans which gives all the males to believe that they are born fist-fighters and most men and women to suppose that in gambling they possess some natural instinct.

The truth is that most of the men are right-hand swingers who shut their eyes and hope that their opponents in their casual rows are even worse than themselves and that only a few habitual gamblers know the quick and complex combinations of the cards and dice.

Hand Is Quicker Than the Eye

It is not uncommon, for example, in the gambling rooms of Europe, Cuba and Florida for Americans to bet against themselves in the game of hazard, and there are comparatively few who have schooled themselves in the tables of probabilities which operate in craps and poker.

These chances can be reduced to formula and learned by heart. But the action is fast, the hand is quicker than the eye, which, in turn, is quicker than the mind, and the victim often finds himself betting blindly, too vain to acknowledge his ignorance by asking questions and too eager to wait until he can be sure what he is doing with his money.

The school system teaches the oncoming generations of citizens the fundamentals of commerce, starting with the one about Johnny dividing an apple into four parts. The newspapers in recent years have given serial lessons in the various systems of the game of bridge, the stylish suburban game. But craps and poker, roulette, black-jack, the cage, the bank and the paddle-wheel all have been ignored by a conspiracy of silence which pretends that they don’t exist and leaves the victims ignorant and unprepared. It is thus with many facts of life.

I know of no text-book on the subjects which I mention except George Henry Fisher’s Stud Poker Blue Book and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But there you are. As hitherto observed, people study business and bridge but assume that they need no teaching in the problems which arise around a crap table with their money at stake.

What is a round book? What is a Dutch book? How does a bookmaker balance his prices as he deals his business in the hubbub of the crowd as post time approaches? Does the University of Chicago offer a course of instruction for students desiring to become bookmakers? And if, as I assume, the university doesn’t offer this teaching, where could better professors he found than in the ring which now operates under the law at the race tracks of New York? Nominations would seem to be in order. 

Does the University of Chicago teach an approved roulette system or attempt to explain why No. 17 possesses a peculiar fascination for so many instinctive punters and so often betrays them? Perhaps the people ought to be taught the truth about No. 17, if there is any truth in the number which has mocked so many dreams of avarice. Or would Professor Burgess toss the victims unprepared into the remorseless gadgets and grinds which take the flesh off their bones and even reduce the bones to powder if they stay? 

Lying and Lying in Wait

One of the old mottoes of poker has it that the secrets of success are lying and lying in wait, a phrase which would look well on the walls of the public school rooms when mother hands sonny her last two bucks and sends him down to the corner store to win the rent in the stud game. 

Sonny should have some guidance as to whether his jacks up are betting into the midst of three tens across the table or merely facing tens over treys. 

Or could he be challenging kings over tens. Courage is not much good of itself alone in these conditions and mother may slap the hell out of our hero if he bets himself out of money when he should have watched the cards which are folded under by the other athletes around the board to observe the probabilities. 

The questions are infinite in number and variety and there is no disputing the fact that a people who are invited to gamble as a civic duty (the public purse gets a kitty, you understand) should have the advantage of expert coaching. What are the schools for, anyway, if not to prepare the people for the problems of life? 

I should not care to witness a movie, with sound, of Mr. A. A. Stagg, who spent so many years and so much earnest zeal at the University of Chicago, when he read in the papers that a professor of the new regime at his old school had proposed open gambling on every corner in the town. 

Mr. Stagg takes his morals straight. He labored a lifetime at the U. of C. and he could be pardoned for hoping, at least, that his influence would be felt beyond the few remaining years of an honorable life.


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