Women Gamblers of New York: 1884

An Avid, Masked Lady Gambler

Women Gamblers

How They Pursue The Exciting Game in New York City

A cable dispatch, says a New York correspondent, recently referred to the high play at the various clubs in London and Paris, and incidentally mentioned the fact that a Russian nobleman lost at one sitting £80,000. In an issue of a Western paper some weeks ago the propriety of the country was startled by a detailed description of a gambling-house engineered and patronized by females. Since then the existence of such institutions in various other cities has been made known. The most prominent and noteworthy of them all, however, has been overlooked.

It is located in a cozy, quiet-looking old mansion of the stately and monumental New York type, and within two blocks of the Brevoort House. To all outward appearances the place is only one of the many residences of aristocratic elegance which line the street. All the windows are heavily curtained, and a face is seldom seen there. Even at night it is rarely lighted in the front. So quietly and unobtrusively has the business of the establishment been carried on that, although it has been in existence for months, its real character has never been suspected. The proprietress of the house was originally the friend of the proprietor of one of the most famous gambling-houses in this city. She quarreled with and left him. Finding herself cast on her own resources and owner of a valuable collection of jewels, she determined to profit by her experience. She hired a furnished house—the same in which she now carries on her trade—and, after instructing two or three of her intimate acquaintances in the mystery of dealing and manipulating cards, began work with their assistance. The place was extensively advertised as a “ladies’ club-house,” and soon became quite popular, the more so as no men were admitted. Roulet and faro, as well as occasional games of rouge-et-noir, were at first dealt, but the gaming soon resolved itself into faro alone. Heavy playing has taken place in this house. One lady is known to have carried off over $5,000 as the result of a day’s lucky play. Another female won upon three days in succession $4,800. The bank was so low at one time that the proprietor contemplating closing, and would have done so but for the appearance of a creole gamestress fresh from New Orleans, who lost over $8,000 in money and jewels at a sitting, and so replenished the nearly empty coffers. For the past few months the “bank” is said to have enjoyed an almost unexampled run of luck, scarcely ever losing.

For obvious reasons the games are all confined to daylight. In order to obtain admission it is necessary to have either a card from the proprietress or an introduction from a frequenter. Regular habitués have latch-keys which admit them into the passage between the outer and inner doors, both of which are always kept closed. The inner door is guarded by a pretty young girl whose orders are to admit no stranger or unprovided with the proper credentials. The post-office box of the proprietress is daily filled with applications.

No gentleman, it is said, has been admitted except into the basement, where groceries, wines, etc., are delivered. The servants, of whom there are several, are all females, as are also all the dealers, casekeepers, and attaches. The house originally belonged to a well-known millionaire, a former agent for one of the great transatlantic steamship lines, from whom its present owner rented it. Since then she has purchased the building outright. It is furnished in the most luxurious style throughout, nothing that taste could suggest or money procure being absent.

The gambling is carried on in a back drawing-room on the second floor. In the first drawing-room an elegant lunch is always laid, with the most delicate and costly wines. The upper floors are devoted to the use of the attaches of the establishment, who all reside on the premises. The proprietress is a woman verging on middle age, of a commanding figure, and very handsome. She dresses in black, is famous among all her acquaintances for her love of pearls, which are the only jewels that she is known to wear, and of which she is reported to have the most magnificent collection in the country.

One complete set in particular belonged to the Empress Eugenie, and the gems which once queened it in the drawing-room of an Empress now preside over the fortunes of a game of faro. One of the dealers is also a famous character. She is comparatively a young woman, who some years ago enjoyed the favor of no less a person than “Jim” Fisk Jr., in whose Grand Opera-House she began life as a ballet-girl. In her circles she is known as “Diamond Jennie,” on account of her weakness for those precious minerals. The rest of the executive corps are a more or less equivocally famous and attractive, and are said to be as skillful and cool in all the traits and tricks of their trade as a veteran gambler.

The housekeeping is on the most extravagant scale, and is chiefly served by two prominent Fulton Market dealers and a wine merchant who supplies the principal clubs. All of these dealers affirm that the consumption of the finer quality of their wares far exceeds that of many of the clubs where male New York finds such luxurious comfort.

There are several other institutions for a like purpose scattered about this city and Brooklyn,, but they are on a far inferior scale, and their use is restricted positively to elected members. In these places only round games of cards are played; even at that limited rate, however, much money is lost and won. After the incalculable wrong wrought, the place of which we especially treat is indubitably the worst. Women are proverbially infatuated gamblers, and once embarked on the sea of chance, with their fates totally at the mercy of the fickle goddess Fortune, or worse, with the chance of the game dependent on the honesty or dishonesty of an unscrupulous dealer, the result may easily be imagined.

In conversation with the sporting man upon whom the proprietress of this novel temple of chance once depended for a living the following particulars were learned.

“I heard nearly a year ago,” said he, “that ‘Belle was running a game somewhere in the city, but where it was exactly I never could find out. I often met women who had been there, but they would never give the place away. It was too good a thing, you see, for them to risk its being shut up. When ‘Belle’ and I were on good terms she used to take great interest in faro and all sorts of games. She would come down to my Broadway place and watch the game for hours. She made me buy her a faro lay-out and teach her how to deal. Then little Barney, one of my dealers, who is dead—and a smart little chap he was—had to show her all the points. He taught her how to stack cards and how to finger the turn. I’ve seen them at it many a time, and laughed at what I thought was a silly freak.”

The general opinion is that “Belle” is backed in her venture by ladies of high social position and influence. Some even did not hesitate to accuse two well-known leaders of society by name.

“I tell you,” said one. “There’s more than one lady in society here that’s mixed up in such affairs. I know of two myself who are actually bankers of faro-banks run by their husbands, who of themselves never had money enough of their own to start a 50-cent limit on avenue A. One of these women to my knowledge deals faro to her friends in her own house. The other is the shrewdest poker-player in the city. She’d bluff even old Schenk himself. [Possibly Austrian murderer Hugo Schenk] Oh! There’s another thing,” he added, “and that is that there is a deuced sight more faro played in private houses than there is in public games. Whenever you find a lodging or boarding house full of young clerks you will find one faro layout at least, and some shrewd fellow to work it.

Chicago [IL] Tribune 5 April 1884: p. 16

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil does not gamble;  she has a wholesome horror of leaving anything to chance. She also observes that someone must be paying for the lavish décor and the delicate foods and wines, which rather spoils any pleasure in watching the wheel spin or the dice fall. Then, too, Mrs Daffodil has seen ladies over-extend themselves at the gaming tables, with dire consequences:

In Fifth Avenue and Fourteenth and Twenty-third streets, there are often parties of ladies from which the opposite sex are sternly excluded, where the fair gamesters play until daylight for large stakes; and it not infrequently happens that when their purses are depleted they put up their bracelets, necklaces and watches as wagers. Some of the feminine gamesters lose heavily, and the desperate shifts—no allusion to wardrobes—to which they are put to conceal their losses and replace them, must be fearfully demoralizing. A young woman, the daughter of one of our most opulent citizens, was pointed out to me in the Park, as a notorious gambler, by one of her own sex, who informed me she had parted with nearly $100,000 since she went to Saratoga, in July, and made her doting papa believe she had expended the sum in dress and charity. The young woman in question is very pretty, not more than twenty and no one regarding her pale, spirituelle face, her soft blue eyes, and gentle and reserved manner, would imagine she had fallen a victim to one of the most dangerous of vices. N.Y. Correspondence Cincinnati Gazette. Dayton [OH] Daily Empire 13 October 1865: p. 1

Amateur Lady Gamblers.

The ladies of Arensburg, Germany, are passionate card-players. Since they are not allowed to play at local clubs, they make up games at their friends’ houses and gamble all day through. As soon as the cash funds run short, they take to various articles, mostly toilet belongings. Thus, one lost to another her corset, one lost a bonnet, a third some lace and perfumes, and they go even as far as losing their prayer books. The San Angelo [TX] Press 18 June 1902: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil suggests that the ladies of Ahrensburg may have invented that popular American entertainment known as “strip poker.”

For a previous post on a very unusual wager over a young actress’s clothing, see Her Jewels Weighed More Than Her Clothes.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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