Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Green's Anti-Gambling Crusade

This week’s “Poker & Pop Culture” column over on PokerNews is mostly focused on a fellow named Jonathan Harrington Green, a 19th-century card player and gambler who is best known for having championed a lengthy anti-gambling effort during the middle decades of the 1800s.

Green wrote a number of books warning readers against the horrors of gambling. In the column I primarily discuss the first one, published in 1843 with the title An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling; Designed Especially as a Warning to the Youthful and Inexperienced Against the Evils of That Odious and Destructive Vice.

Prior to becoming a anti-gambling proponent, Green was himself a gambler and “card sharp” for a dozen years, and so brings a certain degree of first-hand experience to his warnings about the relatively new game of poker and the chance of encountering cheating (or worse) at the tables.

He refers to himself as a “reformed gambler,” and indeed his nominal purpose going forward is to reform his readers and society at large, dissuading us all from “that odious and destructive vice.” A fairly conspicuous additional purpose is to sell books and make money, and in fact Green’s titles sold quite well, with several going through multiple editions.

Green also gave lecture tours to support his books, something I mention in passing in the column but don’t delve into that deeply. James McManus shares the story of Green’s lectures in Cowboys Full, including how Green used a bit of deceit in order to “demonstrate” to audiences that all decks of cards were marked, thus making the game fundamentally unfair to the unaware.

Drawing on a story told by Henry Chafetz in his history of gambling, McManus tells how Green would send an audience member from his lecture to buy a deck of cards and bring it to him, and he’d then “read” the backs of the cards to show the audience how cheaters worked. Only Green actually used a “shiner” or small mirror in order to identify the cards -- i.e., he didn’t have to rely on any markings.

“In other words,” writes McManus, “he was making himself rich and famously righteous by fixing the evidence that all card games were fixed.”

Like I say, I left that part of the story out of the discussion, while also omitting other stories by Green about early poker games (for the sake of brevity). But the point gets made well enough, I hope, about Green’s crusade, as well as about how even in some of the earliest references to poker, the game was viewed as corrupt and a potential source of trouble for those who played it.

If you’re curious, check it out: “Poker & Pop Culture: A Game That Is Immensely Destructive.”

Image: An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling (title page, second edition), Jonathan Harrington Green, public domain.

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