San Francisco's Old Chinatown, Part 3
San Francisco's Old Chinatown
by Commissioner Jesse B. Cook
Former Chief of Police
[This photo of an alleyway in Chinatown is in place of the one I couldn't pull up from the original article.]
In regard to the gambling games in Chinatown--my first trip to Chinatown was in 1889 as a patrolman in a squad. At that time there were about 62 lottery agents, 50 fan tan games and eight lottery drawings in Chinatown. In the 50 fan tan gambling houses the tables numbered from one to 24, according to the size of the room.
The game was played around a table about ten feet long, four feet high and four feet wide. On this table was a mat covering the whole top. In the center of the mat was a diagram of a twelve-inch square, each corner being numbered in Chinese characters, one, two, three and four.
At the head of the table sat a lookout or gamekeeper. At the side was the dealer. This man had a Chinese bowl and a long bamboo stick with a curve at the end, like a hook. In front of him, fastened to the table, was a gab containing black and white buttons. He would scoop down into the sack with his bowl and raise it, turning it upside down on the table. The betting would then start.
After the bets were made, the dealer would raise the bowl and start to draw down the buttons, drawing for buttons at a time. The Chinese would make their bets at the drawing down of the buttons. The dealer would draw down until one, two, three or even four buttons would be left. Sometimes the Chinese would bet that the last four buttons would be all white, all black, or that there would be a mixture of black and white buttons.
The construction of the gambling rooms was very interesting. There was a large door two inches thick, of heavy oak, seasoned and studded with bolts. The door jamb and the outer front were the same, but on the back of the door was a large bar on a swivel with two cleats on each side. When the door was slammed, the Chinese could turn the swivel and lock the door in order to keep the police from entering. Of course, because of the bolts studded on the door, it could not very well be chopped down.
Along side the door was a little room with a window, where the lookout sat. He held the strings controlling, and was there to watch everyone that entered. On entering, you would pass through a hallway about ten feet long, then through another door, either right or left, into a hall of about the same length, which would lead into the game. Three doors generally had to be passed through before reaching the game. the halls were always arranged so that if the police got through the first door, they had to pass through a second door, which, of course, would be locked. By the time they finally got to the game room, all evidence would be removed.
[Part one was posted on 11/12/05.
Part two was posted on 1/7/06.]
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