Charlene Raddon: Games of Chance in the 19th Century

We’re very happy to have multi-published author Charlene Raddon come to visit. Writing is in her blood and she pens some mighty good stories. Authors, if you’re in need of a cover, check out her Silver Sage link at the bottom. Please make her welcome.

Since the heroine in my latest book, Divine Gamble, dealt faro for a living, I had to do a good deal of research on 19th Century games of chance.

Thanks to TV and old western movies, most people (like me) believed poker to be THE game of the times. Instead, it was faro. An honest faro game is as close as you can get to an “even money” game, meaning your odds of winning are nearly the same as for the house. Before the end of the century, however, card sharks figured out how to cheat even at faro.

Faro (for Pharoah, from an old French playing card design) was played with a standard pack of 52 cards. First played in France and England, faro became particularly popular in the U.S. In the movie Tombstone (1993) Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) plays faro, but the game wasn’t depicted entirely accurate. In Wyatt Earp (1994) Wyatt (Kevin Costner) and his brothers deal faro using the right layout, but still do not play 100% correctly.

The term “bucking the tiger” is said to have come from early card backs that featured a drawing of a Bengal tiger. “Twisting the tiger’s tail” is another euphemism for playing faro. Many gambling parlors were often referred to as “tiger alley” or “tiger town.” Brag, another popular saloon game of the time, which later evolved into 5-card draw poker or “Draw”.

Draw, also called “bluff poker” or “bluff,” was a rarity on the frontier until the late 1870s.

One person was designated the “banker” and an indeterminate number of players could be admitted. The faro table was typically oval, covered with green baize, and had a cutout for the banker. A board was placed on top of the table with one suit of cards (traditionally the suit of spades) pasted to it in numerical order, representing a standardized betting “layout”. Each player laid his stake on one of the 13 cards on the layout. Players could place multiple bets and could bet on multiple cards simultaneously by placing their bet between cards or on specific card edges. Players also had the choice of betting on the “high card” bar located at the top of the layout.

A deck of cards was shuffled and placed inside a “dealing box”, a mechanical device also known as a “shoe“, which was used to prevent manipulations of the draw by the banker and intended to assure players of a fair game.

The first card in the dealing box was called the “soda” and was “burned off”, leaving 51 cards in play. The dealer then drew two cards: the first was called the “banker’s card” and was placed on the right side of the dealing box. The next card after the banker’s card was called the carte anglaise (English card) or simply the “player’s card”, and it was placed on the left of the shoe.

The banker’s card was the “losing card”; regardless of its suit, all bets placed on the layout’s card that had the same denomination as the banker’s card were lost by the players and won by the bank. The player’s card was the “winning card”. All bets placed on the card that had that denomination were returned to the players with a 1 to 1 (even money) payout by the bank (e.g., a dollar bet won a dollar). A “high card” bet won if the player’s card had a higher value than the banker’s card. The dealer settled all bets after each two cards drawn. This allowed players to bet before drawing the next two cards. Bets that neither won nor lost remained on the table, and could be picked up or changed by the player prior to the next draw.

A player could reverse the intent of his bet by placing a hexagonal (6-sided) token called a “copper” on it. Some histories said a penny was sometimes used in place of a copper. This was known as “coppering” the bet, and reversed the meaning of the win/loss piles for that bet.

When only three cards remained in the dealing box, the dealer would “call the turn”, which was a special type of bet that occurred at the end of each round. The object now was to predict the exact order that the 3 remaining cards, Bankers, Players, and the final card called the Hock, would be drawn. The player’s odds here were 5 to 1, while a successful bet paid off at 4 to 1 (or 1 to 1 if there were a pair among the three, known as a “cat-hop”). This provided one of the dealer’s few advantages in faro. If it happened that the three remaining cards were all the same, there would be no final bet, as the outcome was not in question.

A device, called a “casekeep” was employed to assist the players and prevent dealer cheating by counting cards. The casekeep resembled an abacus, with one spindle for each card denomination, with four counters on each spindle. As a card was played, either winning or losing, one of four counters would be moved to indicate that a card of that denomination had been played. This allowed players to plan their bets by keeping track of what cards remained available in the dealing box. The operator of the casekeep, such as the heroine in my book Divine Gamble, is called the “casekeeper”, or colloquially in the American West, the “coffin driver”.

Certain advantages were reserved to the banker: if he drew a doublet, that is, two equal cards, he won half of the stakes upon the card which equaled the doublet. In a fair game, this provided the only “house edge”. If the banker drew the last card of the pack, he was exempt from doubling the stakes deposited on that card. These and the advantage from the odds on the turn bet provided a slight financial advantage to the dealer or house.

Other popular games of chance in wild west saloons were “Beat the Dealer” or “High Dice”, a quick and simple game. This was often played right on the bar with the barkeep as the dealer.


Then there was “Under and Over” (or “High/Low” or “Hi & Lo” or “Lucky Number 7”), a popular party game for three to six players played with a dice tray and 2 dice in a shaker cup.

“Chuck-a-Luck”, aka “Sweat”, Sweat Cloth”, “Birdcage”, “Chucker Luck”, “Chuck” or “Big Six” is an old game originating in England. This was played with a dice cup and 3 dice. Because of cheating, the use of a heavy welded metal birdcage device became the standard for the game.

Grand Hazard (not to be confused with Hazard) was a more advanced for of Chuck-a-Luck, with a more sophisticated layout allowing for the simple 1 through 6 “chuck bets”.

Hazard was played with two dice and was the ancestor of the modern dice game, craps.

Monte Bank was a popular card game of the early 19th Century, particularly in the Southwest and mining camps in Northern California.


In Divine Gamble, a mistake made long ago has put Maisy Macoubrie in a killer’s crosshairs. Her only hope is to run. Yet, her chances are slim of surviving alone.

The Preacher, a bounty hunter known for bringing men in alive, finds his own face on a wanted poster—dead or alive—for a crime he didn’t commit. He knows who the real killer is, but trying to prove it could be the last thing he ever does.

United in battle against a common enemy, can Maisy and The Preacher find love and solace in each other? Can they win the biggest gamble of their lives?


Are you a gambler? Have you ever visited a casino? Or have you read a book where they did? Charlene is giving away one digital copy of Divine Gamble to one commenter.


Charlene Raddon is an award-winning author of western historical romance novels and a book cover artist. Originally published by Kensington Books, she is now an Indie author. You can find her at:

Buy link for Divine Gamble:

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  1. Am I a gambler?? Ha ha!! Anyone who know me, know I am. I think I cut my teeth on a poker chip. Casinos?? I love them so much I named my little puppy Casino. One book I have 2 Times is Nora Roberts, The Winning Hand, that book fuels me, a beautiful story on luck and love. Your books sounds great and I loved all the history you gave us. Thanks for coming to P & P and giving us an opportunity to win one of your books.

    1. Avatar

      What’s your favorite game to play at the casino?

      1. I love Slots and Craps,

    2. Tonya, I think you’re the luckiest person I’ve ever seen. You win a lot of money, girl. And how can you go wrong naming your dog Casino? I love it.

    3. Thank you for visiting and commenting, Tonya.

  2. Avatar

    I love to gamble and I love the excitement of a casino. I have not been in years though. It was fun when I used to gamble with my Daddy’s money but when it became my own I gambled only when I still lived at home. Adulting on Disability income does not allow for such things as gambling. I used to love to gamble at horse races too.

    1. I liked going to Las Vegas when I was young, but I haven’t been now for years. Thanks for stopping by, Stephanie.

    2. Stephanie, I totally understand. It sure makes a difference when it’s someone else’s money you’re playing with. I’m an extremely cautious gambler. I think of all the things that money I’m putting in would buy. Now that I’m older, I rarely go to a casino. It was a whole lot more fun too when I pulled a handle instead of pressed a button. 🙂 Not the same.

  3. I have tried gambling but am not good at it. I was able to beat everyone at penny poker though.

    1. Penny poker is about my speed too, Debra. Thanks.

  4. When I was younger I would bet on horse races. Or try to pick the winners and see if I was right. I won 8 out of 10 times. It was fun because as long as I was betting with my winnings it was more fun. Eventually I had 7 children and there was no more betting 🙂 I also loved going once a month to Atlantic City to play slot machined. As soon as the money I came with was gone, so was I. Your post was fascinating, especially the game of Faro.
    Carol Luciano

    1. Thanks, Carol. You must live back east.

      1. lol yes. I guess Atlantic City was the giveaway. 🙂

  5. Welcome, Charlene! We’re so happy to have you visit P&P. There’s something about the allure of gambling. Taking a chance. Risking money in hopes of a windfall. And I LOVE the cover of Divine Gamble! What a beauty. Love her hair and that guy in the background says it all. She’s in danger. I really loved this story. Maisy and Preacher are great characters whose love unfolds like a beautiful rose. You write the best westerns.

    Much love, dear lady!

    1. Thank you, Linda. You’re so good to me. I’m thrilled you liked my book. I love yours as well.

      1. Charlene, I think Divine Gamble has everything–danger, excitement, love. The backdrop of the old West plus great characters!

  6. I worked for 20 years in a casino. I’m not much of a gambler but I love historical westerns.

    1. Interesting. I think it would be fascinating to work in a casino. What a great place to study people.

  7. Once I went to a casino won 40 dollars.

  8. Enjoyed your visit!! Love learning about history. Remember hearing about Faro dealers in westerns I’ve watched.
    As to whether I gamble, well I have, but nowadays only give scratch off lottery tickets as gifts from furry kids to grandpa.

  9. The first time I went to Las Vegas my husband won $50 (a large amount in 1962) and he got this glazed look in his eyes like dollar signs. Scared me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back. But I did.

  10. I don’t gamble much, but I live near several casinos so have been known to try a slot machine or two on my way into a restaurant.

    1. I don’t gamble much either, mostly slots and I never win.

  11. I’ve played the nickel slots in Vegas and AC. I’m too cheap to waste money on gambling too much.

  12. Hello Charlene! No, I’m not a gambler. I’ve never been to a casino.

    Thank you for this fun post.

  13. I’m with you, Caryl. Nickle slots is my limit.

  14. Charlene, good to see you here… my in-laws loved going to casinos. They had their rules of what to take, what to allow, how long to gamble… and then what to do with winnings! They were so cute with their guidelines, but they were good guidelines!

    We’ve got a great moon rising here in the northeast… Bad Moon Rising?

    Or a Supermoon!

    Great post, Charlene!

    1. Thanks, Ruth. Bad Moon Rising? Sounds like a good book.

  15. I am not much of a gambler. I still haven’t figured out most of the games. I still need a cheat sheet to know the poker hands. I have been to a few casinos. I used to play the slot machines until they switched from coins to cards. It almost guarantees you will spend more. I would take the change in my pocket to play. Anything I won went straight back into my pocket. When my original stake was gone, I quit. I almost always came out ahead. I did learn to play 21 at RomCon in Colorado Springs several years ago.

    1. I played 21 once and did pretty well. Thanks for stopping by, Patricia.

  16. Only got to Vegas twice. I played the slots and video poker. Money was budgeted to play with. Attitude is it is entertainment. Did not expect to win, just have fun.

    1. I went to the RT conference when it was in Vegas and never even went to the slots. Just wasn’t interested. Thanks, Jerri

  17. No, I’m not a gambler in the traditional sense and I’ve never been to a casino but my husband and I were farmers for over 30 years. When you invest your money in seed and fertilizer and you depend on the right amount of rain to come when it is needed and the sun to shine when it is needed, you are a gambler! Thanks for educating me today.

    1. Farming is definitely a gamble, Connie. I come from a long line of farmers. Glad you enjoyed my blog.

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