CHAPTER LXXI. LOTTERIES.
The New York correspondent of a provincial journal, recently published the following excellent sketch of the lottery business as practiced in this city.
Few persons realize to what an extent American lotteries are patronized in this city, and in a great many other cities of the country. A lottery business has been built up within a few years, secret and silent from general public inspection, which draws thousands of dollars yearly from the pockets of credulous fools, into the coffers of the designing men who manage these traps for the fortune-seekers. New York is the general headquarters for these Southern lotteries, though they are not drawn here; and in this sketch we will take a look at them.
The regular authorized American lotteries are the 'Kentucky' and 'Missouri.' There are several other branches of these concerns - two or three off-shoots growing out of a feud between the managers of the old Kentucky lottery, last winter, but as the side-establishments are not recognized as legitimate, either by patrons or the lottery board, I will pass them by in silence.
The two lotteries above named are drawn daily at noon and night. The 'Kentucky' is drawn at Covington and the 'Missouri' at Lexington. The drawings are made in public. Immediately after the numbers are taken from the wheel, the telegraph sends them over the country to the various lottery offices, those for the East coming to the general headquarters in this city, where they are forwarded to every lottery dealer in New England and the Middle States.
The lottery schemes are what is known as the ternary combination of seventy-eight numbers, being one to seventy eight, inclusive; or, in other words, 'three number' schemes. The numbers vary with the day. To-day seventy-eight numbers may be placed in the wheel and fourteen of them drawn out. Any ticket having on it three of the drawn numbers takes a prize, ranging from fifty thousand dollars to three hundred dollars, as the scheme may indicate for the day. Tickets with two of the drawn numbers on them pay an advance of about a hundred per cent. of their cost. Tickets with only one of the drawn numbers on them get back first cost. On another day only seventy-five numbers will be put in the wheel, and only twelve or thirteen drawn out. And so it goes.
The owners or managers of these concerns are prominent sporting men and gamblers of New York and elsewhere. Considerable capital is invested. It is said that it takes nearly two million dollars to work this business, and that the profits average five hundred thousand dollars or more a year. The ticket sellers get a commission of twelve per cent. on all sales. The tickets are issued to them in lots, one set of combinations going to one section of the country this week, another next; and all tickets unsold up to the hour for the drawing at Covington, are sent back to headquarters. In this way many prizes are drawn by tickets which remain unsold in dealers' hands after they have reported to the agents; and the lottery makes it clear.
Together with the sale of tickets is carried on an extensive game of gambling known as 'policy.' To 'policy' is to bet on certain numbers coming out in the drawing, for either morning or evening. Thus, if I believe 4, 11, 44 will be drawn, I stake a dollar at the lottery office, or any sum I see fit, up to five hundred dollars, and if all three of the numbers make their appearance on the drawing, the liberal managers will give me two hundred dollars for my one. You can take any three numbers of the seventy eight and policy them. The three numbers taken are called a 'gig;' two numbers a 'saddle;' four numbers a 'horse' - either of which pays its own rate, which is from two to six hundred dollars for one; a 'saddle,' however, only giving a small advance on your stake.
Now, perhaps you will say that is simple enough, and a fine chance to make money. It must be possible to strike three numbers often. Try it. The lottery, by its large advance on the amount you stake, tells a different story. A man might play three numbers every day for a year, and not have the satisfaction of seeing all three come out at one time on the drawing. Two will come out with a number just ahead or below the third; and you will pay more money and try again. Why there are men who are veterans at policy-playing, using all their spare funds, going without everything which makes life pleasant, and yet it is rarely they hit the 'gig.'
In this city, where all kinds of gambling flourishes, from the Stock Exchange to a Fifth Avenue faro 'hell,' a 'sweat' board in Baxter street, or greasy marked cards in a cellar drinking den - these American lotteries are sold in no less than six hundred places over and across the town. They are known by the dignified name of 'Exchange.' Go where you will, their signs will meet your eye. On Broadway, down town, there are several large lottery offices, well known, frequented by merchants and well-to-do business men, where policy is played with high stakes, where hundreds of tickets are sold daily. There is one near John street, on Broadway. The front office is a money broker's counter; but passing through, you come into a long, well-furnished room, all parts of the day filled with policy players. Here they do a great business in lottery tickets. There are five clerks employed. Across the wall hangs a large slate, upon which the drawn numbers are chalked. A little sign over the ticket desk gives notice that 'plays will not be taken for over ten thousand dollars.' This is the great office of the city. The proprietor has an interest in the lotteries, besides making his commission as seller.