In themselves most of the games employed in gambling are without harm. Billiard-tables are as harmless as tea-tables, and a pack of cards as a pack of letter envelopes, unless stakes be put up. But by their use for gambling purposes they have become significant of an infinity of wretchedness. In New York city there are said to be six thousand houses devoted to this sin; in Philadelphia about four thousand; in Cincinnati about one thousand; at Washington the amount of gaming is beyond calculation. There have been seasons when, by night, Senators, Representatives, and Ministers of Foreign Governments were found engaged in this practice.
Men wishing to gamble will find places just suited to their capacity, not only in the underground oyster-cellar, or at the table back of the curtain, covered with greasy cards, or in the steamboat smoking cabin, where the bloated wretch with rings in his ears deals out his pack, and winks in the unsuspecting traveller,—providing free drinks all around,—but in gilded parlors and amid gorgeous surroundings.
This sin works ruin, first, by unhealthful stimulants. Excitement is pleasurable. Under every sky, and in every age, men have sought it. The Chinaman gets it by smoking his opium; the Persian by chewing hashish; the trapper in a buffalo hunt; the sailor in a squall; the inebriate in the bottle, and the avaricious at the gaming-table.
We must at times have excitement. A thousand voices in our nature demand it. It is right. It is healthful. It is inspiriting. It is a desire God-given. But anything that first gratifies this appetite and hurls it back in a terrific reaction is deplorable and wicked. Look out for the agitation that, like a rough musician, in bringing out the tune, plays so hard he breaks down the instrument!
God never made man strong enough to endure the wear and tear of gambling excitement. No wonder if, after having failed in the game, men have begun to sweep off imaginary gold from the side of the table. The man was sharp enough when he started at the game, but a maniac at the close. At every gaming-table sit on one side Ecstasy, Enthusiasm, Romance—the frenzy of joy; on the other side, Fierceness, Rage, and Tumult. The professional gamester schools himself into apparent quietness. The keepers of gambling rooms are generally fat, rollicking, and obese; but thorough and professional gamblers, in nine cases out of ten, are pale, thin, wheezing, tremulous, and exhausted.
A young man, having suddenly heired a large property, sits at the hazard-table, and takes up in a dice-box the estate won by a father’s lifetime sweat, and shakes it, and tosses it away.