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Sinners and Saints - Part 04

Vice and Reform in Kansas

Dodge City gambler Luke Short.


"We are here to live and get rich--if we can." --Dodge City Times, 1885

American Indians had been gambling on games and footraces long before whites arrived in Kansas. However, gambling was not perceived as a moral issue until the Texas-to-Kansas cattle drives brought hundreds of cowboys to Kansas railheads beginning in the 1860s.

The cowtown gamblers were a diverse group. Some gambled at the end of the trail drive and returned to Texas. Others stayed in the cattle towns making livings as buffalo hunters, saloon owners, and even lawmen. All wanted to make money.

In Dodge City, Luke Short (top, right) was known as a well-dressed and handsome gentleman. He also was a gunfighter and professional gambler. In 1883, he became part owner of the Long Branch Saloon, but was soon driven out of Dodge when he fell out of favor with the new mayor.

Monte card.Playing the Games

These popular 19th century games were played in many saloons.

  • Red and black is played with two decks of cards. The objective for each player is to determine whether he will hold more red or more black cards in his hand.
  • Hazard is played with three dice thrown from a cup. Players bet on the total number thrown.
  • Monte (card at top, left) involves a player trying to bet on the layout card or cards that will be the first to be matched in play.
  • Faro is conducted on a table upon which 13 cards (a complete suit from ace to king) have been set up. The dealer pulls out cards from a deck. Players win according to which card is pulled in relation to the bets placed on the cards on the table. An abacus, or case keeper, keeps track of the bets.
  • Keno is similar to bingo. Numbered balls are dropped from a wooden "bird" and called out. Players match the numbers read to those on cards they have purchased at the door. A master board holds all the numbered balls that have been called.


This "trade  stimulator" circumvented gambling laws by paying out prizes in  cigars.

Skirting the Law

As early as 1868 Kansas had outlawed games of chance for money. To get around these laws, manufacturers created "trade stimulators."  These machines were designed to pay out prizes in cigars, gum, or stamps. Many owners, however, gave out money prizes. Appearing around the 1880s in saloons, these machines were placed beside cash registers to encourage or "stimulate" customers to spend their spare change before leaving the store. This practice agitated citizens who opposed gambling.


The War Against Gambling

Although gambling was a popular leisure time activity, reformers believed it to be a vice. Gamblers were accused of laziness, stealing from their employers to support their habits, and leaving their families destitute.

Limited gambling was allowed on horse racing at Kansas fairs.

Many Kansans believed gambling to be just as immoral as drinking and smoking. Like drinkers, gamblers were accused of spending their money on entertainment instead of their families. Gambling also attracted women and youth, groups reformers felt needed protection from the ills of society.

As illustrated in this poster (bottom, left), sulky races were popular in many Kansas communities. An 1895 state law permitted limited gambling on horse races at fairs. The Grange, an agricultural society, objected on the grounds that racing detracted from the fairs' mission to educate and promote agriculture.

Reformers wrote letters to their city governments and signed petitions in an effort to eliminate gambling. Around the turn of the 20th century, reformers across the United States got laws passed to ban gambling on the state and local level. They successfully convinced lawmakers that wagering was linked to other vices, and argued that gambling houses were often host to drinking and prostitution.

View a timeline of gambling initiatives in Kansas.


Sinners & Saints is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.

  1. A Moral and Pure Society - Creating better communities was the goal.
  2. Alcohol - The politics behind alcohol reform.
  3. Agitate, Educate, Organize! - Women's role in prohibition laws.
  4. Gambling - Betting men took money away from their families.
  5. Gambling Timeline - Kansas issues.
  6. Prostitution - Seen as threatening the moral fabric of society.
  7. Prostitution Timeline - Kansas issues.
  8. Smoking - Cigarettes were believed to corrupt youth.
  9. Smoking Timeline - Kansas & U.S. issues.
  10. Vice in the 20th and 21st Centuries - They're still vices, but now the issue is health.
  11. Kansas Reformed? - The definition of "vice" has shifted over time.