Champaign's Early Days of Gambling

Criminal Charge against Gambling

Front side of first known recorded criminal charge against gambling in Champaign County. Case filed October term, 1857. John Sullivan charged with keeping a common gambling house for his gain.

Warrants for John Sullivan to appear in court for operating a gambling house and rioting. It is unclear whether these warrants dated 1857 and 1861 were the first criminally prosecuted gambling cases in Champaign County, but they are the first found within our collection.  Between 1857 and 1861, our records show Sullivan visiting criminal court on numerous occasions for a litany of different charges such as the illegal sale of spiritous liquors, keeping a disorderly house, keeping a barroom on election day, failing to make bail, rioting, and attempted murder with a slingshot.  He was specifically charged for illegal sale of spiritous liquors on eighteen occasions.

Successful Raid

Champaign Daily News, November 21, 1895

Articles about gambling raids published in local newspapers were commonplace in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This article from the November 21, 1895 issue of the Champaign Daily News offers a great example of a typical successful raid. 

The Champaign police were tipped-off about a gambling den above McCarty Bros. Restaurant at 71 East Main St.  The officers surveilled the the location to verify the tip and were ultimately granted a warrant by a local magistrate to search the premisis on the grounds of illegal gambling.  On the night of Wednesday, November 20, the entire Champaign police force left the station and headed to McCarty Bros. Restauarant at 9:45pm for the raid.  Two officers were left at the front entrance to capture anybody that tried to run while the chief and captain approached the rear door.  The police knocked and when the door was answered they forced their way into the gambling den.  There were two games of poker operating and the twelve players quickly scooped up the money on the table as the police entered.  The raid netted twelve arrests and a large haul of gambling paraphenalia.

Sheriff's Book

Sheriff's book, 1925.  Six men are listed as arrested for gambling.

Entries from the Sheriff’s Prisoner’s Record Book 1925 show that gambling raids trapped locals and transients. In this example, seven men were arrested for gambling and all were visitors from out of town.  Of those arrested, there were people from Omaha (NE), Jackson (MS), Charleston (SC), New Orleans (LA), Picher (OK), Houston (TX), and Kansas City (MO).  All were aged between 25-33 and the majority were fined $18.75 for their crimes.  The person who operated the game, Ignatius Humphreys, was fined $100. The majority paid their fine and were released and none were held longer than two days. This example shows that the majority of individuals caught gambling were fined and released, a major complaint of the Courier’s anti-vice campaign in the 1930s. 

Champaign's Early Days of Gambling