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Faro History


Faro is one of the oldest banking games still around today.  I is said to be of Italian origin and was the favorite game of European Royalty and all Aristocracy in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.  The game found it's way to America by way of New Orleans late in the 18th century.  


Faro was played in nearly every town west of the Mississippi and to be a Faro Dealer was one of the most honored and lucrative professions of the era.  Many of the famous names from the old west, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Luke Short, Ben Thompson, Soapy Smith and Bat Masterson made a living at times running a Faro Bank.  The players (called punters) considered it an investment, they put money in the Faro Bank and nearly fifty per cent of the time they would double their money.  On the losing end of that 50% men were broken to ruin or even killed.  It is a very simple to understand, fast paced game that the cowboys and miners grew attached to.  The dealers were many times more than just a card shark, they often were versed in reciting sonnets of literature, reporting on current events or primarily (other than the dance hall girls) they were the entertainment of saloon.  


Playing cards of the day had no numbers.  But with Faro the dealer only played one card at a time, so no numbers were needed.  When poker became popular they invented cards with numbers that they called squeezers because a player could see all of his cards all squeezed together. 


In the late 19th century several companies became wealthy by making gambling equipment, especially Faro gear.  Will & Finck, H.C. Evans, Geo Mason, Ball & Ball, B.C. Wills and many more had extensive catalogs to order the equipment through the mail. 


Although the portable Faro outfit brought the game to any table top, Gambling Halls became the place to be, offering Craps, Roulette, Hazard, Chuck a Luck, The Wheel of Fortune and a variety of other popular gambling games.  


Because the odds of Faro were so even a dealer had to figure out ways to stretch them a bit in his favor.  So cheating became a common practice both by the dealer and the punter.  Even the big Casino Furniture companies would make and sell gaffed dealer boxes and accesories to aid in cheating.  The best of the dealers had the slight of hand cheating movements toned to perfection.  But if you were caught, there would be hell to pay.


In a professional game of Faro it takes three Faro Bank workers.  The dealer had a man keeping the Case box sitting directly across from him.  The case keeper or "coffin" would kept count of every card played.  Seated in a tall chair to the left of the dealer was the lookout.  He watched the playing board for any cheating movements and sat over the check rack, with all the chips and money, as a guard.  If the house was to cheat, all three had to be in on it.


By the early decades of the 20th century those Gambling Halls became Casinos.  Faro was played however, because the odds were to close to even, the game of Faro nearly died out in the late 1940s.


Famous Faro Dealers
Gamblers of the day were known as Sporting Men.  As gambling saloons go, three come to my mind that were the greatest.  The Long Branch Saloon of Dodge City, The Oriental Saloon of Tombstone and the White Elephant Saloon of Fort Worth Texas.  All three have one thing in common, Luke Short.  


The Dodge City Peace Commission
In the above photograph are most of the primary partners in the greatest Faro syndicate of old.  "The Saloon Ticket".  This photograph was taken in 1883, when these men came to the aid of Luke Short in what was called The Dodge City War.  These men built and ran the gambling operations for both the Long Branch Saloon of Dodge and The Oriental Saloon of Tombstone.  It is little known that when Wyatt Earp bought into the Faro business at the Oriental he brought in his team of elite professional gamblers.  Bill Harris, Bat Masterson and Luke Short.   Standing from left to right are BILL HARRIS (the co-owner and originator of the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Dodge City mayoral candidate, Tombstone Oriental Saloon partner and Gambling Hall partner of Luke Short in Fort Worth Texas) LUKE SHORT (The best and most famous Faro dealer of all time, co-owner of the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City and the White Elephant Saloon in Fort Worth Texas) BAT MASTERSON (Lawman and Faro dealer, who lived into the 20th century as one of the most important sporting men of the era), and William Petillon (Business associate and lawyer).  Seated from left to right, Charlie Bassett (Lawman and Faro Dealer) and Wyatt Earp (Lawman, Faro dealer, western legend),Frank McLean (Faro Dealer) and Neil Brown (Lawman and Faro Dealer).  


Luke Short
The life and times of the Gambler Gunfighter Luke Short has been the inspiration of Pharo Bank.  


Soapy Smith
Gambler,confidence man, scoundrel. 
Leader of the sporting underworld in Denver Colorado (1884-95), and the King of Skagway Alaska during the gold rush of (1896-98). 
Known for dealing Faro, Three Card Monte, the Shell Game... and selling packages of Soap in which some special packages had one hundred dollar bills wrapped inside.  The lucky winners were ALWAYS Soapy's shills.  No one ever won accidentally.  However the customers always did get a quality bar of soap.  
His establishments were also reknown...especially the Tivoli Club Saloon in Denver. 
Perhaps the greatest scam artist of the 19th century Jeff (Soapy) Smith's last words on that dark night of 1898 were "My God, Don't Shoot!" unfortunatley those words were not heeded. 

Link to the Web Site of Soapy Smith


Jeff Smith  Great grandson of Jefferson (Soapy) Smith.  Notable western celebrity in his own right. The Soapy Smith web site is run by Jeff Smith of the Soapy Smith Preservation Trust.  
Pictured above from left to right is Wyatt, Virgil, Doc  and Jeff Smith. 
Photographs to the right are the actual Roulette and Faro table of Soapy himself. 
Please visit the Soapy Smith web site... one of the most entertaining western history web sites on the internet.

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"Care to try your luck at my Faro table?"