National Problem Gambling Awareness Month & LB's Past

Gerrie Schipske

I bet you didn’t know that March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month. It is and it might be a good time to stop playing bingo, betting on the sports teams, buying lotto tickets, betting on the ponies at Los Alamitos or hiking over to Hawaiian Gardens Card Club or the nearest Tribal casino.

Gambling is a problem for many. Actually, a report done way back in 2006 indicates there are 1.5 million Californian’s with problems related to gambling. With the growth of the lottery and internet gambling, there are probably even more.

Long Beach never had a legal card club but local ministers and others did their best to get the police to break up poker games and blind pigs. A blind pig was a place selling illegal alcohol. In 1900, a crusade was launched to stop Long Beach from being “a Monte Carlo of Southern California.” A tent had been set up under the pavilion and several men were playing “draw poker” which was legal in California. Long Beach, however, had a local ordinance that prohibited all forms of gambling. The men were arrested by the Long Beach Marshall and they quickly posted bail.

In 1906, newspaper headlines featured the story of “Preacher Leads Way to Game of Cards.” The story details that evangelist E.J. Bulgin riled up his crowd and then led them down the street to a cigar store on west First Street, where he suspected an illegal poker game. The owner of the store denied that gambling was being allowed even though several men sat at a table piled with “regulation poker chips.” Bulgin also didn’t much like the “public” dances nor the boxing skills of Tommy Burns who trained on the beach every day across from the bathhouse.

To spice things up, Long Beach became the home in the late 1920s to several floating casinos that were moored off shore. Water taxis brought gambles from the piers at Long Beach and Santa Monica. One of the first ships was the luxurious Johanna Smith, a lumber schooner converted to a gambling ship. She only lasted until 1932 when there was an explosion and then fire. She sank. (Not sure why people refer to ships as “she.”)

A leaking gas line caused the demise of the Monfalcone in 1930. The ship was owned by Jack Dragna, a Los Angeles crime boss. Divers tried in vain to recover the vault safe that contained silver, currency and checks.

Long Beach enacted ordinances that made the offshore casinos and the water taxis which serviced them, illegal. But the number of ships increased to include: the Rose City which became the Rose Isle, the Tango, the McKittrick became the Monte Carlo, Panama City, La Playa, Mount Baker Lux and Showboat. Gambling ships continued until 1939 as a result of a court ruling. In 1948, a federal law made it illegal to operate any gambling ship in U.S. territorial waters.


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