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Gambling in San Jose

By Raymond T. Akers

In an excellent journey from the not-always-so good old days through the present, author Ted Ramos gives us a special view of regional history in his new book “San Jose Gambling” (Arcadia Publishing).

Ramos tells us in his Acknowledgments that, “Finding information on the topic of gambling in San Jose was tough to come by, as gambling has always been a social taboo.” So the story is told primarily with photographs. If you’re looking for a detailed and extensive narrative, you’ve come to the wrong place; however, if you’d like to see what San Jose’s many gambling dens, clubs and casinos have looked like over the years then this is the book for you.

The first chapter is Early Years and starts off with a photo of card players at the Helping Hand clubhouse of New Almaden from the 1880s. From there, Ramos takes us right up to the present, through chapters such as Cardrooms, Social Clubs, Alviso, Sutters’s Club and Bay 101, Garden City and M8trix, and Crime and Illegal Clubs.

Especially interesting and ironic, is the story of the sheriff in 1946 who managed to get arrested for conspiracy to control slot machines. Ramos illustrates this well with a photograph of the Description of Prisoner form when he was charged. It has the sheriff’s name handwritten in the appropriate place as the arrestee, and also pre-printed in the upper right-hand corner in his capacity as sheriff.

It was also great to see and read about the origins and evolution of the two remaining places to gamble in San Jose: Bay 101 Casino and Casino M8trix. Both date back to the 1920s and have had multiple locations and names, so it is fun to see and read about how they progressed to what they are today.

If there is any one small disappointment, it’s that all the photos are black and white. Obviously with the older ones it can’t be avoided, but surely many of the newer pictures are originally in color. Also, the photos of old chips lose their impact when he has to describe what color they are.

But this is nitpicking. This is a fascinating and enjoyable book that anyone will enjoy who has an interest in the history of San Jose, gambling in general, and poker in particular.

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