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THE GAMBLING GAMES OF THE CHINESE IN AMERICA. PAK KOP PIU: THE GAME OF WHITE PIGEON TICKET

 

 

More respectable than fan t’an and distinguished from it and the games played with dominoes and cards by the title of Sz’ man kau yik, or “exchange for literature,” is pak ko piu, a kind of lottery, which shares an equal popularity among the Chinese gamblers. Its name signifies “white pigeon ticket.” In China, where lotteries are illegal, they are frequently carried on among the hills near the cities, and it is said that pigeons are used to convey the tickets and winning numbers between the offices and their patrons; whence the name applied first to the tickets and from them to the lottery itself.

 

In America the Ingatbola88 offices of the pak ko piu are always located in an upper room, suggesting the survival of the use of the loft, from which the messengers were formerly dispatched. But no such precaution is necessary; the mails carry the tickets, and runners daily traverse the cities from laundry to laundry, soliciting customers.

 

Pak ko piu is always carried on by a company, which assumes an auspicious name, in the same manner as the store companies, and has an office, where the drawings are conducted, usually in a room over a shop.8 This office consists of a small compartment, with a strong railing in front, extending midway from the floor to the ceiling, which permits a full view of the interior. Wooden shutters are frequently used to close this railed space during the day.

 

The drawings take place every night. Between 9 and 10 o’clock the pak ko piu sin shang, as the manager of the lottery is entitled, lets down the wooden shutters, locks himself in his cage, and is prepared to sell tickets for the drawing that takes place that evening. The tickets for the pak ko piu are imported already printed from China in large quantities, and invariably consist of pieces of unsized paper about five inches square, upon which have been printed from a wooden block in black, blue or green ink, the first eighty characters of the Ts’in tsz’man, or Thousand Character Classic.9 This book, which contains precisely one thousand characters, no two of which are alike, is so well known in China that its characters are frequently used instead of the corresponding numerals from one to one thousand. They serve the purpose of numbers on the tickets. (Page 8) The impression on these tickets is reproduced in Fig. 2. Dr. Morrison gives the following translation of the text, which comprises the first section of the Ts’in tsz man:

 

Figure 2 1. Heaven and earth – black and yellow; 5. The canopy of the universe, wide and waste; 9. The sun and moon, full and waning; 13. The stars and constellations arranged and set out. 17. The cold comes and the heat goes 21. The Autumn is for ingathering and the Winter for hoarding up 25. The intercalary superfluities complete the year, 29. And the notes of the gamut adjust the superior principle of nature. 33. When the clouds ascend on high, they occasion rain; 37. When the dews concrete they become hoar frost. 41. Gold is produced at the “graceful water;” 45. Gems come from the “Kuan lun hill.” 49. Of swords, most distinguished is the “Great Chamber; 55. Of pearls, the most celebrated is the “Night Splendor;”

 

  1. Of fruits, tie most precious are the damson and the plum; 61. And of vegetables, the most important are the mustard plant and singer. 65. The sea water is saltish, and the river water fresh. 69. The scaly tribes plunge deep, but the feathered soar high. 73. The dragon (designated) a teacher (in the time of) “the Fire Emperor,” 77. While birds were the mark of offices under the “Human Sovereign.”

 

The line in the middle space reads: chiu loi un tai k’ap. “Imprinted according to the original copy.” Those in use here are identical with used tickets obtained from the Strait’s Settlements.

 

Twenty of the eighty numbers are drawn every night. The company sells each player ten or more numbers, and pays prizes to those who purchase a certain number of characters drawn. A player prepares his tickets by dotting the characters he selects with black ink, and this ticket is handed to the manager, with the money wagered. He has a number of blank tickets, bound in the form of a book, on one of which he marks the corresponding characters, and writes the player’s name and the amount. Ten numbers are sold on the basis of one dollar, and this is the usual form of the wagers.

 

When the office is open, the runners and agents, and such customers as have not entrusted them with their commissions, present their marked tickets, with the money, and see that their bets are duly recorded.

 

About an hour after letting down the shutters the drawing takes place. Eighty pieces of white paper have been provided, upon which have been written or printed the eighty characters of the tickets, one on each, a box of hand stamps for the purpose, forming part of the equipment of most lotteries. The manager carefully rolls the eighty pieces of paper into as many pellets, so that they cannot be distinguished, one from one another, and places them in a large tin pan. He mixes them thoroughly, and then, one at a time, counts twenty of the pellets into a white china bowl, distinguished by a white paper label marked “one” He then counts twenty more into another bowl labeled “two,” and, in turn, places the remainder, in the same way into two other bowls marked “three” and “four.”

 

One of the players, who is paid a small gratuity, is now asked to select one of the bowls, and the one he designates is declared to contain the winning, numbers. These the manager (Page 10) carefully unrolls, one at a time, at once pasting them on a board in the back part of his office.

 

The spectators watch every movement, and cheating is difficult. It is almost impossible for the company to direct it against the players, but the manager sometimes contrives to defraud the company, by arranging that certain numbers shall win, about which he has informed the players with whom he is in collusion, in advance of the drawing. Those who purchase ten numbers lose their stakes unless they happen to have bought at least five of the winning numbers. Those who guess five or more of the winning numbers receive the following sums for each dollar they wager:

 

For 5 winning numbers $ …….. 2

For 6 winning numbers ……… 20

For 7 winning numbers ……. 200

For 8 winning numbers …. 1,000

For 9 winning numbers …. 1,500

For 10 winning numbers .. 3,000

The companies, however, always deduct five per cent from these amounts, and when the ticket has been sold through an agent, fifteen per cent, ten per cent of which is paid to the agent. Proportional sums are paid when the amount wagered is less than one dollar.

 

Most of the companies sell more than ten numbers, from ten up to twenty, at a proportional advance in price as the player’s chances are increased, and the prizes vary from those, paid when ten numbers are sold. The price which should be charged for more than ten numbers, with the prizes to be paid, and the methods of calculating the company’s chances, and what its profits should be, are contained in a book known as the pak ko piu t’ò of which several editions are curent among the gamblers in American cities. One in general use, entitled “Shang ts’oi tsit king” or “A quick way to get rich,” may be purchased in the Chinese shops.

 

The manager of the lottery must have special knowledge of the business. He, and his assistant who prepares the papers for the drawings, are dignified with the title of Sín shang, literally “first born,” which is equivalent to Mr., and is about the only title of respect used among the Chinese laborers in America.

 

The principal manager is paid from forty to sixty dollars, and his assistant from thirty to fifty dollars per month, for their two hours’ service at night, in addition to which they usually have some remunerative employment during the day. They may have a share in the lotteries, but are not permitted to purchase tickets.

 

When the winning numbers are declared, messengers at once carry tickets on which they are marked with red ink, to the Chinese stores and restaurants, where they are prominently displayed. Many of the stores act as agents for the lotteries, and charge purchasers fifteen percent commission. The runners also charge fifteen percent advance, so that their customers pay one dollar and fifteen cents for ten numbers, of which they turn in one dollar to the manager. Anyone can buy tickets at the office without paying a commission, but most of the tickets are sold through agents, as they can sell them for amounts as low as ten cents, while the offices usually will not receive less than one dollar from others. Besides, they insure their customers against mistakes in marking their tickets, the companies being very ready to decline to pay prizes on account of such errors. The winner must be paid on the day following the drawing and failure to pay results in the destruction of the business, but this is of very infrequent occurrence. The lotteries are often compelled to suspend, however, through their capital being exhausted by repeated losses. The cash capital required is not large. In 1886 there were four pak ko piu companies in Philadelphia, known as the Kwong T’ai, “Extensive Increase”, T’ín Wo, “Heavenly Harmony”, Fuk T’ai, “Fortunate Increase”, and Ch’iu Ts’un, “Encouraging Fountain.” In New York there were five, and numerous companies existed in the Chinese colonies of Boston, Chicago and the larger American cities.

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