Two violators of the law were forced to eat their words on this day in 1911. Notorious gamblers Mike Moore and Albert Spencer felt the bitter sting of public humiliation in the police court of Fargo, North Dakota on that day.
The predicament that the two men put themselves into began the night before at their usual gambling house on Fargo’s Front Street. The house was owned by John Johnson, and run under the guise of a pool hall. Johnson was in charge of the card games, and was familiar with the usual players, including Moore and Spencer. That night, Fargo police made a raid on the house, which they had suspected for some time. They found several men engaged in a poker game towards the back of the pool hall. The men attempted to flee the scene, but were met by the barrel of Detective Overby’s pistol at the back door of the house. One man struck at the detective and, despite several well-meaning shots from Overby’s pistol, managed to flee from the scene. In total, fourteen men, including proprietor Johnson, were arrested during the course of the raid.
The next morning, all fourteen of the men were paraded through Judge Miller’s courtroom. Johnson plead guilty to keeping a gambling house, and was fined $50.00, but the rest of the men vigorously proclaimed their innocence and denied any involvement in gambling dealings. Later, two of the men charged, Moore and Spencer were brought back into the courtroom. The two men had earlier claimed the charge of gambling to be an offense to their innocent characters. Judge Miller presented proprietor Johnson to the courtroom in front of Moore and Spencer. Johnson confidently identified Moore and Spencer to the court as frequenters of his gambling table. Moore and Spencer, speechless no doubt, were each sentenced to pay $10 or serve eight days in jail. Caught red-handed, the two men quickly accepted the jail time.
The topic of gambling has remained controversial throughout much of North Dakota’s history, but was made illegal from the state’s earliest beginnings. It remained illegal in North Dakota until 1979, when some forms of gambling were legalized in an effort to attract tourists to the state. In 1986, North Dakota became the first state ever to vote against the establishment of a state lottery. Today, legal gambling options have greatly increased in the state, including the North Dakota state lottery, which was established in 2004.
WRITTEN BY JAYME JOB
Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, July 18, 1911: p. 6.