Chequers Book Reviews
The Professor, Michael Knapp

Galveston: Island of Chance, Frank Chalfant (1997)

179 pages, hardbound, $27.95 ($3 shipping; TX addresses add $2.55 sales tax), Treasures of Nostalgia, 10035 Kemp Forest Drive, Houston, TX 77080

Like the Newport/Covington area, the island of Galveston, TX and the surrounding areas on the mainland were at one time major gaming centers. Fortunately, chips, dice and other collectible memorabilia from these casinos have for the most part been preserved for collectors, and we can relive the heyday of illegal gambling in south Texas through those items.

In his new book, Frank Chalfant has gathered more Galveston gaming history between two covers than any of us has ever seen before. "Galveston" is beautifully produced, with hard covers and clay-coated paper, and the quality of the photographs is excellent. The first 50 pages of the book is the history of illegal gambling in Galveston, and of the families who ran the clubs. The historical narrative is well-illustrated and is replete with anecdotes about the people and locations that were so prominent in the Galveston of the 1920's through the late 1950's.

The second section of the book is a listing of all known Galveston clubs, with color illustrations of their chips, when known, as well as dice, ash trays, menus, and other memorabilia. Chalfant has identified and describes, to varying degrees, more gambling spots in the Galveston area than had previously been known. It's clear that the author spent a substantial amount of time researching and gathering information, including a number of first-person interviews with people who were in the area and could recount the events of the time from their own perspectives.

As with any 40-70 year old memories, some were undoubtedly flawed. Chalfant specifically refers to having asked a witness about the decor of the Studio Lounge, which the person couldn't recall. What he did recall, though, were the colors of the new car he bought with the money he won at a Studio Lounge craps table that night! There are some chips shown in the book that I personally believe to have been misattributed to Galveston or South Texas clubs. There is always the temptation to assume that a chip found in a particular area which bears the same name or initials as a known or rumored club in the area, must necessarily have been used at that club. Time and again, however, we have learned of the unreliability of that kind of assumption.

Although there are a few of those assumptions made in Galveston, there are relatively few of them, and the vast amount of information and photographs of memorabilia which most of us have never seen makes the book a valuable addition to the gaming collecting literature.