Story of the Session of the California Legislature of 1909

Author: Franklin Hichborn

Chapter VI.

The Anti-Racetrack Gambling Bill.

Supporters of the Measure Knew What They Wanted, Drew a Bill to Meet the Requirements of the Situation and Refused to Compromise with the Machine Element - Suggestive Series of "Errors" Attended Its Passage.

Of the three principal reform measures considered by the Legislature of 1909 - the Direct Primary bill, the Railroad Regulation bill and the Anti-Racetrack Gambling bill - the last named was the only one to become a law untrimmed of its effective features. The Anti-Racetrack Gambling bill passed the Assembly, passed the Senate and was signed by the Governor precisely as it had been introduced; there was not so much as the change of a comma allowed. The result is an anti-gambling law on California statute books which if it work as well as it has in other States will prevent bookmaking and pool-selling, thus relieving horse racing of the incubus which has made the sport of kings disreputable[23].

Since the reform element succeeded in passing the Anti-Racetrack Gambling bill without amendment, there is widespread opinion that there was no opposition to its passage. As a matter of fact, nothing is farther from the truth. Before a legislator reached Sacramento, the pro-gambling lobby was on the ground, and continued its hold-up process until the Assembly, by a vote of 67 to 10, passed the measure, and by a vote of 57 to 19 refused to grant it reconsideration.

The writer remembers his first poll of the Senate on the anti-gambling issue, when only nineteen Senators could be safely counted for it[24]; twenty-one were necessary for its passage. To be sure, a number of the Senators not included in the list of the nineteen who were from the beginning safe for the measure, were pledged to vote for an anti-pool selling bill, but this did not necessarily mean the effective Walker-Otis bill which had been drawn to prevent pool selling and bookmaking. Not a few unquestionably figured on voting for a bill that would place them on record as against racetrack gambling, but do racetrack gambling little or no harm.

These uncertain ones were blocked in their plan of action because the proponents of the Anti-Gambling bill knew just what they wanted to do, namely, close up poolrooms and bookmakers’ booths. They took the most effective way to close them up, namely, adapted to California Constitution and criminal practice, the Hughes anti-gambling law, the adoption of which Governor Hughes forced in New York, and which in New York State had proved most effective.

The bill was drawn carefully and its backers in the Legislature and out of the Legislature let it be known that no amendment, not so much as to change a comma, would be tolerated. The measure was introduced in the Senate by Walker of Santa Clara, and in the Assembly by Otis of Alameda. It was known as the Walker-Otis bill.

This determined stand for the passage of the measure just as it had been drawn thoroughly alarmed the gambling lobby. "Reformers" who would not "compromise" proved a new experience. The machine never compromises until it is whipped. Accordingly, when public opinion demanded action on the Walker-Otis bill, the machine Senators began to talk of compromise. In fact, up to the hour of the vote on the bill in the Senate, Senator Wolfe did not stop whining compromise. In his speech against the passage of the bill, just before the final vote was taken he insisted: "There should have been a compromise measure agreed upon, a bill for which we all could have voted."

The moment before Wolfe had been warning the Senate that to pass the Walker-Otis bill would tend to wreck the Republican party in California. Just what the Walker-Otis bill had to do with Republican policies Mr. Wolfe would no doubt have difficulty in answering. But the measure did have much to do with machine policies. The machine had prevented the passage of the Anti-Gambling bill two years before, and was prepared to prevent the enactment of an effective anti-gambling law at the session of 1909. Senator Wolfe undoubtedly fell into the common error of mistaking the machine for the Republican party.

However, the spirit of no compromise which gave Senator Wolfe so much concern saved the Walker-Otis bill, and has given California an effective law. The lesson of the incident is that if effective laws are to be placed on the statute books, there can be no compromise with the machine. There was compromise with the machine in the direct primary issue, with the result that the Direct Primary law is in many respects a sham. But that is another story to be told in another chapter. The anti-machine element did not compromise with the machine on the Walker-Otis bill, with the result that an effective law was passed.

From the beginning, the anti-gambling element let it be known that no suggestion of compromise would be entertained. They announced boldly that if the machine succeeded in amending the measure, they, the anti-gambling Senators and Assemblymen, would work to prevent the passage of the amended bill. The position of these members of the Legislature who did not propose to be sidetracked by machine trickery is well illustrated by an interview with Senator Walker, which appeared in the Sacramento Bee on January 19.

"If the Hughes bill can not pass the California Legislature in the form that it was passed in New York," said Senator Walker, "I shall vote against the compromise or the amended bill. The people of California have made clear their desire that an effective anti-gambling law, such as New York enjoys, be placed on the statute books. To substitute anything else would be betrayal."[25]

So there was no compromise with the machine on the Walker-Otis bill, and the people were not betrayed, as they were to be later in the passage of the Direct Primary bill and the, Railroad Regulation bill, where there was compromise with the machine.

When the machine found there was to be no compromise, a curious series of mishaps became the lot of the Walker-Otis bill, particularly in the Senate. The measure, when introduced, was, in the ordinary course of legislation, referred to the Senate Committee on Public Morals. But it did not reach that committee until several days after its introduction. When the discovery was made that it had not reached the committee, a sensation budded but never bloomed. The facts, however, were brought out that the measure had been reposing in the pocket of a clerk instead of going to the committee. This "error" was corrected, and the bill turned over to its proper custodians.

Then came the discovery that the bill had not been properly printed; three words had been left out of the printed bill in the State printer’s office. This "error," as soon as discovered by Senator Walker, was corrected. It was declared to be "trivial." But the "trivial" typographical and clerical errors in the Direct Primary bill in the final count gave the machine its opportunity to amend the measure to machine liking. The writer has no doubt in his own mind that the machine aimed to delay the passage of the Walker-Otis bill until the end of the session, as it did the Direct Primary bill, and then amend it to suit machine purposes or defeat it altogether.

Error even attended the recording of the passage of the bill. After a measure has passed the Senate, its title must be read and approved, and an order made transmitting it to the Assembly, all of which must be recorded in the Senate journal. The printed Senate journal of February 4, however, the day the bill was passed, merely recorded the passage of the bill. Nothing appeared about its title having been read, or that it had been transmitted to the Assembly. Walker discovered this "error," and a hasty inspection of the original minutes followed. The original minutes contained the proper record as follows: "Title read and approved. Bill ordered transmitted to the Assembly." But the two sentences had been omitted from the printed journal. The patient Walker had the correction made. None of these irregularities, however, resulted in serious delay. Those behind the measure watched their opponents closely, refused utterly to treat them with the "courtesy due Senators," in fact, acted under the assumption that the gambling element would stop at nothing to defeat the bill. This watchfulness is an important although comparatively minor reason why the bill was passed.

Then came the machine’s move to pass "an anti gambling bill" as a substitute for the Walker-Otis measure. Martinelli in the Senate and Butler in the Assembly had introduced an Anti-Pool Selling, Anti-Book Making bill. The measure had much to commend it but was by no means so effective as the Walker-Otis bill. As a last straw, the gambling element grasped at the Martinelli-Butler bill, and threw their influence on the side of its passage. But here they again met with the uncompromising resistance of the reform element. There was nothing left for the machine to do but make its fight on the floor of Senate and of Assembly. And the fight came on in a way and with a suddenness which brought consternation upon the machine forces.

[23] The Walker-Otis bill is in full as follows:

Section 1. A new section is hereby added to the Penal Code to be known as Section three hundred and thirty-seven a thereof and to read as follows:

aye. Every person, who engages in pool selling or bookmaking at any time or place; or who keeps or occupies any room, shed, tenement, tent, booth, or building, float or vessel, or any part thereof, or who occupies any place or stand of any kind, upon any public or private grounds within this State, with books, papers, apparatus or paraphernalia, for the purpose of recording or registering bets or wagers, or of selling pools, or who records or registers bets or wagers, or sells pools, upon the result of any trial or contest of skill, speed or power of endurance, of man or beast or between men or beasts, or upon the result of any lot, chance, casualty, unknown or contingent event whatsoever; or who receives, registers, records or forwards, or purports or pretends to receive, register, record or forward, in any manner whatsoever, any money, thing or consideration of value, bet or wagered, or offered for the purpose of being bet or wagered, by or for any other person, or sells pools, upon any such result; or who, being the owner, lessee, or occupant of any room, shed, tenement, tent, booth or building, float or vessel, or part thereof, or of any grounds within this State, knowingly permits the same to be used or occupied for any of these purposes, or therein keeps, exhibits or employs any device or apparatus for the purpose of recording or registering such bets or wagers, or the selling of such pools, or becomes the custodian or depositary for gain, hire or reward of any money, property or thing of value, staked, wagered or pledged, or to be wagered or pledged upon any such result; or who aids, assists or abets in any manner in any of the said acts, which are hereby forbidden, is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail or State prison for a period of not less than thirty days and not exceeding one year.

[24] Had not the people of the Twenty-ninth and Thirty-first Senatorial Districts revolted against the machine at the general election of 1908, the Walker-Otis bill would probably have been defeated in the Senate. In the chapter dealing with the passage of the Miller-Drew Reciprocal Demurrage bill, it will be shown how the Democratic Senators Holohan and Campbell were elected in the Republican Twenty-ninth and Thirty-first Senatorial Districts, not because they were Democrats, but because the Republicans of those districts, recognizing the real issue before the State - the machine against the anti-machine element - voted for Holohan and Campbell, knowing them to be for good government and a "square deal" for all. Holohan and Campbell were from the beginning foremost in their support of the Anti-Racetrack Gambling bill. To be sure, at the final vote, only seven Senators voted against the measure. But it is generally conceded that when the session opened, the gamblers had nineteen Senators who could have been prevailed upon to vote against an effective anti-gambling bill. Had machine men sat in the seats occupied by Holohan and Campbell, the gamblers would have had twenty-one votes in the Senate, and the Walker-Otis bill would have been defeated.

[25] Much of the credit for this determined stand is due Earl H. Webb, president of the Anti-Racetrack Gambling League, who managed the fight for effective anti-racetrack gambling legislation not only during the session of the Legislature, but before the Legislature convened. Mr. Webb first convinced himself that the Walker-Otis bill would stop pool selling and bookmaking; and that the measure would stand the test of honest interpretation by the courts. Then he made his fight for it. To Mr. Webb, more than to any other one person, is due the credit for its passage.


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Chicago: Franklin Hichborn, "Chapter VI.," Story of the Session of the California Legislature of 1909, ed. Morris, Charles, 1833-1922 in Story of the Session of the California Legislature of 1909 Original Sources, accessed March 20, 2019,

MLA: Hichborn, Franklin. "Chapter VI." Story of the Session of the California Legislature of 1909, edited by Morris, Charles, 1833-1922, in Story of the Session of the California Legislature of 1909, Original Sources. 20 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Hichborn, F, 'Chapter VI.' in Story of the Session of the California Legislature of 1909, ed. . cited in , Story of the Session of the California Legislature of 1909. Original Sources, retrieved 20 March 2019, from