Santa Rosa was quite the saloon town in the early 20th century, with 30 bars (or so) downtown, mostly on Fourth St. between Railroad Square and Courthouse Square. It was also a smoker’s paradise, with about a half dozen tobacco stores along the same route. And in each bar, each smoke shop, were slot machines where a guy could plunk in a nickel and gamble for cigars.

Discussed here earlier was a loopy 1906 court ruling that declared a slot machine was a “banking device” as long as the payout was in cigars, beer, gum, or anything but cash. The item transcribed below provides details of the “house rules” that prevailed in Santa Rosa, showing clearly that the barkeep or smoke shop owner had an active hands-on role similar to a casino dealer, allowing a gambler to ask the proprietor for double-down bets. That’s a big difference from passively having a machine on the side of the counter.

Card gambling in the cigar shops was also common, judging from a long debate in 1907 about whether tables should be banned in Healdsburg, but nothing specific about poker games appeared in the papers about Santa Rosa. But after the quake rebuilding settled down, it was likely still somewhat a “wide-open town,” as earlier revealed by a 1905 exposé in the Santa Rosa Republican.

After Today Local Cigar Dealers Will No Longer Pay on Queens, or Allow Drawing to Straights or Flushes–The Reason Why

In anticipation of the proposed license on slot machines, a new schedule goes into effect at the cigar stores tomorrow. No more will two Queens be good for a rope [cigar], and after today drawing to straights and flushes will be a thing of the past. It is the same old story–the “consumer pays the tax.” The city has decided to license the slot machines, and the odds are to be changed so that the dear public will pay the license fee.

Although the printed schedule on the face of the machines only calls for payment when a pair of Kings or better appears, it has been the local custom to pay on the appearance of Queens. At one time, before the shake, the local dealers even paid on Jacks. It has also been the vogue here to allow customers who had made a play and secured all but one of a straight or flush to “draw” to the same upon payment of an extra nickel. Thus, if a customer who had four clubs and wanted a fifth should elect to pay for the privilege he was allowed to try again, the appearance of a club in the designated spot on the second turn being held to complete the flush and being regarded as equivalent to having drawn all five clubs on the first play. But the dealers say they are “too much loser” to keep this up, now that each machine is to be taxed $5 per quarter by the municipality. The regular printed schedule is to apply from now on.

– Press Democrat, March 10, 1907

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