OPINION: Police raid of the Sarnia Railway Men’s Club was by the book

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Phil Egan

There’s an old saying that the only way to make money in a casino is to own the casino.

I learned the truth of that at an early age.

Every year that I was at high school at St. Patrick’s, I ran a highly popular Stanley Cup hockey pool. Tickets were sold for the time of the winning goal, to the second. That meant the laborious creation and sale of 3,600 tickets at 25 cents apiece – a task that usually began weeks in advance of the playoffs. This would raise the rather sizeable pot of $900.

The house — in other words, me — took 25%. The balance went to the winner. I sometimes made up the tickets during algebra and physics classes, both subjects that I hated. Fortunately, most people bought multiple tickets.

This activity, by the way, was completely illegal.

Of all the things that have changed over the past 150 years in Sarnia (and Canada), perhaps nothing has changed so radically as our attitude toward gambling, something that was virtually illegal in Sarnia until 1970. I graduated high school in 1965, so my high crimes (or misdemeanours) managed to just escape the arms of the law.

All forms of gambling had been banned in Canada as far back as 1892. In the ‘70s, the law was relaxed because the provinces wanted to gain entry to the lucrative gaming industry.

In the meantime, gambling was a vice, like prostitution and narcotics. Gambling venues were subject to police raids, just like bawdy houses and opium dens.

And so it was that, on the 9th day of March, 1939, a Thursday afternoon, the police raided the Sarnia Railway Men’s Club, which was located at 413 South Russell St. They seized racing forms, betting slips, the club’s membership book and, according to the Sarnia Canadian Observer, “a beer authority issued by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.”

Nine railway employees were charged with “being found in a gaming house” and manager Steven W. Colody was charged with “keeping a gaming house.”

Some well-known Sarnia police officers took part in the raid, including Detective Frank McGirr who, three years earlier, had been involved in the Red Ryan liquor store shooting on Christina Street.

In Magistrate’s Court, Crown Attorney Harry Taylor brought the case, with William Donohue appearing for the defendants. The magistrate levied a hefty fine of $200 on the manager, who pled guilty. He also also ordered the betting paraphernalia and decks of cards found at the club to be seized.

The raid on the Sarnia Railway Men’s Club was another blow for justice in in the old days of true blue, prim and proper Ontario.