Take A Chance On The River

Posted on May 22, 2009 – 3:35 PM | by OldManFoster
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by William Burg

Before freeways, before automobiles, even before the coming of the railroads, the fastest means of travel in California was by riverboat. From the Gold Rush era until 1940, steam-powered riverboats carried passengers up the Sacramento River from San Francisco to as far north as Red Bluff. The trip from Sacramento to San Francisco took about ten hours, and many riverboats included facilities where passengers could pass the time with dining, music, entertainment, and gambling. Gambling on riverboats ranged from an informal card game on the deck to full casino facilities. Most who engaged in games of chance were casual players wishing to pass the time, but professional riverboat gamblers made their living by liberating those casual players from their excess funds.


On June 5, the Historic Old Sacramento Foundation will host a Riverboat Casino Night on board the Delta King Riverboat, providing a colorful look at the world of the riverboat gambler. This event will feature authentic 1850s games of chance, including Chuck-A-Luck, Faro and Shut the Box, as well as more familiar games like poker and roulette. Also featured are a silent auction, live music and entertainment, and food and drink, all appropriate to the Gold Rush era. Re-enactors in period attire will add to the atmosphere of the event. While period attire is not required for those who attend, it is encouraged. Several stores in Old Sacramento, including Sacramento Dry Goods on I Street, specialize in historic styles of clothing for those wishing to attend in full 19th century finery.

The event is a fundraiser for the Historic Old Sacramento Foundation and the Sacramento History Museum. Last year, the Sacramento History Museum split from the Discovery Museum and became part of the Historic Old Sacramento Foundation. Part of the change involves a dramatic renovation of the museum’s first floor, but part involves raising public awareness of the Museum with events like the Riverboat Casino Night.

riverboatAccording to Museum public relations specialist Lindsey Meyers, “In the past our events have not necessarily tied in with Sacramento history, and that is exactly what we are trying to change. We want to focus on Sacramento history and the river is a huge part of how we became a city.” In order to highlight the evening’s focus as an educational event, authenticity and historic accuracy are the number one priority. “Even the food is historically accurate,” said Meyers. If the event proves successful, it could become an annual event on board the Delta King.

While the Delta King was built long after the Gold Rush, it represents the final era of riverboats on the Sacramento, operating between 1927 and 1940. As Sacramento’s last authentic riverboat, it still provides an ideal site for an evening of Gold Rush era gambling and entertainment. In addition to promoting the Sacramento History Museum, this event will help to recall the era of Sacramento’s history when, in the words of Mark Twain, “You can shut your eyes and march into the first door you come to and call for a drink, and the chances are that you will get it.”

Riverboat Casino Night takes place on Friday, June 5, and starts at 6PM on the Delta King Riverboat in Old Sacramento. Tickets cost $45 for Historic Old Sacramento Foundation members, $50 for non-members. Tickets can be purchased by calling (916) 264-7059 or by visiting the Sacramento History Museum at 101 I Street. Guests must be 21 years of age or older. All proceeds will help support the exhibits and programs at the Historic Old Sacramento Foundation’s Sacramento History Museum.

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