An Oregon Anti-Poker-Room Bill Bans "Chinese Chuck-a-Luck” and Something Called “Big Injun." What Are These Games?

Did Portland Democrats have a pang of conscience about enshrining the phrase “big injun” into legislation?

House Bill 2190, the anti-poker-room bill, also bans "Chinese chuck-a-luck" and something called "big injun." What are these games? And do you think Portland Democrats had a pang of conscience about enshrining the phrase "big injun" into legislation? —Poker Mutant

For the folks at home, the passage in question defines "casino games," and includes: faro, monte, fan-tan, twenty-one, seven-and-a-half, big injun, chuck-a-luck, Chinese chuck-a-luck, wheel of fortune, chemin de fer, beat the banker, panquinqui, red dog, acey-deucey, and "any other gambling-based game."

What, no mumblety-peg? No bandy-wicket? This passage is the gambling version of what would happen if your grandma were asked to make a list of street drugs she thought should be illegal.

I mass-mailed the members of the Oregon House to ask if anyone who voted on this bill actually knows what "big injun" is. The internet had never heard of it, and my gut tells me House members haven't either.

To be fair, HB 2190 amends existing law. Our clause appears to have been kicking around since "at least 1933" according to Rep. Tawna Sanchez (D-Portland), so it's not like legislators are writing new law they don't understand.

Still, what's it doing there? In your too-long-to-print letter, Mutant, you note having found nearly the same language in Vermont law. I was able to find similar lists in Utah, Nevada, Connecticut and Mississippi as well.

I'm guessing at some point—probably about 1890—a hapless legislative assistant was tasked with making a list of all the games favored by those ne'er-do-wells, ruffians and horny-fisted salts down by the docks. Since then, the list has mutated and replicated through the statutes of various states like a virus.

Rep. Sanchez agrees that "big injun" is "a sad part of history that probably should be removed."

Of course, that would leave a loophole for Portland's newly unemployed gambling impresarios. Soon, legalized "big injun" parlors may spring up on every corner, with seedy gamblers gathering with but a single thought: "Man, as soon as somebody figures out how to play this game, I'm going to make a fortune."

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