AND NOW YOU KNOW – The game in Orange stopped almost as soon as it started

Posted at 12:40 p.m. on Saturday, October 15, 2022

In January 1953, an unsigned letter arrived at the Orange police station. He said, “Do you want to bet on a horse race? Go down to the club in the alley, through a small back door. They will cover any bet size, any horse, on any track.

The “little club” was the canteen, located in the alley between Fourth and Fifth Streets opposite the post office. The canteen was originally called “The Oyster Bar”. It belonged to Orange Finance Service.

The principal owner of the financial department was Buster Johnson, owner of Buster’s Night Club located across the Sabine River in the area called “East Orange”. The new bridge and highway was being built north of Orange and when completed would cause the clubs of East Orange to disappear. Maybe Johnson was trying to keep the gambling business he had at Buster’s.

James McGuire had applied for a federal gambling permit. Phil Scott had applied for a beer license in Orange County. The permit had been granted by County Judge Charlie Grooms. However, the club did not have a city license for gambling or selling beer.

The unsigned letter was delivered to Orange Police Special Investigator Charles Tyson. Tyson then called Liquor Control Board assistant supervisor Guy Ferguson, who, along with investigators John Crank and John Hoyt, went to the canteen.

The ‘L’ Men entered the club through the unlocked door and caught McGuire passing a bookmaking receipt to a client. Orange Police Chief LB Hayden was then contacted.

McGuire unlocked a door that opened into a small room about 10 square feet. Chief Hayden said the set up was a telephone betting operation. He found a list of horse racing bettors scattered throughout southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Bets ranged from $4 to $100.

Investigators also found a locked box containing a large sum of cash. McGuire dug into the contents of the box to get the $1,500 that would be needed to post his bail.

In another slightly larger room, the raiding party found a poker table with an entire carton of boxed playing cards and a cigar box full of poker chips.

All horse racing betting equipment was confiscated and turned over to County Attorney John O. Young for use in the case against the operators.

Hayden said the police force guarded the canteen for several weeks before receiving “the tip”.

“We will continue to check suspicious gambling locations and raid any found,” Hayden said.

Those who knew about the effect the new highway would have on gambling in East Orange were obviously trying to see how law enforcement in Orange would react if they tried to bring nightclubs and gambling to Orange.

The Orange Police and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office were not going to allow what had been popular in East Orange to move to Orange.

When the new Highway 90 and new Sabine River Bridge opened, that was the end of East Orange. There was a line of nightclubs opening onto the new highway.

Johnson opened a new Buster’s. There was the Reno, the Palomino Club, the Showboat and the legendary Lou Ann’s and Big Oak. These new clubs were popular with teenagers who could go “across the river” and party where the law was not as strict as in Texas. The teenagers only had money for beer, so the game was never established in these new clubs.

Unless gambling in Orange was deep underground, the switch from gambling in East Orange to gambling in Orange was not a success. Orange has been many things over the years, but it never became a “Little Las Vegas”.

“And now you know.”

— Written by Mike Louvière

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