The Delta town of Locke, the only town in the United States exclusively built by Chinese Americans for Chinese Americans, feels like a place lost in time. This feeling is heightened when you walk into the Dai Loy Museum. Although the Dai Loy permanently closed as a gambling house when Sacramento County law enforcement raided the property in 1951, the Sacramento River Delta Historical Society was able to re-create the interior of the Dai Loy with stunning attention to detail when the building reopened as a museum in 1977. The only things that seem to be missing are the people dressed in mid-century clothes, the cigarette smoke, and the sawdust on the floor.
The main gambling room has high ceilings and drop down lamps positioned over tables set up for different games of chance. Games included Fan-Tan and Pai Ngow as well as non-Chinese games such as Blackjack and Craps. A small room contains a wire cage and small balls used for the popular Chinese lottery games.
The Dai Loy was a community center and benefactor in Locke. Male farm workers (no women were allowed) relaxed, gambled, met with friends, and looked for work. The house helped fund a new building for the Baptist church and new water well. Although the house’s core customers were Chinese Americans, other groups such as whites and Filipino Americans were also welcome.
Dai Loy’s security system against police raids and theft was low tech but well thought out. A lookout, who sat on a bench in front of the house with a view of the two entrances to Main Street, could set off an alarm above the Blackjack table by pushing a button. The Dai Loy was always open, but the house contained thick doors with bars and multiple locks, shuttered and barred windows, and skylights. Dealers lived in the back and upstairs to provide 24 hour protection. Iron knuckles and covered iron pipes served as a simple but brutal punishment for those who attempted to steal from the house.
Nevertheless, the Dai Loy was ready in case these measures were not enough. Dealers could quickly take money sacks from the tables to the money room in the back. A thick safe kept the profits well protected. The equipment included simple household items such as tea cups, pans, bowls, and buttons so that customers could not be accused of being in possession of gambling paraphernalia.
There are a number of artifacts that give a feel for the time. Customers sipped complimentary hot tea from a tea set and used strips of sandpaper on the table legs and walls for lighting matches. A wand was used for lighting kerosene lanterns hanging from the ceiling.
Image courtesy of Design Media.
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