Philadelphia, the most extravagant and fashionable city in the new republic, was said to indulge an unembarrassed lust for pleasure and passion for gambling. The most popular form of betting was on cockfights, which took place daily. The settling of quarrels by the English custom of boxing also furnished Philadelphians with many favorable occasions for betting. Fights, conducted according to rules and regulations, were usually held by the light of the moon and spectators' lanterns. The opponents removed their jackets, rolled their shirt sleeves to the elbows, and took a stiff fighting stance. When a signal was given they rushed at each other and continued to punch till one or the other was knocked senseless or finally admitted defeat. Then the bettors were paid off.
Though certain earnest Philadelphians remonstrated with the city's many card enthusiasts for spending their time shuffling the pack when life was so short, Benjamin Franklin, an avid player, wrote Mrs. Mary Hewson in 1786: "I have indeed now and then a little compunction in reflecting that I spend time so idly; but another reflection comes to relieve me, whispering, `You know that the soul is immortal; why then should you be such a niggard of a little time, when you have a whole eternity before you?' So, being easily convinced, and, like other respectable creatures, satisfied with a small reason, when it is in favor of doing what I have a mind to, I shuffle the cards again, and begin another game."
With the growing pains of the new nation political battles became more and more absorbing, but such serious interests had to compete with the new country-wide craze for the game of loo. Ladies of quality, especially, played it relentlessly and bet on it extravagantly. Matching skill for higher and higher stakes players easily lost (or won) over three hundred dollars in three successive deals at a simple twenty-five-cent game. Loo fans soon became the target of public taunts.
After the yellow-fever epidemic of the summer of 1794 in Philadelphia and New York, pious men declared that it had been punishment from the hand of God for Sabbath-breaking, extravagance, and dissipation. They cautioned the fortunate survivors to mend their ways, but instead bets were made in coffeehouses and taverns on the number of the dead, New Yorkers risking money that at least a third more Philadelphians had fallen during July and August and Philadelphians taking the opposite line.