E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Tricks, artifices. A term in horse-racing. To rope a horse is to pull it in or restrain its speed, to prevent its winning a race. When a boxer or any other athlete loses for the purpose, he is accused of roping. To know the ropes is to be up to all the dodges of the sporting world. Of course, the ropes mean the reins.
I am no longer the verdant country squire, the natural prey of swindlers, blacklegs, and sharks. No, sir, I know the ropes, and these gentry would find me but sorry sport.Truth: Queer Story, September 3rd, 1885.