History of the Policy Racket in Black America

Casper Holstein
Casper Holstein

Before Modern Day Lotteries

All of the thirteen original colonies, at one time or another operated legally run lotteries. Over the years, the scandals and cheating that became associated with these lotteries forced ruling officials to enact anti-lottery laws.

By 1860 Missouri, Delaware, and Kentucky operated the only legally state run lotteries in the United States. This being the case, the way was paved for illegal lotteries and other forms of gambling to take root. From 1894 to 1964, there were no legal lotteries operating in this country.

What Is The Policy Racket?

One of the biggest money making operations regarding illegal lotteries was the policy racket. It was also called the numbers racket, the numbers game, or simply playing the numbers. This poor man's lottery operated primarily in poor Black, Latino, and Italian neighborhoods from the late 1890's well into the 1960s.

Some cities that were major cogs in the policy racket were New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta just to name a few.

The game itself consisted of a player picking any three digit number from 0 to 999. The odds were about a 1000 to 1 against winning while the pay off might be anywhere from 600 and 800 to 1 for a winner. Bets were generally a nickel or a dime, but any amount was acceptable even that as small as a single cent.

Those who ran, owned, and controlled the policy racket were called Policy Racket Kings and in our discussion we will also learn about a Policy Racket Queen. These people, as we will see nickled and dimed their way into millions of dollars. This illegal lottery flourished during Prohibition and the Depression and did very well until state run lotteries came on the scene.

Stephanie St. Clair
Stephanie St. Clair

The Harlem Policy Racket

From about 1905 to 1915, the Harlem policy racket was controlled by Peter Matthews. Matthews was convicted of illegal gambling in 1915 and died in 1916, while serving his time. This left about an eight year void, where there was no real clear cut leader to take over the now vacant position of Policy King in Harlem.

In 1923, Casper Holstein who was born in St. Croix, Danish West Indies (now the Virgin Islands) of mixed African and Danish blood, saw the opportunity to take over the policy racket in Harlem. At his peak, Casper was making $12,000 a day from this enterprise. Like many of the policy kings, he invested his money in legitimate businesses as well. He is reported to have been worth over 2 million dollars by the 1930s.

Casper Holstein was not alone in the Harlem policy racket. His biggest competitor was Stephanie St. Croix, a Black French woman said to have migrated from Marseilles, France. In 1912, she invested $10,000 of her own money in a numbers parlor. Within a year she had amassed over $500,000.

By this time the Mafia having taken notice, started to try to muscle in on Harlem's black policy makers. They beat, extorted from, kidnapped, and murdered some policy makers and their numbers runners. In 1928 Casper was kidnapped by five men thought to be working for Dutch Schultz. A $50,000 ransom was demanded and Casper Holstein was released after three days. Casper claimed that the ransom was never paid. Shortly thereafter, he was convicted of illegal gambling. After serving his sentence, he retired later dying in 1944.

After Holstein's retirement and death, Dutch Schultz still had Stephanie St. Croix to deal with. Although he eventually got his way, it required a bloody war that took over forty lives due to gang violence. Because she had named policemen and other officials that had been paid kick backs, she was under pressure from the law as well as Schultz. Schultz did take over the Harlem policy rackets for awhile, but in 1935 he was killed by order of Lucky Luciano. Madam St. Clair as she was most often called by Harlemites, sent a telegram to Schultz's bedside saying, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap." At the time this telegram received widespread attention. Stephanie St. Clair died in 1969, just two years after New York began its state run lottery in 1967.

Ted Roe
Ted Roe

The Bronzeville Policy Racket

Bronzeville is a predominantly black area and is Chicago's south side of town. The dominant players here in the policy racket were the Jones brothers. The oldest being Ed followed by McKissak (Mack) and George. Ed owned a tailor shop and at some point decided to get into the policy racket. The Jones brothers like Casper Holstein and Stephanie St. Claire cornered the market for policy or numbers racket in Chicago. All were successful because they paid promptly and without hesitation, building a strong customer base. At their peak, the Jones brothers made between $10,000 and $15,000 a day. They funneled money into many legitimate enterprises. They had real estate holdings in Europe, Mexico, and the United States. They also had cash in twenty-five different banks and investments in some of this countries largest corporations. It is estimated that they were worth 14 million dollars.

Running the whole operation for the Jones brothers was Ted Roe. He was born in Louisiana of a black mother and Italian father. After being a bootlegger in Little Rock, Arkansas for a while, he made the move to Chicago, specifically Bronzeville.

The mob in Chicago just as Dutch Schultz did in Harlem, began to muscle in on the black policy makers. In fact, in 1946 they kidnapped Ed Jones and demanded $250,000 and the turning over to them of the policy making operation. Ted Roe did the negotiations on behalf of the Jones family. He paid the ransom but had no intention of handing over the policy racket.

After being held hostage for three weeks, Ed Jones was finally released. At this time he made the wise decision to retire and take all of his family to Mexico to live. Ted Roe saw this as an opportunity, he took over the policy racket resisting attempts of the mob taking over. For many years he resisted and battled attempts at kidnapping and murder instigated by the mob. Some time in 1952, Ted decided to travel around openly rather than under the protection of his many body guards. One night while getting into his car, he was ambushed by at least two men both using shotguns. Ted Roe had been diagnosed with cancer and doctors had given him only three months to live.

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Comments 65 comments

always exploring profile image

always exploring 6 years ago from Southern Illinois

This is a very interesting hub, what,s ironic to me is the fact that when the states do it it,s legal.

Thumbs up

Cheers


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

Milt - Very good reading and some history that brought back "those days" up east. How soon we forget...

Gus :-)))


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

Very interesting. I had, like everyone, heard of the numbers racket, but I never knew much about it.


CLQ 6 years ago

Interesting...it never crossed my mind to look into the history of the lottery


akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

Thank you for some well written history - that always makes it a good read. Can you imagine a bet of a nickel or a dime? My - how times have changed! Wonderfully put together!


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

@always exploring, thanks for reading. You're right the government has to get its share in order for it to be legal.

@Gus, hello my old friend. So true, I remember the "Numbers man" going through the neighborhood collecting bets. Thanks for the comment.

@dahoglund, thanks for reading. It amazes me that these folks nickeled and dimed their way to being millionaires.

@CLQ, thanks for reading. Yes, everything and everybody has a history, some more interesting than others.

@akirchner, thank you for the comment. Times have certainly changed. I guess some things are better, but other things are worse.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

How well I remember the numbers runners when I was growing up. People were able to bet pennies and it kept money in our communities where folks always knew how to hustle. Seems I remember a long line of very honest runners who paid off on time because they were doing quite well.

By the time I came of age the state lotteries took over - complete with endless cheating scandals, and a promise to support education in NYS - which is in worse shape than ever. At least back then folks saw where the money was going - now there is no accounting.

What a great, informative, historical hub. I'm told playing the numbers still exists because the odds are so much better than the state lotteries which are millions to one.

I even read recently that with the scratch off cards - even when that contest ends - vendors are still allowed (legally) to sell the tickets - now that should be a crime - we are handing over money for no chance whatsover.

Oh and here is a term that was popular in NYC way back - 'combinate' you had to know how to mix and combine numbers in order to increase your winning chances. Now it's called 'boxing' by the state lottery.

Rated up of course.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

You are absolutely right about the numbers runners paying off on time. I remember the combination term as well. So many of the lotteries claim they will help pay for education, but the amount the states put into education in comparison to what they reap from the lottery is miniscule. Thanks for reading and for a great comment.


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Great hub Sir! I never knew about these lotteries. Some history there! Thanks for the education.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Micky, as always it is great to hear from you. Thanks for reading and for the comment.


ExpandYourMind profile image

ExpandYourMind 6 years ago from Midwest USA

Nquee, this was fascinating. Thanks for great research and writing.


kimberlyslyrics 6 years ago

mquee, this hub is Fantastic! So well written and my gosh full of an important part of History I knew nothing about! Maybe because I am Canadian. LOL

Truthfully, you did a great job, and no doubt put a ton of work together here!

Thumbs up and I have shared it everywhere!

xo


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

@ExpandYourMind, thank you very much for reading and for the much appreciated comment.

@Kimberly, thank you for your kind comments. Watch out, you're going to give me a case of swollen ego, lol. I thank you for sharing also.


lightning john profile image

lightning john 6 years ago from Florida

Very well written Mquee! Thanks for this history on lottery, it does seem like the government fines the people for years for some activities that they deem wrong, that is until, they mathematicaly figure out a way to make more money back from it by allowing us to do it!


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thank you very much for reading and commenting. Lightning John, you're right the government has to get a cut of everything.


pmccray profile image

pmccray 6 years ago from Utah

I so enjoy reading about my ancestors and how they persevered against all odds. Mainstream history would make you think that they were all ignorant and dirt poor, but that was never the case.

Many made fortunes during times they did not have the right to vote and forced to sit at the back of the bus. Voted up, rated awesome and shared. Great work and research.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thank you for reading and for commenting. I also enjoy history and the internet has made it easier to find obscure facts. The internet can be good, but research is a must because of so much misinformation via the net. Thank you for voting and sharing as well.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

The numbers racket is still alive and well here. Thanks for the history lesson!


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

I guess it will always be around, some people prefer it to playing the lottery. Thank you for reading and commenting.


mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 6 years ago from Florida

Mitt, thanks for sharing some interesting historical information. Florida has a state lottery that is supposed to help education. I don't see that it has.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thank you for the comment. Unfortunately, it seems that so many states have lead us to believe that this money would go towards education, but this is apparently not the reality. One question is, where is the money ending up?


sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 6 years ago

I read your article and comments. Yes, indeed, where is the money going? As for getting rich on nickles and dimes, I've known people with little hold in the wall stores talk about how they did just that. Those nickles and dimes used to go far!


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thanks again for the comments. It takes patience to earn revenue by nickel and diming, but people who can do it have the big picture in mind.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

I had heard the words "numbers racket" but never knew what they meant. Thank you for the education. This is a fascinating story and you told it expertly.


fetty profile image

fetty 6 years ago from South Jersey

Interesting hub with lots of facts about the characters who ran these successful operations. New Jersey is one of those states that sell scratch offs even after the main prizes are won. This state never accounts for any money collected because it always needs more. Very interesting facts about the people involved. Thanks for a great hub.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

@James, thanks for the comment and for reading. When I was very young the "numbers man," as the kids would call him would make his rounds to the neighborhood homes collecting the nickel and dime bets. When anyone won, it was pretty quietly kept.

@fetty, yes it seems so many states do this and it doesn't seem quite right. They have also claimed to put or invest money in the education system, but the amount contributed is miniscule in comparison as to what is brought in. Thanks for the comment.


A la carte profile image

A la carte 6 years ago from Australia

This was fascinating. I had heard about numbers rackets but did not really understand what they were. Really enjoyed this.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

I appreciate the comment and am glad that you enjoyed it. I like some of the little obscure facts of history and I am always looking for such information. Thanks again for reading.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California

What a kick ass, interesting read. I knew nothing about this. (Hmm, I suppose I shouldn't flout my ignorance.) Great stuff. It's pretty amazing how often governments try to regulate stuff when the righteous and mighty cry loud enough and it always goes underground until criminalizing what people are going to do and have always done finally becomes so obviously impossible that the government has to take it back. And that's only if we assume pure intent on the part of the government and not just wanting to get their cut. Ah, humanity, such a pendulously predictible lot we are.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thank you for reading and for the comment. Although the numbers racket was illegal it provided a means of making a little money for people who were in need of all they could manage to take in.

Another instance of the average working stiff taking advantage of what was at hand, were moonshiners and bootleggers during prohibition. People will find a way to put bread on the table, no matter what.


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

This is so interesting. It's not a subject I know anything about. I look forward to reading more of your hubs. Also, thank you for your kind welcome to me!


Janna Jones profile image

Janna Jones 6 years ago

Very interesting hub. Brought back memories from my husbands childhood. He said the numbers game was something his uncle used to do when he was in Macon Georgia as a child...errr...along with going with his uncle to the still somewhere between Macon and Griffin Ga...My husband swears he never played or drank either.

Janna :)


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

@Lady Wordsmith, thank you for reading and making a comment. This is one reason that I find history so interesting. With the diverse heritage in this country, there is so much historical information to be shared that is both interesting and educational.

@Janna Jones, people did what they had to do at that time to feed and care for loved ones. Many of these people really did know how to make money. Janna, I believe your husband!


kimberlyslyrics 6 years ago


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thank you so much. There is actually quite a bit more on that topic, but I had to condense it a little. Thanks for reading.


Harvey Stelman profile image

Harvey Stelman 6 years ago from Illinois

mquee, I remember hearing about the numbers game in the Bronx, never met a winner. H


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thank you for reading and commenting Harvey. I had heard of a few winners when I was growing up, but those that were rumored to have won were pretty low key about it. When I say few, I meant only hearing about 3 winners over the years.


Kissinger 6 years ago

How did they decide the winners? I think I read somewhere else that it was determined by the finishes at local race tracks. But it wasn't clear. #8 in the first race, followed by #4 in the third race, followed by #1 in the eighth race? That seems equitable. Its knowledge that everyone has at their fingertips. There could be very little chance that the policymaker screwed people out of their money, although I'm sure we al have our doubts about the validity of horse racing. Sort of like the WWF to me. You would have to be extremely influential to pull off fixing a horse race to decide a lottery however.

Did they have rollovers? Was it weekly? So if no one won it one week it was rolled over to the next? It would seem that the person running the policy would still get their commission with a rolloever, & action would be heavier with a rollover.

How did they compute the odds? It seems like that would have to be decided on before the numbers were sold so that the players would have an idea how much they stood to earn if they bet so much.

And any amount was accepted? Anything from a penny to $20.00? If the odds were constant the policy maker could get killed if the person who bet $20.00 won. He might not have collected enough to cover the wager.

All interesting. Years ago I read a book about organized crime & it had Dutch Schultz taking over the Harlem rackets. A friend of mine told me I was mistaken after he saw the movie Hoodlum about Bumpy Johnson. Then I saw the Denzel Washington movie about how he inherited the rackets from Johnson. But I believe he said that he was working for other people. Frank Lucas broke away from the Mafia. He just used them for his ends.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Kissinger, thank you for reading and bringing up some very good points. From what I can remember as a child, I only saw people playing the numbers on a daily basis. By the time I was in high school (in the '60s) the highest wagers I ever saw placed was $.50.

I don't remember anything about a rollover or how odds were computed.

You are right, Dutch Schultz did end up controlling the Harlem numbers racket. Bumpy Johnson who was originally from Charleston, South Carolina, initially worked for Stephanie St. Clair eventually ended up running things in Harlem for Dutch Schultz after St. Clair was forced out.


Kissinger 6 years ago

Thank you for your response. I was a history major {lot of good that did me} & got into true crime on my own as an adult. I have books right now on Lepke Buchalter, Lucky Luciano, John Gotti, Bugsy Siegel, Frank Costello, Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, Joe Bonnano, Sam Giancana, Carlo Gambino, Tony Accardo, Meyer Lansky, Johnny Torrio,& since I'm of Irish-American stock myself, would love to find a good book on Owney Madden or Larry Fay. I have one on Joseph Kennedy. I guess he would qualify :)

Small timers would be Jimmy Coonan of The Westies. Well, he DID kill Ruby Stein & take over his bookmaking operation. That & doing contract killings for Paul Castellano.

But its the nuts & bolts part that fascinates me the most. How were they able to do it? Exactly how did it work? From the floor up. Payoffs & all. These guys had to be very sharp to survive as long as they did. Accardo & Lansky probably being the sharpest. Maybe Gambino too. They rode the crest of that wave until they died of natural causes. Amazing when you consider their line of work.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Seems to me you are very knowledgeable in this area. This is history and we need a truthful and honest voice in it. You should be writing and informing the rest of us.

One thing that I have noted over the years is that when a country is poor and has to work very hard to make a day to day living, then there are those that can be paid to look the other way.

Not saying that is right, but looking at the numbers racket and bootleg alcohol, we see that people will find a way to survive and even prosper in very hard times.

You are right that in those days, many of these people seemed to have lived long lives. On the other hand, when we look at say, the drug dealers of today, the career and life expectancy is somewhat short. At one time I knew the numbers, but at about 15 years ago or so I believe a drug dealer's career before prison was 3 to 5 years.

At any rate, it seems that if the government can't tax it, then it is illegal.

Thanks for your comments.


Kissinger 6 years ago

Greed is the overriding factor IMO. I told you I was a history major & that it led me nowhere. I used to tend bar for a living. But it gave me time to read & meet some very interesting people.

Crooked cops are interesting. There was one former CHP cop who owned two adult entertainment clubs out here, & I believe a few race horses. He was gunned down in an ambush by his partner. Or someone his partner hired. I worked for a former cop who fenced stolen merchandise out of his office in the back. I'm sure the local police had to know. That badge is forever a get of of jail free card.

A friend on mine {used to be until he stole $5,000 from me} has a cop for a brother. He told me of one Mexican cartel trafficker that they kidnapped from south of the border & brought him up here to stand trial. They said they caught him up here.

I suspect you're right about the taxing part. At one time gambling was 'bad.' Once they figured out they could make a profit from it it became 'good.' Rationalization.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

You really do have a wealth of knowledge on these things. You could surely write some very interesting articles or even a novel or two. Your comments are very informing and interesting. Thanks for dropping in and adding more facts to this topic.


Kissinger 6 years ago

Thank you for having me here. It's always good to learn. This was very informative. Much gratitude.

I actually wanted to write a screenplay on Hannibal. Someone told me a movie was already in production & that computer crashed anyway. I wanted to focus on both Hannibal & Scipio to make it evenhanded. I might still do that someday. I like ancient history.

Were many of these early gangsters from the Caribbean? It seems so. My ex is from Trinidad. I married her in 1982. That's when my studies began of nontraditional organized crime. Not the kind we always read about with the American Mafia. I have books on the Yakuza, Triads, Colombian cartels, Sicilian Mafia, Mexican Mafia, & Red Mafiya - the Russians. I know the Armenians are heavy into waste disposal {traditional criminal haven} & have their own clique.

Try reading The Westies. They were a particularly vicious bunch of Micks {I can say that because I am one} who did unheard of things. Their specialty was in making the bodies disappear. That's why Paul Castellano used them. One guy they cut the hands off of when he went 'missing.' Then they would burglarize an establishment {they kept his hands frozen in ziplock sandwich bags} & leave his fingerprints all over the crime scene. The police would naturally assume that this person was still alive & had simply gone underground.

They screwed up with Ruby Stein though. They forgot to punch holes in the torso, so gases built up as his body decomposed. He floated to the surface. His torso washed ashore in Jersey I believe. His wife ID'd the remains. They would routinely cut up bodies in bath tubs & take the parts out to the Fountain Avenue Dump in Brooklyn. Jimmy Coonan learned his craft from Roy DeMeo of the Gambino Family. DeMeo was responsible for anywhere from 100 to 200 murders. Mickey Featherstone turned state's witness against Coonan after it became apparent Jimmy had targeted Mickey. I can't remember the exact sentence Coonan got. It might have been 100 years.

But I've written way too much already. Please, if you have anymore of the African-American gangs please post it here. I'd love to read more. Maybe we could co-write that screenplay. This time on Amercian mobsters. Owney Madden would be classic. Other than The Cotton Club, I can't recall him ever getting mentioned.

Btw - gangs {street gangs} usually don't have a high survival rate. We're talking about the bottom of the food chain basically. My father was part Native American. I look like my mother with light skin & green eyes. Dave had jet black hair with brown eyes. He ran with V-13 out here in LA. He died an early death while an APB was out on him. Weird. He layed in the morgue for six days, with his name tattoed on his arm, before the police finally ID'd him & told my mother. To this day I have to believe the cops did it.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

This is the kind of material that I really enjoy. I call this the black market history of America. The things we learn in school are interesting as well, but not the whole picture.

I am also interested in the bootleggers and rum runners active during prohibition. I find the relationship between country or mountain moonshiners and big city thugs or crooks an odd and interesting situation.

I think the key is that all of us or our people have shared some of the good, the bad, and the ugly in the history of this country. There is nothing more interesting to me than that.

There are a lot of people who had a big impact on others in that era that we don't hear much about. There is much to be learned and to be shared with others.

You are much more knowledgeable on these topics than I, but I do like to research this type of history.


Kissinger 6 years ago

My mother's brother-in-law ran liquor into Kansas when that was a dry state. They eventually caught him & I think he got six months. My aunt & cousin died in a tragic car accident on the way to pick him up from the pen. That traumatized my mother to the point that she never learned how to drive. Its a silly law anyway. People will always drink. I think they should legalize marijuana too.

So, do you think the numbers racket is still a viable business? I would imagine {living here in SoCal} that many immigrants would rather play that game than the state sanctioned games, as long as they know you're not a crook & will pay off. What do you think the odds should be? I think the odds of hitting any particular grouping of three numbers ranging from 0 to 9 is 10,000 to 1. Am I right there? Of course you're not paying out at 10,000 to 1 because there's no profit in that & you have overhead {maybe tickets, notebooks, ink pads, stamps, etc.}. Then there are the runners themselves. They have to be paid. 300 to 1? 400 to 1? And limit the wagers from 1 to 5 dollars? That way you can't get hit too hard.

The closing Adjusted Dow Jones Industrial Average every Friday might be a good index to use to determine winners. The bets would have to be in your hand by noon Thursday. Then you issue different colored, numbered, tickets, with a different colored date stamp on them, & notebooks to begin the new weeks' play. Write down who got what particular sequence of tickets. They initial their tickets. They don't have to use their real initials. Just something that identifies them to the leader of the game. The tickets turned in better match the tickets issued, & the notebooks & cash received. If, by an amazing coincidence, two people have the winning numbers, they split the pot according to the size of their wager.

The rollover part has me vexed. There should be a rollover. Not exactly sure how that would work though. I was never good at math. Organization is my best asset I suppose.

All of this is theoretical of course.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Wow, a lot of information here. I agree that people will always drink, one way or another. Someone will always find a way to make money on just about anything, legal or illegal.

Recently and I mean in the last two or three years, a Latino family operated a numbers racket in New York. They did get busted, but were operating a million dollar enterprise. It wasn't as lucrative as some of the old policy rackets, but for an activity that many thought was dead that's a pretty good haul.

I understand that at the very least, that a couple of big cities still have the numbers game still being played.

I wouldn't even begin to know how to start a numbers racket, but I think I know some areas or neighborhoods where one would work. Figuring or deciding odds, would be a major obstacle for me.


Kissinger 6 years ago

Rollovers confuse me. It seems like there should be one. I'm just not certain how much it should be, as a percentage of the pot. I wonder if Dutch Schultz had rollovers. From what I've heard of him I kinda doubt it.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

As I remember it, a nickel, dime, or quarter paid a set amount. I might be wrong on that, but when I go back to Ohio I will look up some people who are old enough to know. You're right, I doubt that Dutch Schultz and a host of others really cared about rollovers. I do remember hearing about people winning $500.00 or so, which was a lot of money at that time.


Kissinger 6 years ago


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

This is a good and informative web page. Sad that so many will probably use this as a condemnation of all Armenians. This should not be, because criminals steal and rob because they are mere thugs and have more in common with each other rather those of their race or gender.


Kissinger 6 years ago

No - we can't stereotype. But normally gangs evolve along racial lines. From street gangs, to large criminal enterprises. Its something they share in common, & differentiates them from other criminal organizations. An 'us against them' mentality that bonds.

Usually the groups themselves have been persecuted or suffered some traumatic experience that made the ground fertile for these gangs to form. The Armenians were persecuted horribly under Turkish rule when the Ottoman Empire still existed. So we're talking about well into the 20th century. They were a Christian minority in a Muslim majority. In fact, Armenia was the first recorded nation to officially adopt Christianity as their state religion. As the Ottoman Empire faded the Sultan tried mightily to hold on to his seat of power. He massacred millions of Armenians. That was the Red Cross's first international operation. We were trying to save the Armenians from extermination.

The Sicilians were ruled over by so many nations that after a while they learned to police themselves. And so the Mafia was born. Then it evolved into a criminal enterprise.

The Russian Mafia is really Jewish. I'm sure we've heard of the pogroms in Russia.

Many of the early gangs in the major cities of the U.S. were Irish, & came right on the heels of the Great Potato Crop Famine of 1848 in Ireland. I believe it was 'Gangs of New York' that gave us a look at these early attempts at organized crime in New York. We were viewed as trash by an Anglo-Saxon majority.

Naturally this site itself presented an African-American experience in organized crime. No one would theorize that most African-Americans engage in such behavior. But their shared experiences bonded them into a cohesive unit, just like the other nationalities.


Kissinger 6 years ago

I decided to look this up. It doesn't say, but I'm pretty sure McKenna was a former cop. At any rate, his partner sure was. Looks like he had him killed to stall a tax investigation.

http://articles.latimes.com/1989-06-18/local/me-39...

http://articles.latimes.com/2000/nov/01/local/me-4...


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

I don't see how anyone, anywhere wouldn't be interested in this form of history. I wonder how many of our past heroes might have straddled the line between the illegal and legal activity to advance themselves financially or even career wise.

I can see that some of all the races and nationalities have taken part in organized crime one way or another. The fact is that organized crime could never have grown in magnitude without the help of some cops, lawyers, judges, and a few political figures. It would be interesting to know just how high this cooperation extended.


N.E. Wright profile image

N.E. Wright 6 years ago from Bronx, NY

Wow, this was so informative.

It made me think about my paternal grandfather who was a numbers runner for the Irish mob in Queens, NY.

I do not know how that was possible. I only know he -- my grandfather -- could pass for white but -- his son -- my father could not, and he was always around his father and the men he worked for.

That was in the 1940s. My father was born in 1941.

This was a very well written and enjoyable article.

Thanks for sharing.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thank you very much for your comments. Early on when Capone, Dutch Schultz, and other mobsters took over the numbers game, they often continued to use black numbers runners.

It sounds like you have a very interesting famiy history.


chillg 6 years ago

I'm from Chicago I always been interested in the policy racket.From the time of Mushmouth Johnson,Sam Young,the Jones Bros and Ted Roe.It's a shame that only Ted Roe fought against the mafia in the 50's.If we would have stuck together we could have controlled it until the state took over,and even then we would have still found a way to be in business.I wonder if any number running still goes on today.Cause it look like an interesting business.


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thanks for reading and for the comment. The numbers racket is still going on in a much smaller way. Though it is done on a smaller basis, those running it still make a very good living doing it, at least until they get caught, since it is an illegal enterprise.


Rob 5 years ago

Very Interesting read. Most of what average people know about the numbers racket is based upon subtle references from films or books.

As a younger guy growing up in the Columbus Park area (Italian neighborhood) of KC in the 1980's, I can still remember numbers being played on a daily basis. The hub of the activity seemed to be centered around a prominent restaurant and lounge that suffered several mysterious fires and police raids. It was shut down for good in the late 80's.

To my knowledge, the practice is dead entirely in the KC area only to be now replaced by State Lotteries and the various riverboat casinos that now dot the landscape.


mquee profile image

mquee 5 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

I think generally that the cities that come to mind when it comes to the numbers racket are New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Atlanta, but the fact is it was a far reaching activity covering a great deal the country. Thank you for your comment.


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 5 years ago

Great second read!


mquee profile image

mquee 5 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thanks for your support Mickey!


soumyasrajan 5 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

Hi! mquee

Interesting article. What I find interesting is that there is more or less similar history in Mumbai, India. This playing with numbers was called Matka (English translation pot). There were Matka kings in 50's and 60's etc., just as you describe. I do not know when it started but end was similar. There were mob rulers much stronger than matka kings and finally states started their own lottery systems, that took shine out of it.


mquee profile image

mquee 5 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Hi soumyasrajan, thank you for reading and commenting. That is very interesting, I suppose that there really is nothing new under the sun!


BeBrown profile image

BeBrown 3 years ago

Very interesting hub. You don't get this kind of information in your standard history books. Thank you for sharing.

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