Oct 19, 2008 1:09 AM GMT
THE NUMBERS GAME
The numbers game, or policy racket, is an illegal lottery played mostly in poor neighborhoods in U.S. cities, wherein the bettor attempts to pick three or four digits to match those that will be randomly drawn the following day. The gambler places his or her bet with a bookie at a tavern, or other semi-private place that acts as a betting parlor. A runner carries the money and betting slips between the betting parlors and the headquarters, called a "numbers bank" or "policy bank". The name "policy" is from a similarity to cheap insurance, both seen as a gamble on the future.
The game dates back at least to the beginning of the Italian lottery, in 1530. Policy shops, where bettors choose numbers, were in the U.S. prior to 1860. The penny and dime games opened up numbers to even the poorest. One of the game's attractions to low income and working class bettors was the ability to bet small amounts of money. Also, unlike state lotteries, bookies could extend credit to the bettor. In addition, policy winners could avoid paying income tax. Different policy banks would offer different rates, though a payoff of 600 to 1 was typical. Since the odds of winning were more like 1:1,000, the expected profit for racketeers was enormous. In the northeastern United States this game was known as the "Nigger Pool", because of its presence in poor African-American communities. The game was also popular in Italian neighborhoods, and it was known in Latino communities as "bolita" ("little ball"). In 1875, a report of a select committee of the New York State Assembly stated that "the lowest, meanest, worst form ... [that] gambling takes in the city of New York, is what is known as policy playing.
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