Ramblings & ephemera

Arnold Rothstein, criminal kingpin

From Daniel A. Nathan’s “The Big Fix” (Legal Affairs: March/April 2004):

THE BLACK SOX SCANDAL was the sports crime of the 20th century. In a complicated and poorly conceived and executed conspiracy, several prominent Chicago White Sox ballplayers teamed up with gamblers to lose the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. …

Of those artfully deceitful manipulators, Arnold Rothstein was the most skillful, a criminal kingpin who had his hand in all manner of illicit endeavors. Known as “the Big Bankroll” and “the Great Brain,” Rothstein helped invent organized crime, and his influence survived his death in 1928. …

There is no denying that Rothstein was clever. A former pool shark, Rothstein managed to graduate from being a small-time bookmaker to what one historian describes as an important “intermediary between the underworld and upper world of New York.” He established successful gambling houses in New York City and Saratoga (then, as now, a popular summer resort town for the well-to-do, especially for those who like to play the ponies) and political connections with Tammany Hall. Rothstein, Pietrusza notes, “pretty much invented the floating crap game,” the illicit diversion later made famous by the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls, on his way to becoming “America’s most notorious gambler.” He was a bootlegger, a labor racketeer, a racetrack owner, a real estate magnate, a bail bondsman, a loan shark, a fence, and, according to [David Pietrusza, author of Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series], the “founder and mastermind of the modern American drug trade.”

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