The Numbers Game: Over 100 Years of Playing in America – From Organized Crime to State Coffers

The illegal profits were enormous and the mob had full control of what was called the Numbers Racket in America. Runners were employed to collect money and betting slips from the betting parlors (taverns, grocery stores, news stands, etc.)and bring them to the headquarters, known as a Policy Bank. This is where Organized Crime ran the business.

Bettors could wager as little as a penny on a 3 digit number for a chance at a 600 to 1 winning payout, although the true odds were 1,000 to 1.The winning number would be the last three digits of the amount of money wagered on race day at a major horse track in the U.S.

An accurate portrayal of the numbers racket activity was depicted in the 1949 movie, Force of Evil, staring John Garfield.

Numbers Become Legal

In 1967 the New York State Legislature became the first state in the nation to legalize playing the numbers. What was once called the lowest, meanest, worst form of gambling in New York, was now permissible to play at age 18.

Profits to the state from the games would benefit education and put more money in state coffers. To accomplish this the state would now operate and manage daily drawings. Innovative ways to play 3 and 4 digit games were introduced. The Numbers Racket quickly became the Daily Numbers Game. Organized crime eventually abandoned this venue.

Today playing the numbers is permissible in 47 jurisdictions. 44 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Here is a description of two popular daily numbers games:

3 Digit Numbers Game

Drawings are held twice a day, mid-day and evening. Wager as little as fifty cents per game. Here’s how you can wager:

  • Straight – Assume your favorite number is 620. If the winning number was drawn in that order, you win $250 for a fifty cent bet, $500 for a dollar bet.Note that the government payout is 500/1. The mob payout was 600/1.
  • Box- wagering that the number would be drawn in any of the six possible combinations: 620, 062, 026, 206, 260, and 062. The payouts are $40 for fifty cents, and $80 for the dollar bet.
  • 50/50 – you can also make a straight/box wager for a dollar. The win amount is the same as a fifty cent bet.
  • Combo/Wheel – If your number has two like digits such as 332, wager a fifty cent or one dollar combo, AKA wheel, for $1.50 or $3.00 to win $250 or $500 for any of the three ways the number can be made: 332, 233, or 323.

4 Digit Numbers Game

Winning numbers are also drawn mid-day and evening. True odds for the straight win are 10,000/1. The state pays 5,000/1

  • Straight – Four unique numbers such as 1948 pays $2,500 for fifty cents, $5,000 for a dollar bet.
  • Box – four unique numbers has 24 possible combinations. a fifty cent box pays $100, a dollar box pays $200.

Other four number combinations with two or three like digits can be played for all possible combinations, four way, six way, or twelve way.

The reverse side of the betting tickets for the numbers games usually have a detailed description of how to play, and the payout amounts.

With long shot odds of 1,000/1 and 10/000/1, numbers wins are rare, but they can happen. If you choose to indulge, Good Luck!