Hard times for numbers bookies in the ’70s

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As the ’60s subsided and the ’70s ensued, the whole tenor of the numbers racket in Jersey City changed. Before, being a bookie to a large degree was a licensed profession. With the appropriate law enforcement tithing, arrests generally were avoided. And if someone with a badge saw themselves as the Hudson County Eliot Ness, judges were open minded — after the sight of an open wallet. This all changed when gambling cases began to go in front of Judge Lerner; suddenly jail time became expected instead of unknown. Locals in the biz thought that this was due to the state having started a legal lottery and so wanted to eliminate competition.

And for an aftershock there was a police officer with the dream of retiring as the richest man in Puerto Rico. To reach this goal, he squeezed bookies — now no longer with any reason to be optimistic about a day in court — for all that they were worth. As this wasn’t enough to fund a grandiose retirement plan, the crooked cop then took over the numbers betting himself. This he did by locking up the bookies who’d paid for protection. The mobsters valued honor and so said nothing.

Success didn’t satisfy the wayward policeman’s greed — if anything it increased it. A decade or so later there was big money to be had in cocaine and this seemed just as easy to grab as had been the illegal lottery. But this new environment’s compass was the law of the jungle, not the code of silence and the deceiver very quickly was himself deceived. Expecting to meet a “good” customer the holder of regal ambitions found himself greeted by a far from understanding group from the prosecutor’s strike force and was ordered by a superior officer to “empty your pockets.”

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About Anthony Olszewski

Anthony Olszewski has written on a wide variety of topics: cage birds, tropical fish, popular culture, the poetry of Amiri Baraka and a chapter on genetics for a veterinary text book, as a small sample. He worked as an editor at a magazine produced by TFH, the world's largest publisher of pet books. Anthony Olszewski is the author of a booklet on Hudson County history, Hudson County Facts, and a book of short stories, Second Thief, Best Thief, that are sold on Amazon. Anthony Olszewski established PETCRAFT.com in 1996. A pioneer on the Web, the Site continues to provide unique information on a range of companion animals, focusing on birds and fish. As a community service, he operates Jersey City Free Books. Anthony Olszewski was born in Jersey City, NJ (Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital, 1956) and is a member of Mensa.
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