Jim Lippard January 15, 2007 10:23 AM

I just read William Poundstone’s Fortune’s Formula, which points out that “By the mid-1930’s, [gangster] Moe Annenberg was AT&T’s fifth largest customer” (p. 6)–he ran a wire service business for transmitting horse race results to bookies. Annenberg’s son, Walter, founded TV Guide. (Poundstone’s book also shows the connection between gangsters and Time-Warner–Kinney National Systems, a conglomerate of parking lots and funeral homes started by mobster Manny Kimmel that broadened its holdings by acquiring DC Comics and Warner-SevenArts, and changed its name to Warner Communications.)

Davi Ottenheimer January 15, 2007 11:07 AM

@ Jim Lippard

Part of what you are describing was a function of immigration policy at the time. Groups that were disenfranchised from regular jobs due to discrimination and such often turned to grey/black market activities. Among those groups, some believed in keeping things going within the family (Italians) while others had a habit of forcing their children to use the success of their parents to establish mainstream and acceptable work (Jews). This was especially apparent in cases where the mob used its money to open hospitals and schools that treated all Americans as equal, unlike most establishments that discriminated if not disallowed treatment based on color, religion, creed, etc.

Joe January 15, 2007 11:21 AM

Another book on the subject is The Magician and the Cardsharp by Karl Johnson. He emphasizes the advancement of slight-of-hand and other tricks using regular cards and dice. The card magicians of the time would seek out the gamblers for the latest tricks they were coming up with

Fred P January 15, 2007 11:32 AM

John Scarne’s books are the seminal works in this field (if a little antiquated).

My favorite cheat (largely because it didn’t affect my company, I’m sure) from when I was in the gambling industry was the Clinton “3$ bill” (a gag series of bills that looked vaguely realistic (size, shape, color, etc), but with cartoon drawings of the Clintons). One major bill acceptor would accept one of the bills in that series as a 100$ bill in “low security” mode.

Mike January 15, 2007 2:54 PM

As I read this, Scott Joplin piano echoed through my head and visions of Robert Redford and Paul Newman placing their fingers on the sides of their noses floated before my eyes….he-he great read.

Matt from CT January 15, 2007 5:42 PM


Part of what you are describing was a
function of immigration policy at the
time. Groups that were disenfranchised
from regular jobs due to discrimination
and such often turned to grey/black
market activities

Please explain how American immigration policy of the 1920s/1930s contributed to:

The development of the mafia in Sicily;
That Joe Kennedy (Irish) made handsome profits as a smuggler;
Or that the vast majority of immigrants were law abiding citizens.

tom January 15, 2007 7:36 PM

The History Channel did a little series of shows called “Breaking Vegas” that told the stories of sophisticated efforts to beat casinos at their own games, sometimes by cheating, other times just by playing “too smart”. One episode was about the MIT blackjack team who used card counting and other similar mathematical techniques, another was about a guy who went to extraordinary lengths to make fake slot machine tokens. My favorite was a guy who worked for the Nevada gambling regulatory body whose job was to audit the slot machines. He made his own computer chips that he could substitute into slot machines for the real chips, which contained programming that make the machines behave normally except for one special new feature — they would always deliver a jackpot in response to a player inserting a long specific sequence of coins, like quarter, nickel, nickel, dime, quarter, dime, dime, dime, quarter etc.

Pretty cool show, though slightly over-dramatized and each one could have been 30 minutes instead of an hour, but nevertheless appealing to those of us who like the stuff Bruce writes about.

David Cantrell January 16, 2007 5:02 AM

And when it’s not criminals making innovative use of new stuff, it’s pornographers.

Back when I worked on the web sites for several major magazines, we had corporate subscriptions to quite a few of the major porn sites, so that we could see all the cool new stuff (like video and electronic commerce) and figger out how to do it ourselves.

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