Wanna play?

A friend recently told me about a local numbers game in Washington Heights, the neighborhood in northern Manhattan in which he grew up.

As a kid, he worked at one of the local bodegas, and folks from the neighborhood would come in daily to lay down a few dollars on that day’s numbers.

The winning numbers were the last three digits of that day’s attendance at whatever New York race track was in action, back when such information was published somewhere other than the Internet (and the Pink Sheet in Saratoga).

Seems to me that this wouldn’t be such a hard game to revive; to keep everything on the up and up, your numbers for the day could be posted in the comments section for easy verification, and the convenience of PayPal would make it pretty easy to collect and disburse money (and to prosecute). Then again, I’ve heard that it’s not illegal to take bets if the person taking them doesn’t profit from the venture.

So if, say, someone were willing to do this out of the goodness of her heart, to help folks make a little extra money in this economy, add a little excitement to their lives, and not keep a penny for herself, that would be OK, right?

7 thoughts on “Wanna play?

  1. My grandmother and all the locals on 16th Ave & 74th Street in Brooklyn played that same game for years when I was a little kid.She'd always send me "across the street" to the store (wasn't called a bodega in the late 1960s) and "give Joey the numbers." I only gave Joey the list — was never sent with cash.Then, I'd be sent back across the street between 9 and 10 p.m. on Saturday night (during the playing of The Big Card Game) for the early edition of the Sunday Daily News (known as the "Night Owl") so they could detect what "The Number" was.This was well before the Lottery was invented.Right before my grandmother passed away a few years ago, that same store (now a bodega) featured that TV-based keno game ran by the Lottery. Drew a new game every couple of minutes. It got lots of action.

  2. It was illegal back in the 60’s (my uncles were big gamblers back then in Brooklyn) and I bet it will be illegal now. The handle at the track back then was a lot higher than it is these days as well…if I were you I’d stay away.

  3. Before the State got into the Lottery business, the Mob had cornered the numbers game. I was born in a heavily Italian American populated section of the Bronx and it was well known that you could play the “number” in the corner Candy Store. You would get the number from the last 3 digits of the NYRA Track attendance running at the time. In those days, both the NY Post and the Daily News would publish the attendance. Alternately the 3 last 3 digits of the Daily Track Handle would be used. Back then everyone I knew played the “numba”Once the State got into the Numbers business, the Mob monopoly on the numbers game was diminished but it still operates in the more ethnic neighborhoods of NYC, particularly spanish neighborhoods.

  4. You know, Linda, I thought about this as a kind of fundraiser…I wonder if there’s some legal way to do it? Winston, I knew someone would say it. To the New Yorkers who played it (or whose family members did), my grandmother played in Yonkers, I’m pretty sure until she died a few years ago. Thanks for reading and commenting, folks.

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