Joe Bruno on the Mob – Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein – The Man Who Could “Fix” Anything

Arnold Rothstein was the most notorious gambler of his time, a bootlegger of great proportions and a master-fixer of everything imaginable. Rothstein was so adept at what he did, he reportedly fixed the 1919 World Series.

Rothstein was born on January, 18, 1882 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. His father, Abraham Rothstein, owned a dry goods store and a cotton processing plant. Rothstein’s father, a devout Jew, was also a mover and shaker in New York politics, and was called by his friends “Abe the Just.” Abe Rothstein was so popular with the New York Pols, in 1919 he was given a dinner in his honor, which was attended by New York Governor Al Smith and Judge Louis Brandeis.

Yet young Arnold wanted no part of his father’s life. At the age of 15, Arnold began sneaking away from his fancy Upper East Side home to mingle with the fast-moving crowd on the Lower East Side. Rothstein loved to gamble, and soon he was a fixture at downtown card and dice games. Having limited finds at that age, Rothstein would “borrow” money from his father in strange ways. Abe Rothstein would stash his money and jewelry in a drawer as the sabbath approached. Young Rothstein knowing his father’s habits, would take the money from the drawer, spend all day gambling, then replace the money before sundown. One time he even stole his father’s watch and pawned it. He won big while gambling, redeemed the watch, then replaced it without his father being any the wiser.

Rothstein later explain his passion for gambling. He said, “I always gambled. I can’t remember when I didn’t. Maybe I gambled just to show my father he couldn’t tell me what to do. When I gambled nothing else mattered. I could play for hours and not know how much time had passed.”

Successful gamblers sometimes make enemies and Rothstein was no exception. In 1911, several gamblers he had regularly taken to the cleaners, decided to teach Rothstein a lesson. As good as he was with dice and cards, Rothstein was just as good with a pool stick. So his “pals” imported pool shark Jack Conway from Philadelphia to show Rothstein he could be beaten. After Conway challenged him, Rothstein got to pick the pool parlor which they would play in. He picked John McGraw’s pool room, owned by the legendary former manager of the New York Giants. Every known New York gambler was in the pool room that night, mostly betting against the cocky Rothstein. After Rothstein lost the first match to 100 (probably on purpose), he and Conway engaged in a 40-hour marathon, in which Rothstein won every 2 out of 3 matches they played. During that 2-day period, Rothstein won thousands of dollars, and a reputation of being cool and collected under pressure.

Rothstein’s prowess at gambling caught the eye of local politician, and a mighty fine crook himself, Big Tim Sullivan. Sullivan hired Rothstein, now called “The Brian” by his associates, to manage his gambling concession at the Metropole Hotel on Forty-Third Street. This was the big break Rothstein had been waiting for. He then parlayed his stint at the Metropole into owning his own gambling joint on Broadway, in the ritzy Tenderloin section of Manhattan. Rothstein’s reputation attracted such known gamblers as Charles Gates (son of John W. “Bet a Million” Gates), Julius Fleischmann (the Yeast King), Joseph Seagram (Canadian Whiskey baron) Henry Sinclair of Sinclair Oil and Percival Hill, who owed the American Tobacco Company. Hill once lost $250,000 playing poker in one night to Rothstein.

In 1919, after Prohibition was enacted, Rothstein became a major bootlegger and he fell in with several young criminals, including Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, both of whom looked up to the classy Rothstein as their mentor. Rothstein made sure all the young turks made money, by cutting them into every whiskey deal he was involved in. In was during this period that Rothstein received his second nickname as “The Fixer.” Rothstein sucked up to Tammany boss Charley Murphy, and using Murphy’s clout, Rothstein fixed thousand of bootlegging criminal cases. Out of 6,902 liquor-related cases that made it to court, with Rothstein’s influence, 400 never made it to trial and an incredible 6,074 were dismissed totally.

In 1919, several Chicago White Sox ballplayers approached Rothstein, through former featherweight champion Abe Attell, about fixing that year’s baseball World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. It’s not clear whether Rothstein actually bankrolled the fix, or turned them down completely. But what is clear is that Rothstein bet $60,000 on the Reds and pocketed a cool $270,000.

In 1928, the wear and tear of all his dealings and double-dealing had an effect on Rothstein. He started to lose more often than he won at cards. His downfall started when he got involved in a marathon poker game that began at the Park Central Hotel on September 8, and ended on September 12. Among the gamblers involved were Nate Raymond and Titanic Thomson. When the dust settled, Rothstein had lost $320,000 to Raymond and Thomson, which he refused to pay, because he claimed the game was fixed.

On November 4, 1928, Rothstein was eating at Lindy’s, when he received a phone call, requesting his presence at the Park Central Hotel to discuss the payment of his gambling debt. Before he left Lindy’s, he told the waitress, “I don’t pay off on fixed poker.” Because guns are not allowed at such meetings, he gave his gun to an associate.

Hour later, the Park Central doorman found Rothstein slumped over a banister in the hotel. “Please call a taxi,” Rothstein told the doorman. “I’ve been shot.”

Rothstein was taken to the Polyclinic Hospital with a bullet in his gut. When the police asked him who had shot him, Rothstein replied, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”

Rothstein fell in and out of delirium for several days. One afternoon, his estranged wife came to see him. He told her, “I want to go home. All I do is sleep here. I can sleep at home.” He died a few hours later at the age of 46. No one was ever arrested for his murder.

Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein’s funeral was attended by every card-shark and gangster in town. Lucky Luciano said later about Rothstein, “He taught me how to dress. He taught me how not to wear loud things, how to have taste. If Arnold had lived longer, he could have made me real elegant.”


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