Policy, Numbers, Lottery, Bolita
Many nights, across the country, state governments run their lotteries. A collection of balls, numbered 1 to 100, are put into an air machine that mixes them up and spits out three balls, or six balls, or a number of other combinations. Millions of Americans bet money on what the combination of the balls will be. From this, the government takes in tens of millions of dollars to fund education and other programs, though no one really ever seems to figure out exactly where all the money goes. But the lottery was used by the mob for decades before states made it legal. Known as policy, numbers, or bolita, it was one of the mob's most profitable rackets.
Bolita (“little ball” in Spanish) came to America via Tampa. It was brought there by Manuel Suarez. By the 1920s the game was flourishing. It was similar to the lottery. Balls numbered 1 to 100 were tossed around in a sack and the winning number was chosen. It wasn't long before gangsters started fixing the games, making it easier for certain numbers to be drawn. After that, the operators started taking their numbers from the Havana lottery or the stock market.
Where was the best place to make bolita bets?
Everywhere! During bolita's heyday in Tampa you could make bets at the local grocery store, the butcher, in the street, at work, and in any number of bars, cafés, and restaurants. Bolita was so widespread that you could even give bets to the ice cream man while your kid was buying a frozen treat!
Policy and Numbers
The numbers racket was a popular game in the poor sections of many cities. Black gambling kingpins amassed fortunes running these games. People would make bets, then the operators would get the winning number from the stock market, or the winning numbers at the dog track. This random selection made it more difficult to fix the numbers. But that didn't matter. With so many people making small bets, the profits were enormous. Even if a number hit and a bunch of people won, the organization would have enough money to cover it.