Posted by SAUERKRAUT on September 07, 2000
In Reply to: What does the phrase "Running numbers" mean posted by Jason on September 07, 2000
: Can anyone tell me what this means I heard in 70's cop shows all the time as in "Shorty's running numbers for the mob" but never understood it.
In the good-old-bad-old days before gambling boats, off-track betting and state-run lotteries, NUMBERS was a lottery type game for the masses and was run by organized crime. Since the daily picks of the customers had to be brought to a central location for processing, the syndicate employed "runners" to go to the various bars, barbershops, corner groceries and such where the customers made their picks.
The winning number was usually based on a formula involving numbers from sports scores or stock closings that appeared each day in the local newspaper. Thus the daily winning number was random, and since everyone knew the formula, it was easy to determine the day's winning number.
The government was obviously against these operations, not so much out of moral concerns (they certainly have abandoned any of those) but because they weren't getting their cut. The general moral climate of that era prevented the government from legalizing gambling, so they tried to control it, not having learned the lessons from the alcohol prohibition fiasco.
Surprisingly, most of the operations were on the "up and up" in their treatment of winners. Like the state does with lotteries today, the mob kept their cut and paid off the winners promptly.