General Articles

Larceny For Sale

There’s easy money in loaded dice, marked cards and phony midway games. But not for you, Sucker!

JAMES H. GRAY February 15 1948
General Articles

Larceny For Sale

There’s easy money in loaded dice, marked cards and phony midway games. But not for you, Sucker!

JAMES H. GRAY February 15 1948

Larceny For Sale


HAD A HANKERING lately to go out and locate that floating dice game and try to get even? Or take a crack at the big poker game with the boys in the back room? Or maybe your game is bingo—or those midway games of “skill” and “chance?”

Then perhaps you’d be interested in knowing that one of the largest makers of crooked gambling devices on the continent recently celebrated its 55th birthday in its spacious, four-story building ih Chicago. Regardless of how your gambling preferences run, the chances are that sooner or later you’ll encounter some of this firm’s equipment, dr that of one of its rivals. It’s practically guaranteed to land you fiat on your face in the financial mud if you’re betting against it.

\ Although profitably dedicated to insuring all Mr. Barnum’s suckers against ever getting an even break, even accidentally, the crooked gambling device business operates along normal lines. It advertises. It is equipped with a receptionist, burglar-alarmed windows, an office manager, a sales manager, a plant superintendent and a purchasing Rgent. Selling only for cash, it doesn’t have a credit manager—having learned no doubt that the credit rating of crooked gamblers (which means practically all the professionals) is zero-minus.

Because 90% of the company’s business is done by mail, its showroom consists of a couple of display cases for dice and a platform on which carnival wheels are displayed. Its real showcase is its catalogue—the Secret Blue Book—a fancy compendium of text and pictures of the newest and best in instruments for the extraction of cash from the gullible.

It’s quite a catalogue. In addition to describing all the latest gimmicks in dice, cards and carnival equipment, it points a moral as well, though inadvertently. It is this: the gambling device that cannot be fixed has yet to be invented. In warfare, the pundits say that defense always catches up to offense. In gambling, the suckers’ defense against fixed dice and other devices lags so far behind the ingenious multipronged offensives of the hustlers that it’s nonexistent. And a sucker, for the sake of the record, is any gambler who will play with anyone else’s dice, cards or games.

The art of giving the sucker the works has been greatly refined since the days when cards were marked by thumbnails and dice loaded with BB shot. The real sucker today is not the innocent who could be fooled by a pair of crudely loaded dice; it is the pseudowise guy who thinks he can tell a pair of phony dice from perfect dice. That can only be done with indicating calipers that show variations from true of a thousandth of an inch, with balancing calipers that will detect loaded dice, and with a knife-edged square that double checks on the calipers. You can buy all three for $33.50, if you want to feel protected. But the Chicago boys also sell half a dozen different kinds of phony dice from $7.50 to $20 a pair that will caliper perfectly and still give a sucker all the worst of it!

A pair of dice are two cubes. The dictionary defines a cube as a six-sided solid on which all faces are equals and all angles are right angles. If one perfeci, cube were rolled six million times each face would come up a million limes, or reasonably close to it. Yet the slightest tampering with the edges, the sides, the angles, or the weight, will knock these

mathematical calculations into a cocked hat. Few other gambling devices lend t hemselves so easily to effective tampering as do dice.

Yet the illusion persists that dice, or craps, is an honest game of chance and most difficult to fix. Another illusion is that when bone dice were supplanted by transparent plastic dice it became more difficult to load them. Because the players can’t see the load in the transparent dice they assume it isn’t there. Silly boys. The load’s simply on the outside, not the inside. It is done with either gold or platinum on the spots that make up the numbers. A set of three platinum-filled dice retails for $24, f.o.b. Chicago, while gold-filled sets are available at $15.

Percentage Game

THESE fancy jobs come under the heading of “percentage” dice. They are not infallible and anyone who bet his life on their roll might lose it. But the percentage is so strong that it would not be too bad a bet.

The player in a crap game first rolls the dice to get his point. If he rolls two, three or 12, he loses his money. But if he rolls a safe point, say a five,

then to win he must roll another five before he rolla a seven. If he’s playing against an opera(»r with a set of platinum or gold-filled dice, he’s sure to put down a lot. more dough than he picks up.

They work this way: The three dice in (ho set are loaded differently —and of course only two are used at a time, the sucker not even suspecting the presence of the third. The first cube will have a tiny particle of platinum in one spot designed to bring up the ace more frequently than any other number. The second cube will be loaded for the two and the six. Used together the dice are “missouts”—that is, they will wind up with a count of three or seven more frequently than any other.

The third cube is so filled that the two or the four is set to come to the top when the dice stop rolling. The two-four and two-six dice, because they avoid the seven, become perfect passers. Once the man rolling the dice gets his point to shoot for, the “ace” cube is substituted for the two-four cube and the odds against his making his point before he throws a seven skyrocket. The sleight-of-hand involved is primitive.

These are by no means the only kind of dice available for the operators of gambling dives. Our Chicago friends devote Continued on pafte 50

Continued on pafte 50

There’s easy money in loaded dice, marked cards and phony midway games. But not for you, Sucker!

Larceny For Sale

Continued from page 13

no less than 25 of the 65 catalogue pages to dice. The first page adequately covers perfect dice—the kind the suckers think they are playing with. The other 24 are more interesting.

There are some dandy dice controlled by electromagnets. When the switch goes on they bring up the right numbers and they’re a bargain at $60 to $125, for the fancy giant electromagnet. Let the catalogue describe this one:

“The Giant Electromagnet, is a recent development in dice magnets and is one of the few that will control transparent dice with the same positive results that are obtained with white dice. The magnet is made in two sizes, one 12 inches in diameter with a 10inch field and weighing 45 pounds, and one 18 inches in diameter with a 14-inch field and weighing 60 pounds. (For the control to work the dice must be rolled inside the magnetic field.) The magnet coil, being only % inch thick, can he placed in many places where it would be impossible to use an ordinary magnet.”

Under a r-ug, for example, on the floor of a living room or hotel room rented for a floating dice game.

Perhaps one of the oldest dodges, hut still good, is the combination money drawer and magnet that is still popular around the carnivals. By slightly opening or closing the money drawer the operator can make a chucka-luck wheel, or dice, do his bidding.

So much for dice, for the moment. The poker players, who by now will be muttering—“Boy, am I thankful I stick to cards!”—deserve some attention. Cards, hints the catalogue, in a loud voice, can be marked just as ingeniously as dice can be loaded. In fact, the Chicago firm will sell (hem ready marked, at from $1.50 to $2.50 per deck. It also peddles all the materials needed for marking them yourself.

The easiest method is the use of invisible ink and special eyeglasses. 'Fhe markings on the back of the cards are invisible to everyone except the person wearing the glasses, which he can buy for $4 a pair. Before the war they could be bought for $2, which shows that inflation hits everybody.

Use of this device involves certain risks. People who lose large sums of money gambling are likely to get rather provoked, the cheater is apt to have his glasses snatched off and his cards examined. Then he will be completely undone, physically and financially.

Mark Your Own

Often card cheats substitute a readymarked deck during play, a simple trick since marked decks come in all the standard poker-card backs. The cheat always comes prepared. Or he can bring his marking material with him and mark the cards as he goes along. To quote the catalogue:

“Instant shading daub in a variety of colors for shading cards during play has met with great success. The preparation is made in the form of a semihard paste in red, blue and our special green and put up in small tin boxes . .

This special daub color retails for $3.50 a set. A box to hold the daub is sewn on the inside of the coat and the coat’s wearer simply presses the card slightly against the daub, while holding it close to his chest. The daub produces an almost imperceptible mark, though one readily spotted by the fellow who put it there.

Most readers—that is the trade name for marked cards—are marked only for

aces and face cards. The intricate designs on the backs of playing cards lend themselves to fancy art work that is almost impossible to spot. A fine camel-hair brush and special ink is used to blot out parts of a design (“blocking out”) or a fine line is added to other fine lines (“shading”). Blockout ink retails for $5 a bottle. A drop is enough to do a whole deck and it will penetrate the surface of the card without destroying the gloss—so the card won’t advertise itself when the light bits it. Shading ink costs $2 a bottle.

All kinds of artful dodges are used to get phony decks into card games and fixed dice into crap games. One of the oldest is to sell the nearest corner store a dozen decks of marked cards or sets of fixed dice, at bargain prices. Then, in the midst of the game, the sharpshooter can send down for new tools. This act will allay the suspicion of the easy marks.

For dice, this is generally too expensive but there is a much easier way. Long before the game is even thought of the cheater will visit a drugstore and buy a pair of dice. Our Chicago friends take over from there:

“We are always prepared to match up common drugstore dice with any class of work you may require without extra charge. Locate the work you need in regular stock dice, send us your samples and we will produce matching work to order.”

They Don’t Have To, But-

Having got his matching set, the sharpshooter will get a crap game organized and steer his friends around to the drugstore to buy a set of dice. Once the game is started he pulls a fast switch, and the game goes merrily on. The impatient hustler who wants t.o make a killing quick will not hesitate to slip in a pair of double-numbered dice and take a chance on their not being detected. These “double-cross” dice contain two threes and no four, or two fives and no two, or two fours and no three. The catalogue is delightfully frank about their use:

“For a hustler who is giving the monkey the best of it we can furnish the double-three double cross and guarantee them to seven out the way they should.” The sucker is almost certain to roll a seven before his “point” comes up.

If a real chump is making his last roll with all the money he has left, the double-cross dice can be inserted into the game to administer the coup de grace. But they are not the kind of dice that can be played with for any length of time without risk of detection.

The real sharpshooters at dice, the lads who parlay a set of slick dice into swank joints and racing stables, are those who play the percentages. In most of the big dice gambling games today the house takes all bets. As one guileless fellow said to me:

“That’s the only kind of dice game I’ll ever play. I know the house has a percentage. It’s not as high as the parimutuels and they don’t have to cheat to make money if they get a good play. So why should they?”

They don’t have to, but only a prime sucker would bet that they don’t. Why else would the Chicago firm’s catalogue advertise:

“Percentage dice to match our perfect dice are a recognized necessity for any ‘do’ or ‘don’t’ game and we offer several new ideas in percentage dice that have been thoroughly tested and proven for this special purpose. These dice assure the operator of a legitimate house percentage and a satisfactory increase in the weekly take.” The book then devotes 13 pages to percentage dice.

What constitutes a “legitimate” percentage depends only on the conscience of the operator. If his demands are modest he would choose the gold or platinum-filled dice previously noted. If he’s really greedy he’s likely to choose a pair of platinum-filled dice— then “cap” them for double effect.

Capped dice are perhaps the most devilish yet devised. For $5 the knowledgeable operator buys a bottle of capping fluid, with which he coats certain sides of his pet ivories. The capped sides tend to stick to the cloth on which the dice are rolled. “Capped transparent dice can he used where shaped or loaded dice would he detected immediately and are caliper perfect,” boasts the Secret Blue Book.

In addition to all the others mentioned here there are raised-edge dice ¿hat defy detectionexcept with calipers, dice that will roll over one edge and roll back on another; there are suctionfaced dice; tapping dice with an interior load that can be made fair or foul by a simple tap on a table, loaded dice that can be burned by a blowtorch and leave no trace of the load.

What is true of dice and cards is true of every other game of chance yet invented. The opportunities for cheating are unlimited. But for the making of real money dishonestly, there’s nothing like a bingo game—except maybe ownership of a mint. Here again the operator’s percentage depends entirely on himself. If he’s exceptionally greedy he can just about take all the money, though this is frowned on by higher-class hustlers.

The gimmick in a bingo game is the palm of the caller’s hand and the stranger sitting next to you. In a big carnival bingo game the magic numbers are stamped on pellets or ping-pong sized balls and these are tumbled about in a cage which pops them out one at a time into the caller’s hand. That’s to make sure there’s nothing funny about the way the numbers come up. But all the caller has to do is palm five numbers which will spell out B-I-N-G-0 on a particular card.

When 50 or 100 eager bingo fans are seated before their cards—and they’re watching the cards, not the caller—the game starts. He whirls the cage, picks up the first pellet that drops out—but the number he calls is one of those he has tucked in his palm or up his sleeve. To keep up appearances and interest in the game he may call a couple of unpalmed pellets between each of the ringers. First thing you know that little man beside you yells “Bingo!’ collects the prize and hustles around to the back entrance to put it back before sitting in on another game an hour later—with the same card.

In a cash game the operator may operate on a 20% margin—he pays out in prizes 80%, of what he takes in. But by sneaking his little stranger into the game once an hour—or half hour, if he gets greedy—he can considerably better that. Or he may do it only once a night—with the big jack-pot game.

You’re Out

The sight of six imitation milk bottles pyramided on a small table at the back of a booth brings out the Bobby Feller in most males. They’ve got to try to knock those bottles off the table with three baseballs. What they need is a piece of light artillery. Once made of wood, the bottles are now constructed of aluminum. The three top bottles fly off easily enough. But in the bottom of the other three bottles are a couple of inches of lead. On a very good day, a professional ball player might succeed in getting them all off the table, but none of the rest of us would.

j Of course, when the gal who is running the game wants to show you how easy it is, she puts the three heavyweights on top and if she hits them at all she will clean the table. The milk bottles retail for $18 a set of six, and are worth far more than their weight in aluminum.

The so-called lottery wheels are so easily controlled that some carnival towns ban them. No wheels spin at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition and no games of chance whatever are permitted at the county fairs in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In the West last summer, as in previous years, it was the crown-and-anchor wheel that got the best play. The old army game has a natural advantage to the operator that makes it a large moneymaker even when played fair. There are four symbols on which to bet on these wheels—a club, a spade, a crown and an anchor. Each segment of the wheel has three symbols that win when the arrow stops on the segment. The wheel operator thus can collect four quarters and pay out only three.

But when the players start boosting their bets, the operator may lose if he has to pay out $10 to one player and collects only a few quarters from the others. But that seldom happens. The reason is often one of those electromagnets described earlier, but the operator isn’t helpless without one. A weight on the wheel will bring the heavy side to the bottom and keep the winning number away from the needle. If you must play crown and anchor at carnivals there’s one safe rule to follow: Find a wheel where somebody is trying to win by progressively increasing his bets—then bet the minimum on another symbol. And never bet more than the minimum.

But one of the worst of all the midway rackets is hoopla, a swindle as old as the hills and still going strong. A gold watch sits on a bright wooden box. Toss a hoop over the box and the watch is yours—step right up, hoops three for a quarter! But so many people became convinced that it was faked— despite the hoops the operator always leaves lying flat around the boxes to show they will go over—hoopla lost its lure.

Now Chicago has added a new wrinkle—a wedge-shaped box to display the watch on, and the suckers are lining up to try and circle it. Oh, the hoop will go over it, all right—though the box tapers down a bit from top to bottom so those come-on hoops lying around the box seems to have more leeway than actually exists. But it’s impossible to toss a hoop over the box if you’re throwing toward the wide edge of the wedge-—and that’s the side that always faces the suckers ! The wedge, in short, is an optical illusion. The catalogue fairly purrs with pride:

“Our blocks offer the concessionaire the only safe method of using valuable watches on a hoopla stand . . .”

Well, there’s the evidence to support the charge that the gambling game that can’t be fixed is yet to be invented. Once the public opens its eyes to that fact, our Chicago friends will be out of bus ineas.

They’re not too concerned about that happening. When I dropped in recently to look the place over, they had just completed a modest addition to their factory.

Still feel that urge to get into a dice game? Yes ? Well, go ahead, sucker! ir