Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Wilde in New York City’

The greatest con artist of 19th century New York

October 6, 2009

Hungry Joe Lewis arrived in New York City in the 1880s and immediately began separating wealthy residents from their money via a game called Bunco (also called Banco).

HungryjoelewisPlayed with cards or dice, Bunco was kind of the late–19th century version of three-card monte.

The point was to let the rube win early on, encourage him to drop more dough . . . until he lost in the end because ultimately the game was not winnable.

It was played so often in New York at the time the term Bunco eventually became synonymous with fraud.

Hungry Joe’s most prominent mark was Irish writer Oscar Wilde, who visited the city in 1882. After “bumping into” Wilde near Union Square and convincing him to play Bunco, Lewis managed to get $5,000 out of the writer.

Hungry Joe earned a string of convictions for Bunco-ing various people. But he supposedly went straight after being released from prison in 1896. He died in 1902, known forever as “King of the Bunco Men.”