Posts Tagged ‘three card monte’

Whatever happened to three-card monte?

April 12, 2010

Times Square may have been three-card monte HQ in the 1980s and early 1990s, but con men used to set up the game all over well-traveled corners of New York City.

You’d see them put a cardboard box or crate upright on the sidewalk, shuffle three cards, and then convince a rube to place a bet. 

The dealers haven’t been in Times Square for years. Was the game outlawed by the Guiliani administration? Did tourists finally realize they can’t win? 

Three-card monte’s presence in Manhattan may have waned, but it’ll be back in full force eventually.

It’s been here since at least since the 19th century; a New York Times article from 1874 details the sad story of a three-card monte victim, a rich out-of-towner.

It’s a remarkably simple con: A mark bets that he can pick the money card out of three face-down cards. A shill usually comes along and acts like he’s on the mark’s side. But he’s not, and the house never loses.

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.”