The Big Bankroll

Arnold Rothstein in 1927

Continuing with something of a look at the 1919 World Series and its aftermath, it dawned on me that I’d done something on two of the more famous gamblers to come out of the scandal: Sport Sullivan and Abe Atell. But I’d never done anything on the man who did much of the financing for the incident, Arnold Rothstein.

Rothstein was born in Manhattan in 1882 and had very little success in school. His Wikipedia page indicates he was good at math, but uninterested in the other subjects. He was good at gambling and as early as his school days was involved in dice games, seemingly winning more times than he lost.

By 1910 he’d opened a gambling casino in New York, ran a race track in Maryland, and was becoming wealthy. He began collecting “associates” with ties to various sports (Abe Atell, whose expertise was in boxing, is the most well-known today) that gave him “inside dope” on those sporting events that drew heavy betting. With inside information he became even more wealthy and by the mid-19 teens was considered the most powerful gambler in New York, the betting capital of the US (Las Vegas became a city only in 1905).

Hollywood’s version of Rothstein (Michael Lerner-right) with Michael Mantell (left) as Abe Atell. From a movie trading card

The sources disagree and there’s a certain amount of murkiness surrounding Rothstein’s involvement in financing fixing the 1919 World Series. There seems to be general agreement that Joseph “Sport” Sullivan proposed the idea of fixing the Series to Rothstein. However, he became involved, Rothstein sent Abe Atell and his enforcer “Monk” Eastman to contact the players and gave out a certain amount of cash (the exact amount is in dispute) to fix the Series. One different theory comes from Rothstein biographer David Petrusza who indicates that Atell set up the fix without telling Rothstein; but when Rothstein found out he profited from the inside information.

Rothstein escaped prison in the resulting trial and his gambling continued. By 1928 he was involved with the most successful “mobs” in New York. Their more notable members included such later household names as “Lucky” Luciano, “Dutch” Schultz, and “Legs” Diamond.  To them Rothstein was “The Big Bankroll.” His job was in financing the gangs, rather than participating in their activities, at least mostly.

But time ran out for Rothstein in 1928. Involved in a poker game that he claimed was fixed (the irony is wonderful), Rothstein refused to pay his losses and was shot on 4 November. He died on the sixth. With him died many of the secrets surrounding the origins of both the bribe money and the idea of throwing the 1919 World Series. He is buried in Queens.

Rothstein’s grave (from Find a Grave)

One Response to “The Big Bankroll”

  1. glenrussellslater Says:

    I saw the movie “Eight Men Out” about all this in a movie theater in the late ’80s. I found the movie very hard to follow because there were so many characters involved. It’s hard to make a good movie when there are so many people involved. You would practically need a scorecard (a BASEBALL scorecard???) to follow all the people involved in the Black Sox scandal. I think that the screenwriter and the director were in over their heads. It’s a VERY hard topic to put into a movie that’s long, almost two hours long. (I usually have trouble sitting through a movie that’s more than 90 minutes, unless it’s inordinately good.) This is the kind of movie that probably should have been made into “Part 1” and “Part 2”. I will say that I was very impressed by the beauty of the movie— the ballparks, the White Sox uniforms and other teams uniforms were faithful to the way they actually looked during that era.

    I was in my late 20s when I saw it. I’m no longer in my late 20s. I saw it with a date, and I was playing a little bit of “footsy” during the movie, trying to get some “making out” action to start. She was cold as Comiskey Park in winter. Maybe that distracted me a bit. Now that I’m old and bald and ugly, maybe I’ll watch it again and be able to concentrate on it better. Not much of a trade-off. I’d rather be in my 20s and NOT be able to concentrate on the movie than be old and ugly and bald and UNDERSTAND the movie. (Sigh)


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