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panlives
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From:
Ephemeral New York: Chronicling an ever- changing city through faded and forgotten artifacts

Whatever happened to three-card monte?

By wildnewyork

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.

Tags: card game scams, Guiliani years New York City, three card monte, Times Square cleanup, Times Square three-card monte, tourist scams in New York City

This entry was posted on April 12, 2010 at 4:35 am and is filed under Midtown. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “Whatever happened to three-card monte?”
mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

April 12, 2010 at 9:37 am |Reply
It was in the 80s, around Times Square, I’d been looking so intently I had it down to a science. The noise, the bustle, the chatter didn’t disturb me, by then I knew where the card was. I placed my $20 down, he flicked it over…$20 dollars down the drain, as all around vicious laughter. I never tried to beat a non-beatable card game again. That’s for sure.

chas Says:

April 12, 2010 at 12:09 pm |Reply
just a simple slight of hand actually wherein one of the 2 cards that are held in one hand is allowed to “float” off the top position when you think it’s the bottom card being placed down…sounds a lilttle confusing but those that have seen it can probably visualize it…Let’s play!!

Sean S Says:

April 12, 2010 at 2:52 pm |Reply
Rube? Me a rube?

It was enforced out of existence. I forget the exact section of law. ‘Misrepresenting’ or something like that.

They’d let you win a few small bets, and then coax you into a bigger bet, then perform the magic, a sleight of hand.

I’ve also seen it used with a pea in a shell on Braodway. In old cowboy or Bowery Boys-type movies you’d see it but it got revived in the 80s. Hence the term ‘shell game’.

Bowery Boogie Says:

April 12, 2010 at 5:06 pm |Reply
when I was a kid, my grandfather pointed out and showed me the hustle taking place during these games. I remember how times square had tons of them.

Nabe News: April 12 - Bowery Boogie |A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

April 12, 2010 at 5:19 pm |Reply
[...] the three-card monte players who would pack Times Square [Ephemeral [...]

id Says:

April 12, 2010 at 6:13 pm |Reply
I actually saw a guy set up three card monte when I had the displeasure of walking through Rockefeller plaza on Xmas day. It was almost cute to see the setup between fake Guccis and cologne.

chas Says:

April 12, 2010 at 7:38 pm |Reply
“Displeasure of walking thru Rock Center on Christmas…? You gotta be a Grinch!

RyanAvenueA Says:

April 12, 2010 at 9:05 pm |Reply
Same here ID, my mom was visiting and we were walking past the windows near Bergdorf’s–couldn’t believe it since it was the first time I’d ever seen the game live. I thought it was just in movies about NYC. There must have been 5 tables set up. My mom joked about how could anyone fall for it, and sure enough a minute later we saw a mom and daughter crying about losing 100 bucks. it was pretty depressing for christmas day.

D. Says:

April 15, 2010 at 4:18 am |Reply
Heh. In the late ’70s there was a court ruling that three card monte was not illegal because it was not a game of chance. (If anyone wants to look up the specific decision, it’s in the New York Law Journal, somewhere between 1978 and the very beginning of 1980.)

Presumably this situation has been changed.
"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
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"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
luvisi
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This sent me to the NYT archive. I don't know if this is the article in question, but I found it interesting:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.ht......8B669FDE

Andru
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I remember many years ago some NYC magicians had an ad campaign to rid the streets of Three Card Monte and Shell and Pea. That may have been a catalyst for not seeing it anymore.

Glenn
NJJ
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There are some great Anti Three Card Monte Posters around.

I found a great anti shell game one in Stockholm. I wish I'd stolen it....
panlives
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Quote:
On 2010-08-07 03:03, Nicholas J. Johnson wrote:
There are some great Anti Three Card Monte Posters around.

I found a great anti shell game one in Stockholm. I wish I'd stolen it....


Are you referring to law enforcement warnings?

I have never come across such posters – has anyone else seen examples?
"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
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Bill Palmer
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There was a similar ruling regarding the shell game in Germany back in the late 1980's, not long before the wall came down. Even though a magician who really knew his stuff basically tipped the whole scam, the judge ruled that since it was "possible" that the mark could win, that it was actually not a scam and still contained an element of skill.

I don't have a reference for it, and am basically too lazy to look it up in this case. If you want to find it, the German term for the shell game is Dreihütchenspiel.

In Germany, the shell game operators are mainly "Turks."
"The Swatter"

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NJJ
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From a legal standpoint, it's quite difficult to prove that the Three Card Monte is a scam.

Most areas either
a) outlaw ALL gambling on the street (e.g. Barcelona)
or
b) outlaw playing the game itself (e.g. New York)

I have always argued that anything the grifter does BEFORE the mark guesses is simply advanced game-manship. Regardless of the actions of shills, bent corners, hype, mexican turnovers etc, the mark still has a one in three chance of guessing correctly. Consider poker, I have a certain odds of having the best hands. It's the role of the other players to pervert and manipulate the perception of those odds. It's not cheating to make another player think they are going to win.

It's only if the grifters conspire to NOT pay a CORRECT guess that the game becomes a scam. If the grifters changes the rules or close the game or have the mark outbid.

Since its so difficult to PROVE these factors, it would be next to impossible for someone to PROVE they have been swindled.
Police Magician
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Nick, here is the states, I have only heard of one judge who referred to 3CM as gambling. All the others who have tried these cases have done so as fraud. Normally done, it is a scam. When we arrested a 3CM gang years ago, we charged them with theft by deception, not gambling. We won our case. We also had to arrest the victim as he gave us elements of a robbery, but no robbery existed.

Glenn
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Glenn - what evidence needs to be presented that the game is a scam?
Police Magician
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When a suspect takes money under false pretenses. In this case the victim thinking they can win, is theft by deception. 3CM is known for being played where the victim does not have any chance of winning. I have demonstrated it for prosecutors, showing how the techniques of the tossing and patter. We have prosecuted 3CM teams and won under this code section of OCGA.

Hope this helps. Glenn
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In California, TCM and the Shell Game are mentioned by name in the law under Larceny by Theft. It is a felony. All you have to prove is that the arrested was playing shell game or three card monte for money.

Even if the operator can prove he worked alone, and paid out when he lost, it would still be a felony.
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The best I can find California wise is Section 332. Do you have any other references?

Andru
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Pop. thanks for that post. In Georgia, what determines misdemeanor or felony, under the theft codes, is the amount. Under 500 dollars is a misdemeanor. Over 500 dollars is a felony. We have several different theft codes that address most thefts people commit.

Pop, did you mean Larceny by trick? I know some states use that code for this. Wish we could charge felony for it when it is under 500 dollars.

Glenn
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Quote:
On 2010-08-12 14:03, Police Magician wrote:
Pop. thanks for that post. In Georgia, what determines misdemeanor or felony, under the theft codes, is the amount. Under 500 dollars is a misdemeanor. Over 500 dollars is a felony. We have several different theft codes that address most thefts people commit.

Pop, did you mean Larceny by trick? I know some states use that code for this. Wish we could charge felony for it when it is under 500 dollars.

Glenn


Yes. I'm sorry. It is Larceny by Trick. I am getting old and fuzzy, I'm afraid. Smile
luvisi
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Searching "all" codes for "larceny by trick" at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html doesn't turn anything up for me.

Andru
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Hm... the links to search results don't seem to be permanent.

Here's the link to search for "Three Card Monte" at the calaw site.

Andru
NJJ
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Is it the game which is illegal? Does the prosecuter have to prove HOW a specific victim was scammed? Or does the law assume that ALL 3CM is rigged?
Police Magician
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The probable cause for the arrest would be shown in court with the method used. That would entail showing the mechanics of the toss to the judge or triers of fact. As such, that would be where it is considered theft by deception. I have never heard of or read any case review where gambling was charged except for that one judge in another state that classifed it as such.

GLenn
Wizzard
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I talked to a couple of friends of mine who are retired NYPD. Their take on this was: it was not the "Gambling", the probable cause they used was the Loitering statutes and the City of NY business permit regulations, to run the culprits in.
Their point was it was hard to make the gambling statute stick, but the minor charges worked better and got these people in the system.
wizzard
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