Let’s look at the life of Arnold Rothstein, the most powerful and influential mobster of the “Roaring Twenties.”
He was nicknamed “The Brain” and that may be an understatement. When analyzing Rothstein one must realize that he loved two things more than anything else. One was gambling and the other was money. Those factors would dictate every move he made in his rise to unparalleled success in the underworld of that era and ultimately his fall.
The road he chose began quietly enough. He took a job as a cigar salesman. He parlayed the few dollars he earned from this into a multimillion dollar illegitimate empire that included gambling and illicit alcohol as its main sources of income. Rothstein was aware of one thing above all. Gamblers may win a bet, can even make a huge score. Eventually, however, the house will end up the big winner. With that in mind Rothstein became exactly that, the house. Only his idea of the house was more like a castle. He bankrolled the so called “carpet joints” to attract the high rollers and society’s blue bloods. They could afford to lose large sums in the comfort of these luxurious surroundings. And they did just that. Where else would be a better place for one than Saratoga Springs. He named it The Brook Club. A sprawling Victorian mansion out Church Street became a gambling club that rivaled any in the world. By any standards this was the epitome of class. With its chandeliers brought in from Europe, plush appointments and the finest food served in its distinctive restaurant, Arnold knew that this would draw the elite and that it did. The Brook opened in 1919 and Rothstein exited from it in 1925.
Although only operated by him for a short time, it is remembered as The Crown Jewel of the illegal gambling clubs that dotted Saratoga in the first half of the 20th century.
Here are some of the famous bets that were allegedly placed there.
• Sam Rossoff, the builder of the New York subway system, lost 100,000 dollars in one night of gambling.
• “Nick The Greek” Dandolos, his name synonymous with high stakes gambling, lost 600,000 dollars on one hand of poker.
• And how about Charles Stoneham, owner of the New York Giants baseball club. He wagered 70,000 dollars on the spin of a roulette wheel. It was done by telephone. He lost.
A little-known fact. Rothstein was married here at a home on Washington Street in 1909, long before his association with The Brook. Saratoga was also the scene of A.R.’s biggest gambling win or better yet the big fix. It happened in the 1921 Travers Stakes. He owned a colt named Sporting Blood. There was only one other horse entered. It was Harry Payne Whitney’s Prudery. It looked like a cake walk for Whitney’s entry. Then on the morning of the race, the highly rated Grey Lag was entered. Now Rothstein made his move, Betting the unheard-of sum of 150 thousand dollars on his colt with bookmakers across the country, at the odds of three to one.
The wheels began to turn. Grey Lag who was made the favorite was conveniently scratched on the way to the post. At the time, there was no Pari Mutuel wagering. The books had taken the bets at three to one. Now they would pay dearly for it. His colt got the win over Prudery who was later found not to be at her best entering the race. Coincidences... You be the judge. Rothstein walked away with 450 big ones and a lot of unanswered questions. Talk about a fix.
How about the 1919 World Series? Money was paid to a few of the Chicago White Sox players including the great “Shoeless” Joe Jackson to lose the series. An odd quirk, the winner’s share would have been more than they were paid to throw the games. Although never proved, it is widely accepted that Rothstein was behind it. The Black Sox Scandal as it was called came close to ending baseball’s reign as America’s pastime. It was the sport’s great fortune to have the immortal “Babe” Ruth enter the scene and bring the sport back to respectability. With his bigger-than-life personality and even greater batting skills he alone saved baseball from the abyss.
Not only was Rothstein a shrewd and talented businessman, he was also a great teacher. His pupils were Lansky, Luciano, Costello, and a host of others who would rise to underworld prominence. He taught this among many lessons to them. We are businessmen above all else. Dress the part. And they did.
Like most other mob stories his would not have a fairy tale ending. Fate would intervene in October of 1928. Pursuing his favorite pastime, poker, he entered a high stakes game at a New York City hotel. These games were run by a third party guaranteeing the game’s legitimacy and payment to the winners if one of the players reneged on paying losses. Rothstein lost 300 thousand dollars in the game. He refused to pay his debt on grounds that the other players had cheated. Most likely they had. The smart move would have been to pay the debt anyway and move on. For reasons known only to him he chose not to. This, a fatal error in judgement effectively sealed his doom. A short time after the card game Rothstein was shot at the Park Central Hotel in Manhattan. He died the next day from wounds suffered. Before he succumbed, he was asked by police who shot him. A gangster to the end, he answered with this quotable quote. “Me mudda did it.” If I were to pick one quote that sums up the life of Rothstein the following says it all. They are his own words.
“The more money the louder it talks.” Arnold Rothstein a man to be reckoned with was only forty-six years old at the time of his death.