The numbahs game...

Dateline: Sat 02 Jun 2007

A friend who's been around the block more than once posed an interesting question: why doesn't anybody in Indy focus on the large, illegal, lucrative numbers games that operate in the black community? Everything in the media is focused on pea shake, he says, but the numbers operation in Indy is historic, thriving and the source of all the action.

So what is the numbers game, I asked?

"I thought you might say that," he said. So he filled me in. The godfather of numbers in Indy is the late Issac "Tuffy" Mitchell, who counted among his friends Monroe "Sweet Pea" Gray, now the City-County Council prez, and Indiana Sen. Glenn Howard.

To play the game, which he says is hugely popular with workers at plants in Indy, you choose four numbers. If your numbers are picked, you can win $22.50 for every penny wagered. "It's basically a lottery," he explained, adding some of the finer points.

"You can play it straight (with four numbers or digits) or you can play it straight and drop, or you can box it." Stock market numbers are utilized to determine the lottery winner. Numbers are written on what are called bank clearing slips. A neighborhood runner picks up the slips; everybody gets a piece of the action, in a sense.

In 1996-97, he said, after a major vice investigation by the Indy police, federal indictments were handed down on some of the bigger players. They pleaded guilty. But the bigger guys -- men like Mitchell and a fellow named Claude Cardwell who had a business at 16th and College -- went untouched.

My source says today's young police officers don't really know about the numbers games. But it is still alive and well.

So big deal. Lots of people gamble, and lots of people gamble illegally. Is there any connection between the numbers racket and crime in Indy, I asked.

Indeed. Some of the money generated gets kicked back into seed money for narcotics dealers, he explained. "That's where it goes sour."

In the old days, he added, cops were so wired into the rackets that if they had a major crime they were investigating, the first guys they'd hit up were the numbers men. "They'd go to these guys and say, 'You've got 3 days to give us a name.' Those guys had friends everywhere. Next thing you know, they'd have their bad guy." The police also had the luxury of leverage: if they didn't get the help they needed from the kingpins, they'd threaten to shut the numbers operation down. "And if things got really bad, they would shut it down."

That, my source says, is how things worked in Indy, and work to this day -- because, he says, Indy has one of the largest untouched numbers rackets anywhere. In fact, he said, the numbers guys were and are so powerful that they helped Richard Lugar get elected mayor. "It was the black gamblers who backed him," he says.

That's it for today's history lesson -- all news to me. And probably news to most people in Indy, who right now are consumed by the city's rising crime rate.

You won't, my friend added, read this story in The Star.


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