31 May 2012 | Piafredux
The Numbers Always Add Up
Sure, the mob took a 40% profit on however much it paid out on the one winning number, but the mob kept ALL of the profit from the money wagered on the other 999 losing numbers. The numbers game was very lucrative, which is why it's no longer in business as a criminal enterprise, but is very much in business in the form of state lotteries' Pick-3 and Pick-4 wagering games and, of course, in the form of state 5 and 6-number lotteries and in the form of the multi-state PowerBall and MegaMillions games.
Prohibition of the numbers racket didn't need to be ended by law enforcement, but merely by the state itself taking over the numbers game - and then adding assorted other lucrative forms of state and multi-state lotteries. You might be excused for thinking, then, that the state could end illegal drug trafficking (and all of the blood shed by criminals over its profits and by police in the course of their duty of enforcing drug laws) by legalizing marijuana and taxing it. But then that would put a lot of unionized local, state, and federal police and DEA agents out of a job - and out of a generous government pension and lifetime health and dental benefits.
Alcohol prohibition didn't work - it just turned a lot of people, even lots of ordinary mugs, into criminals (during Prohibition my grandfather, who worked a factory day job, made bathtub hooch that he sold or just gave away to his cronies on his city block). Which, if you think about it, is what the numbers game did to a lot of ordinary people who were numbers runners and bagmen - turned them into criminals until the state started running its numbers games and lotteries, and is what marijuana prohibition is still doing to a lot of small-time dealers and puffers.
Eliot Ness was still a Treasury agent when Repeal of the Volstead Act came along - and so will a lot of present day agents and police still be carrying their badges when, one fine day, marijuana prohibition comes to its logical, humane end when the state finally grasps the eternal fact that people like to sin - and that it's better for government than it is for murderous criminals to profit from people's wont to sin.