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Beware of Three Card Monte

Three Card Monte, what a con. You know the adage, "A sucker is born every minute?" It is a surprise there are many people who have never seen this game. In the new sanitized, mega-commercialized, and safe Times Square, this old game is still around. The police are visible, but the game is so ephemeral, that once they notice, it is already too late.

How do you play, what do you win/lose?

There are three slightly folded cards. One card is designated the money card, let's say the Ace of Spades; the others are regular cards. The object is to guess which of the cards is the Ace. Double your money if you guess correctly, otherwise lose. Simple as that may sound, victims of three-card monte will always lose.

Three Card Monte is really a con game designed to part with your money. The dealer will do some fast shuffling, not fast enough to deter guessing; and employ slight-of-hand tricks to replace the red card from the table.

The dealer will ALWAYS have an accomplice working as the shill, and a few others as lookout and enforcers. Usually the lookouts are desperate people, typically from a poor neighborhood, poorly educated; and you can tell their education, social class on their tired desperate looking faces. I know, I been a crime victim numerous times before, I recognize this particular stare in their eyes, like they are ready to kill you or something. The shill is there to attract victims; he will look like an ordinary person winning money. The table is set up simply; there will be a cardboard box setup on top of a crate, nothing too fancy.

When a victim does steps up, he is encouraged to flip up a card, maybe even wager a small sum. The victim will also be surprised to learn that he guessed correctly and won -- a small sum of money of course -- perhaps surprised and uninhibited enough to wager more. This, of course, is by design. The con artist is working on the victim?s trust, knowing he will part with more money because he is on a winning streak.

The real trouble comes when the con is applied hard. When the victim feels comfortable, the dealer will begin charging twenty, fifty, a hundred of dollars per guess. There will be direct verbal pressure on the victim to pay more in order to guess with promises of big money. When the con dealer gets the sum of money and the victim has flipped up a card, the con artist will already have faded away into the crowd. The victim will find all three cards black.

Why play Three Card Monte at all? It is the greed factor. People want to win easy money. But it is too easy to blame the victim, after all, he is the victim, and greed is not a crime. The real crime is the actual taking of money.

Many years ago, in the 1980s, I remembered a rather violent incident involving a tourist couple from Japan and Three Card Monte. This happened on 42nd Street, on the corner of Sixth Avenue catty-corner from Bryant Park. Today, this corner is cleaned up, and police are more visible, but it was different then. That day there was a Japanese businessman/tourist with his wife. The guy was innocently playing the card game. After one or two rounds, much to the chagrin of his wife, decided to wager a hundred dollars. He took out a large roll of hundred dollar notes, and before you know it, a really tall black man jumped out from nowhere, picked up the businessman who was barely half his height, lifted him several feet into the air, and with deliberate force, threw him down onto the sideway; his head and body crashed into the concrete with such a terrible sound that I was really traumatized for days. All the passersby and crowd immediately dissipated. It was sad and really scary. I didn't linger to see what happened; I knew the businessman was seriously injured.

Today, with the strong police presence, such a violent ending to the game would be met with prison, yet despite the police presence, this little con still continues.

Hope this review helps, be careful. -rkchin, april 2001.

see also.. wikipedia

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