Arnold Rothstein

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Arnold Rothstein
Arnold Rothstein.jpg
Arnold Rothstein in Saratoga, 1926
Born(1882-01-17)January 17, 1882
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedNovember 6, 1928(1928-11-06) (aged 46)
New York City, U.S.
Cause of deathGunshot wounds
Other namesThe Brain, Mr. Big, The Fixer, The Man Uptown, The Big Bankroll
OccupationRacketeer, businessman, crime boss, bootlegger
Spouse(s)Carolyn Green

Arnold Rothstein (January 17, 1882 – November 6, 1928),[1] nicknamed "the Brain", was an American racketeer, crime boss, businessman, and gambler who became a kingpin of the Jewish mob in New York City. Rothstein was widely reputed to have organized corruption in professional athletics, including conspiring to fix the 1919 World Series. He was also a mentor of future crime bosses Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, and numerous others.

According to crime writer Leo Katcher, Rothstein "transformed organized crime from a thuggish activity by hoodlums into a big business, run like a corporation, with himself at the top".[1] According to author Rich Cohen, Rothstein was the person who first realized that Prohibition was a business opportunity, a means to enormous wealth, who "understood the truths of early century capitalism (giving people what they want) and came to dominate them".[2] His notoriety inspired several fictional characters based on his life, portrayed in contemporary and later short stories, novels, musicals, and films, including the character Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby.[3]

Rothstein refused to pay a large debt resulting from a fixed poker game and was murdered in 1928. His illegal empire was broken up and distributed among a number of other underworld organizations and led in part to the downfall of Tammany Hall and the rise of reformer Fiorello La Guardia. Ten years after his death, his brother declared Rothstein's estate was insolvent.[citation needed]

Early life and education[edit]

Arnold Rothstein was born into a comfortable life in Manhattan, the son of an affluent Jewish businessman, Abraham Rothstein, and his wife, Esther. His father was a man of upright character, who had acquired the nickname "Abe the Just".[4] Arnold was highly skilled at mathematics, but was otherwise uninterested in school.[4] His older brother, on the other hand, studied to become a rabbi.[5]

Rothstein was known to be a difficult child, and he harboured a deep envy of his older brother, Harry. Rothstein's father believed that his son always craved to be the center of attention and would often get frustrated when he was not.[4]

While still a child, Rothstein began to indulge in gambling, but no matter how often his father scolded him for shooting dice, Rothstein would not stop. In 1921, Rothstein was asked how he became a gambler, "I always gambled. I can't remember when I didn't. Maybe I gambled just to show my father he couldn't tell me what to do, but I don't think so. I think I gambled because I loved the excitement. When I gambled, nothing else mattered."[6]

Illegitimate career[edit]

By 1910, Rothstein, at age 28, had moved to the Tenderloin section of Manhattan, where he established an important casino. He also invested in a horse racing track at Havre de Grace, Maryland, where he was reputed to have fixed many of the races that he won.

Rothstein had a wide network of informants; very deep pockets from some among his father's banking community associates; and the willingness to pay a premium for good information, regardless of the source. His successes made him a millionaire by age 30.

1919 World Series[edit]

There is a great deal of evidence both for and against Rothstein being involved in the 1919 World Series fix.[6] In 1919, Rothstein's agents allegedly paid members of the Chicago White Sox to "throw", i.e. deliberately lose, the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. He bet against them and made a significant profit in what was called the "Black Sox Scandal".[7]

He was summoned to Chicago to testify before a grand jury investigation of the incident; Rothstein said that he was an innocent businessman, intent on clearing his name and his reputation. Prosecutors could find no evidence linking Rothstein to the affair, and he was never indicted. Rothstein testified:

The whole thing started when [Abe] Attell and some other cheap gamblers decided to frame the Series and make a killing. The world knows I was asked in on the deal and my friends know how I turned it down flat. I don't doubt that Attell used my name to put it over. That's been done by smarter men than Abe. But I was not in on it, would not have gone into it under any circumstances and did not bet a cent on the Series after I found out what was under way.[8]

In another version of the story, Rothstein was first approached by Joseph "Sport" Sullivan, a gambler, who suggested Rothstein help fix the World Series. Rothstein supposedly turned down Sullivan's proposal but when he received Attell's offer, Rothstein reconsidered Sullivan's first offer. He figured that the competition to fix the game made it worth the risk to get involved and still be able to cover his involvement. David Pietrusza's biography of Rothstein suggested that the gangster worked both ends of the fix with Sullivan and Attell.[9] Michael Alexander concluded that Attell fixed the Series "probably without Arnold Rothstein's approval", which "did not prevent Rothstein from betting on the Series with inside knowledge".[10]

Leo Katcher said that "all the records and minutes of the Grand Jury disappeared. So, too, did the signed confessions of Cicotte, Williams and Jackson.... The state, virtually all of its evidence gone, sought to get the players to repeat their confession on the stand. This they refused to do, citing the Fifth Amendment." Eventually, the judge had no choice but to dismiss the case. Katcher went on, "Thus, on the official record and on the basis of [State Attorney Maclay] Hoyne's statement, Rothstein was never involved in the fixing of the Series. Also, on the official record, it was never proved that the Series had been fixed." All eight White Sox players were forever banned from the game of baseball. Despite all his denials, though, Katcher noted that "while Rothstein won the Series, he won a small sum. He always maintained it was less than $100,000. It actually was about $350,000. It could have been much – very much – more. It wasn't because Rothstein chickened [sic] out. A World Series fix was too good to be true – even if it was true."[6]

1921 Travers Stakes[edit]

Under the pseudonym "Redstone Stable", Rothstein owned a racehorse named Sporting Blood, which won the 1921 Travers Stakes under suspicious circumstances. Rothstein allegedly conspired with a leading trainer, Sam Hildreth, to drive up the odds on Sporting Blood. Hildreth entered an outstanding three-year-old, Grey Lag, on the morning of the race, causing the odds on Sporting Blood, to rise to 3–1. Rothstein bet $150,000 through bookmakers, allegedly having been informed that the second favorite, Prudery, was off her feed. Just before post time and without explanation, Hildreth scratched Grey Lag from the starting list. Rothstein collected over $500,000 in bets plus the purse, but a conspiracy was never proven.[11]

Prohibition and organized crime[edit]

With the advent of Prohibition, Rothstein saw the opportunities for business; he diversified into bootlegging and narcotics. Liquor was brought in by smuggling along the Hudson River, as well as from Canada across the Great Lakes and into upstate New York. Rothstein also purchased holdings in a number of speakeasies. Later he became the first to illegally import Scotch whisky in his own fleet of trans-Atlantic freighters. He knew that high-end booze would be the "chic thing to have."[12]

With his banking support and high-level political connections, Rothstein soon managed to end-run Tammany Hall to the street gangs. Subsequently, his criminal organization included such underworld notables as Meyer Lansky, Jack "Legs" Diamond, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, and Dutch Schultz, whose combined gangs and double-dealing with their own respective bosses subverted the entire late 19th-century form of political gangsterism. Rothstein's various nicknames were Mr. Big, The Fixer, The Man Uptown, The Big Bankroll, and The Brain.[citation needed]

Rothstein frequently mediated disputes among the New York gangs and reportedly charged a hefty fee for his services. His favorite "office" was Lindy's, at Broadway and 49th Street in Manhattan. He often stood on the corner surrounded by his bodyguards and did business on the street. Rothstein made bets and collected debts from those who had lost the previous day.[citation needed] Meanwhile, he exploited his role as mediator with the city's legitimate business world and soon forced Tammany Hall to recognize him as a necessary ally in its running of the city. Many historians credit him as the first successful modern drug dealer.[13][14][15]

By 1925, Rothstein was one of the most powerful criminals in the country and had forged a large criminal empire. For a time he was the largest bootlegger in the nation, until the rise of George Remus. With a reported wealth of over $10 million (equivalent to $150 million in 2019[16]) Rothstein was one of the wealthiest gangsters in US history, and is widely considered to be one of the founding fathers of organized crime in the United States.[4]


On November 4, 1928, Rothstein was shot and mortally wounded during a business meeting at Manhattan's Park Central Hotel at Seventh Avenue near 55th Street.[17][18] He died two days later at the Stuyvesant Polyclinic Hospital in Manhattan.[citation needed]

The shooting was reportedly linked to debts owed from a three-day long, high-stakes poker game in October, for which Rothstein owed $320,000 (equivalent to $4.8 million in 2020). He claimed the game was fixed and refused to pay. The murder was intended to punish Rothstein for failing to pay his debt.[19] Gambler George "Hump" McManus was arrested for homicide, but later acquitted for lack of evidence.[19]

According to Kevin Cook, author of Titanic Thompson, the poker game was fixed by gambler Titanic Thompson (born Alvin Clarence Thomas) and his associate, Nate Raymond. Due to some complicated side bets, by the end Rothstein owed $319,000 to Raymond (much of which Raymond, by secret agreement, was to pass on to Thompson); $30,000 to Thompson; and about $200,000 to the other gamblers present. McManus owed Rothstein $51,000. Rothstein stalled for time, saying that he would not be able to pay until after the elections of November 1928, when he expected to win $550,000 for successfully backing Herbert Hoover for President and Franklin D. Roosevelt for Governor. Thompson testified at McManus' trial, describing him as "a swell loser" who would never have shot Rothstein.[20] According to Cook, Thompson later told some of his acquaintances that the killer had not been McManus, but rather his "bag man", Hyman Biller, who fled to Cuba shortly afterwards.[20]

In his book Kill the Dutchman!, a biography of Dutch Schultz published in 1971, the crime reporter Paul Sann suggested that Schultz murdered Rothstein. He says this was in retaliation for the murder of Schultz's friend and associate Joey Noe by Rothstein's protégé Jack "Legs" Diamond.

On his deathbed, Rothstein refused to identify his killer, answering police inquiries with "You stick to your trade. I'll stick to mine",[21] and "Me mudder (my mother) did it."[22] Rothstein was buried at Ridgewood's Union Field Cemetery.

Break-up of empire[edit]

At the time of Rothstein's death, Prohibition was in full swing, various street gangs were battling for control of the liquor distribution and the carefully constructed political boss structure of the late 19th century was in total collapse. Frank Erickson, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel and other former associates split up Rothstein's various "enterprises" after his death. With Rothstein's death, the corrupt and already-weakened Tammany Hall was critically wounded because it had relied on Rothstein to control the street gangs.[23] With Tammany Hall's fall, reformer Fiorello La Guardia rose in prominence and was elected Mayor of New York City in 1933.

Ten years after his death, Harry Rothstein, Arnold's brother, declared Rothstein's estate insolvent and Arnold's wealth disappeared.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]


  • Rothstein is referred to as "The Brain" in several of Damon Runyon's short stories, including a fictional version of his death in "The Brain Goes Home". As a newspaper reporter, Runyon came to know Rothstein personally and later covered the trial of his alleged killer.
  • In the novel The Great Gatsby, Meyer Wolfsheim is a Jewish friend and mentor of Jay Gatsby, described as a gambler who fixed the World Series. The character is commonly assumed to be an allusion to Rothstein.[24]

Film and television[edit]


  • Waxey Gordon – worked as a rum-runner for Rothstein during the first years of Prohibition.
  • Harry "Nig" Rosen – involved in narcotics with Rothstein during the mid-1920s.
  • Charles "Lucky" Luciano – viewed to have been mentored by Rothstein, who supported him early on in his career as a racketeer and taught him how to be a full-fledged kingpin. They are both among New York's most notorious gangster kingpins, and both are directly responsible for the modernization and subsequent public obsession with American organized crime.
  • Meyer Lansky – along with partner Luciano, he was somewhat mentored by Rothstein during Prohibition. Both Jewish Mafia members, they were instrumental in the rise and glorification of modern American organized crime.
  • Alfred Lowenstein, Belgian financier, with whom Rothstein allegedly had a deal to supply America with European made heroin.[26]
  • Enoch "Nucky" Johnson – business partners during the bootlegging boom of the Roaring Twenties.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Katcher, Leo (1959). The Big Bankroll: The Life and Times of Arnold Rothstein. New York: Da Capo Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-0306805653.
  2. ^ Cohen, Rich (2013). Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0375705472.
  3. ^ Bruccoli 2002, p. 179: "Meyer Wolfshiem, 'the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919,' was obviously based on gambler Arnold Rothstein, whom Fitzgerald had met in unknown circumstances."
  4. ^ a b c d Pietrusza, David (2011). Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series. New York City: Basic Books. pp. 16–18. ISBN 9780465029389. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
  5. ^ "Arnold Rothstein". Biography Jewish Virtual Library. Archived from the original on July 3, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c Vanderveer, Victoria. "Arnold Rothstein and the 1919 World Series Fix". Archived from the original on September 29, 2007.
  7. ^ Pietrusza, David. "Arnold Rothstein and Baseball's 1919 Black Sox Scandal". Archived from the original on May 16, 2007. Retrieved October 17, 2012.
  8. ^ Nathan, David A. (March–April 2004). "The Big Fix: Arnold Rothstein rigged the 1919 World Series. Or did he?". Legal Affairs. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale Law School.
  9. ^ Pietrusza, pp. 147–92
  10. ^ Alexander, Michael (2003). Jazz Age Jews. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 64. ISBN 0-691-11653-9.
  11. ^ "Visit Saratoga! Racing". Tourism & Travel Guide to Saratoga Springs NY. City of Saratoga Springs. Archived from the original on December 3, 2011. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
  12. ^ David Pietrusza, Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, Basic Books, New York, 2011, p. 193.
  13. ^ Chepesiuk, Ron (May 4, 1999). The War on Drugs: An International Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 209. Retrieved May 4, 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  14. ^ Hari, Johann (2015). Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. London: Bloomsbury. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-62040-890-2.
  15. ^ "Arnold Rothstein and Drugs - Speaking for a Change". June 1, 2016. Archived from the original on May 15, 2017. Retrieved May 4, 2018.
  16. ^ "Inflation Translation". Dollar Times. Archived from the original on June 25, 2016. Retrieved April 29, 2016.
  17. ^ "Rothstein Dies; Ex-Convict Sought". The New York Times. New York City. November 7, 1928. Archived from the original on January 29, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2015. Arnold Rothstein, the gambler, died yesterday in Polyclinic Hospital without disclosing who had shot him on Sunday night in the Paris Central ...(subscription required)
  18. ^ "Gangsters Shoot Arnold Rothstein. Notorious Gambler in Serious Condition After Attack on New York Street". Associated Press. November 5, 1928. Retrieved August 16, 2012. Arnold Rothstein, millionaire gambler and race track man, was seriously wounded by a shot fired from a passing automobile tonight as he was walking up Seventh avenue near Fifty-fifth street.
  19. ^ a b "Tammany's Rothstein". Time. New York City: Meredith Corporation. December 16, 1929. Retrieved January 12, 2019.[permanent dead link]
  20. ^ a b Cook, Kevin (2011). Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet On Everything. New York City: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393340570.
  21. ^ Raab, Selwyn (2014). Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York City: Thomas Dunne Books. p. 40. ASIN B003GY0KK2.
  22. ^ McManus, James (2009). Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker. New York City: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 191, 447. ISBN 978-0374299248.
  23. ^ "National Affairs: Tammany Test". Time. July 8, 1929. Archived from the original on January 5, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
  24. ^ Bloom, Dan (September 13, 2011). "Why's a Huge Bollywood Star Playing an Ugly Stereotypical Jewish Gangster in 'Gatsby'?". Reuters.
  25. ^ "Mob Mondays - Five True Stories Behind The Godfather: Part II". AMC. June 25, 2015. Retrieved December 29, 2020.
  26. ^ Hari, Johann (March 2, 2015). "Meet America's first drug dealer: Arnold Rothstein's wild, real-life 1920s "Sopranos" story". Salon. San Francisco, California. Archived from the original on December 22, 2017. Retrieved December 20, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • Alexander, Michael (2003). Jazz Age Jews, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-11653-9
  • Cohen, Rich (1999). Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams, London: Vintage ISBN 0-09-975791-5
  • Henderson Clarke, Donald (1929). In the Reign of Rothstein, New York: The Vanguard Press. ISBN 978-1425532857
  • Katcher, Leo (1959/1994). The Big Bankroll. The Life and Times of Arnold Rothstein, New York: Da Capo Press ISBN 0-306-80565-0
  • Pietrusza, David (2003). Rothstein: The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, New York: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-7867-1250-3
  • Rothstein, Carolyn (with Donald Henderson Clarke) (1934), Now I'll Tell, New York: Vantage Press.
  • Tosches, Nick (2005). King of the Jews. The Arnold Rothstein Story, London: Hamish Hamilton ISBN 0-241-14144-3

External links[edit]