Birth: January 17, 1882 – Manhattan, New York
Death: November 5, 1928 – Manhattan, New York
Arnold “The big bankroll” Rothstein was one of New Yorks biggest racketeers during the 1910’s – 1920’s and was also a mentor to future ganglords such as Meyer Lansky and Dutch Schultz. Rothstein became famous after he reputidly fixed the 1919 Baseball World Series.
Early life and successes
Rothstein was born in New York City to Jewish parents in 1882. His father, Abraham Rothstein, was a respected businessman. Arnold wasn’t great in school, except at mathematics. He dropped out aged 16 and went to work at a clothing factory. Unlike his brother, who was studying to become a rabbi, Arnold became attracted to illegal activities. He was oftenly seen at streetbettings and gamblings in the early 1900’s, which brought him in contact with “Big Tim” Sullivan, the boss of Tammany Hall. During his early profession as a gambler he also met fellow Jewish racketeer Herman Rosenthal. Rosenthal got himself in trouble with corrupt police chief Charles Becker and owed him allot of money. He went to see Rothstein to lend some money, but he refused. Rosenthal was eventually murdered in 1912 by Louis Rosenberg and other thugs, in order of Becker. Both Rosenberg and Becker were arrested afterwards and after a highly publiced trial were sentenced to death.
In 1909 Rothstein married an actress named Carolyn Greene. When he decided to make gambling his profession, he did everything to reach his goals. At one point Rothstein pawned all the jewelry of his wife to gamble at the track. At the end of the race season Rothstein had won about $12,000 and bought her jewelry back with ease. By 1910 Arnold had moved to the Tenderloin section of Manhattan where he established an important gambling casino. He also invested in a horse racing track at Havre de Grace, Maryland, where it was widely speculated that he “fixed” many of the races that he won. By 1914 Rothstein had become a successfull bookmaker. 2 years later he opened a new casino in Long Island, but had to close it down again in 1919. However, during it’s 3 years of existance Rothstein had managed to make massive profits out of it. His attorney, William Fallon, once memorably described him: “Arnold Rothstein is a man who waits in doorways.. a mouse, waiting in the doorway for his cheese.”
1919 World Series
In 1919 Rothstein’s agents allegedly paid members of the Chicago White Sox to lose the World Series, enabling him to make a significant amount of money by betting against Chicago. After the game many believed the Sox intended to lose and an investigation followed. Rothstein was summoned to Chicago to testify before the Grand Jury where he stated that he was just an innocent businessman who’s reputation was now dragged through the mud. No evidence could indeed verify his connection to the affair and he was never convicted for the crime. During his testimony he said: “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 underway.”
The Grand Jury believed him, but the truth was a lot more complicated. One version has Rothstein turning down the proposal relayed by Attel, but in fact this had been the second fix he’d refused. A gambler called Joseph “Sport” Sullivan had earlier approached him with a simular idea. Now he reasoned he could afford to reconsider that first offer. The field was becoming so crowded with “wanne be” fixers, he could risk getting involved and still cover his tracks. As he described it to Sullivan “If a girl goes to bed with nine guys, who’s going to believe her when she says the tenth one’s the father?”. Another version has him working with both ends of the fix, both with Sullivan and Attell. In 1921 Rothstein announced that he was done with gambling, but most likely this was an effort to regain his anonymity and restore his reputation.
A new era, Prohibition
Prohibition enabled Rothstein to get involved in another highly profitable business, bootlegging. Unlike many other bootleggers he allready had allot of money which he could easily invest in illegal breweries and speakeasy’s. Now he had also become one of New Yorks biggest bootleggers. During this period he attracted young and ambitious men such as Meyer Lansky, Jack “Legs” Diamond, Lucky Luciano and Dutch Schultz. Rothstein gave them jobs and teached them to use their heads instead of violence. A whole other road to follow compared to other big players that time such as Giuseppe Masseria, who had gained control over Italian Organized Crime in New York using force.
Rothsteins various nicknames ranged from “Mr. Big”, “The Fixer”, “The Man Uptown”, “The Big Bankroll” and “The Brain”. He would often mediate in differences between all sorts of criminal groups but also reputedly charged a hefty fee for his services. His headquarters were based at Lindy’s Restaurant in Broadway and 49th Street, where he would stand on the corner surrounded by his bodyguards and do business on the street.
In September 1928 Rothstein participated in a poker tournament hosted by George “Hump” McManus. Others to play allong were Nate Raymond from California, “Titanic” Thompson from Arkanses and New Yorkers Joe Bernstein, Meyer Boston and Martin Bowe. As the day moved on Rothstein started to lose. In the end he owed Thompson $30.000, Bernstein $73.000 and Raymond $219.000. However, he blamed them for cheating and refused to pay anyone. McManus reassured his guests that Rothstein was going to pay, but that he just needed time to cool off. As weeks passed by however no one had heard from him. McManus went to see Rothstein several times and demanded him to pay up, but he kept refusing.
On November 4 McManus had spend several hours at a bar and being drunk went to see Rothstein again at the Park Central Hotel. Frustrated as he was and with his friends on his back McManus demanded another sitdown with Rothstein. He agreed and went to meet McManus at Park Central but when going there he was suddenly shot down. Paramedics rushed to Polyclinic Hospital where he went into a coma. He did regain consciousness long enough though for telling the police he didn’t knew who had shot him. Rothstein eventually died on the 6th of November. In the following weeks McManus went into hiding, fearing for reprisals, but eventually turned himself in to the police.
Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and other Rothstein associates inherited his various enterprises after his death. His estate was however declared bankrupt ten years after his death by his only surviving brother. Some say that his death led to an immediate rise in power of Fiorello La Guardia, who became the mayor of New York in 1934. Several decades later Rothstein’s story was depicted in a couple of movies such as “The Great Gatsby”(1974) and “King of the Roaring 20’s”(1961).