Arnold Rothstein

  • Card series: 1919 Black Sox Scandal

Arnold Rothstein (1882-1928) has been described by historian Leo Katcher as “the J.P.Morgan of the underworld; its banker and master of strategy.” Born into a wealthy New York Jewish family, Rothstein would use his vaunted intelligence to rise to the top of criminal enterprises. Nicknamed the Brain, the Fixer or the Big Bankroll, he was most often known to his underlings as A.R.; and underlings he had. Rothstein was mentor and boss to some of the most notorious gangsters of the 20th century: Meyer Lansky, Legs Diamond, Dutch Schultz, Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano, who said of A.R., “He taught me how to dress…how to use knives and forks and things like that at the dinner table, about holdin’ a door open for a girl. If Arnold had lived a little longer, he could’ve made me pretty elegant.”

Rothstein is credited with making crime a business, using his acumen to organize a network of illicit operations, the godfather before there was a Sicilian Godfather. Per Lansky, “Rothstein had the most remarkable brain. He understood business instinctively and I’m sure that if he had been a legitimate financier he would have been just as rich as he became with his gambling and the other rackets he ran.” His instincts proved very acute when his bodyguard Abe Attell brought him Chick Gandil’s plot to fix the 1919 World Series. Rothstein is said to have rejected the scheme, accurately assessing the harebrained crew of conspirators. After learning that other groups of gamblers were getting involved, some say he fronted $80,000 and then won a fortune betting on the White Sox to lose.  

Those bets presaged later huge takes at the track and poker tables that made A.R. the most famous criminal of an increasingly lawless era. The year after the Series fix, Rothstein found the greatest opening a crime lord ever had as Prohibition began. He made massive profits, but got out of the traffic early as he realized he couldn’t control the liquor business to his liking. He was all about control, once remarking that he would bet on anything but the weather because “I can’t fix the weather.”

  • As with all of the players and gamblers directly implicated in the Black Sox scandal, Rothstein escaped legal consequences. He testified that he had been asked to participate, but always denied a role
  • Slain by a card player who said A.R. had stiffed him on a $300,000 marker, Rothstein took a day to die, taking his killer’s identity to the grave. In a gesture to honor Arnold’s upright father, his funeral was officiated by New York’s most prominent Orthodox rabbi