“Look out for number one”
Known as “Mr Big”, Rothstein was born in New York City and soon rebelled against his Jewish background. He used his mathematical brain to win at gambling, running his own dice games. Described as the spiritual godfather of organized crime, most of the big names — Luciano, Lansky, Costello, Torrio — genuflected before Rothstein. By 1907 he was established as a bookmaker, turning a $10,000-a-week profit. He bestrode much of New York, having friends and acquaintances from both the law-abiding community and the underworld but always put himself first. “Look out for number one” was Rothstein’s motto.
He was thought to be behind the Black Sox scandal of 1919 (search the article) but whether he directly participated remains unclear. After that scandal Rothstein announced his retirement from gambling but kept his bookmakers for wealthy betters. He also used his financial clout to bankroll bootleggers, including Jack “Legs” Diamond, Waxey Gordon, Bill Dwyer and Frank Costello. He also began dealing in drugs and indulging in stock market fraud. He fenced stolen securities and sold worthless stocks. He worked from his office in midtown Manhattan in the afternoon before retiring to various haunts in the evening where he entertained friends. Rothstein did not drink, was rarely profane and had little of the flamboyance often associated with underworld characters.
Realizing that Prohibition would end some day, he made plans to diversify his empire. By 1928 he was running low on funds. From 8-10 September he lost $220,000 in a marathon poker game at the Park Central Hotel and then insisted that the game was fixed and refused to pay his debt. On 4 November 1928 he was shot in a room in the Park Central Hotel. The chief suspects were the men he owed money to from the poker game: “Nigger Nate” Raymond, Alvin “Titanic” Thompson and George “Hump” McManus.
Room 349, Park Central Hotel, 870 Seventh Avenue at west 56th Street, New York City, USA
Sunday 4 November 1928
Rothstein was taken to the Stuyvesant Polyclinic Hospital where he died on 6 November without naming his killer. “Nigger Nate” Raymond and George “Hump” McManus were arrested for the murder. Raymond was released but McManus was indicted on 4 December 1928. He was acquitted when his lawyer pointed out a complete lack of evidence. Another suspect in the murder was Dutch Schultz (search the article) who, it was said, saw an opportunity to increase his own empire with Rothstein out of the picture. Rothstein’s empire was carved up among his subordinates.