Back in the day, before drug dealing and scamming were glamorous, the “policy” racket was one of the top hustles for Black underworld figures. The numbers game was the predecessor of today’s lottery. Veteran actors Larenz Tate and Laurence Fishburne have announced that they will be producing a podcast, devoted to numbers runners in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, called Policy Kings.
Policy Kings will be a collaboration between Tate’s TateMen Entertainment and Fisburne’s Cinema Gypsy Productions. The podcast will be “a 10-episode audio drama that follows Chicago’s “policy” numbers games of the 1940s and the top players,” according to Vibe.
Bronzeville was a self-sustaining Black neighborhood in 1940s Chicago. The “policy kings” were venture capitalists of sorts for the Black community in those days. “Policy kings were the biggest and about the only philanthropists in the community,” said author and policy racket scholar Nathan Thompson. “They were the bank that aspiring African-American businessmen and women could go to when they couldn’t go downtown. They were a ready source of venture capital.” The Chicago Sun-Times reported:
During the good times, policy kings were the black community’s bank and employer. “The economy of the black community of Chicago in the earlier part of the 20th century was so circumscribed by segregation and economic discrimination that the policy industry really generated a lot of the ready cash that flowed around in Bronzeville,” said Michael Flug, senior archivist for the Harsh Collection at Woodson. In turn, the policy kings put a lot of their earnings into legitimate enterprises, such as funding writers, car dealerships and churches.
According to the same article, the game worked as follows:
*Players–including doctors, priests and grandmothers–would give their numbers to a policy writer, who would jot them down in his book.
*A three-numbered bet–the most popular–was called a “gig.” A two-numbered bet was a “saddle.”
*Twenty-four numbered balls were drawn from a small cylinder drum–the “wheel,” which held 78 numbered balls.
*Drawings were held as often as four times a day. But, if the heat from the police was on, there might only be one drawing.
When it came to light that the “policy wheel” system of drawing numbers was oftentimes fixed, bookies started using the last three numbers of the US Treasury’s balance, which was published daily. When the Treasury started rounding off its published balances, bookies moved to using the last dollar digit of the daily total handle of the Win, Place and Show bets at a local race track, read from top to bottom. For example:
- Win $1004.25
- Place $583.56
- Show $27.61
The daily number that day would be 437.
The rule of the “policy kings” came to an end when La Cosa Nostra muscled in on the racket. In Chicago, Italian mob enforcer Sam Giancana took over, after being schooled to the game by policy king, Eddie Jones, who ran an $180,000 per week racket with his brothers.
The Policy Kings podcast is slated for release this fall.