Gambling and Thugs

In the office of the Court of Special Sessions of the City in New York, there were approximately 20,000 arrests of gamblers in this state, annually

The atmosphere in the Gambler’s Court is permeated by the odor of corruption that inevitably envelops police enforcement of gambling laws.

The defendants were represented by a small coterie of lawyers. Racket lawyers are endemic to a Gambler’s Court.

Many suspect that they are mouthpieces for gambling syndicates. Others suggest that they are mere hirelings for the bondsman, who is the general factotum guiding the gambler through the maze of judicial procedures.

It is a challenge for the judge to escape being entwined in the web of these nefarious influences and feeling a certain futility regarding the proceeding.

That first day was always a revelation for gamblers.

Bookmakers and policy collectors went to jail for terms of up to six months with no alternative of a fine – this in a court where gamblers with ten or fifteen prior convictions traditionally have been find and the penalty paid by a member of the syndicate standing by.

For the six succeeding months, judges continue to deal sternly with gamblers appearing in the court. Repeaters were jailed as standard practice. More substantial jail terms were meted out than had been imposed in the previous years.

In the interim, the legislative vested exclusive jurisdiction of gambling cases in the Magistrates’ courts, effective September first. The judges of the Magistrates’ Courts promptly adopted the new policy, and are rather uniformly imposing jail sentences on gamblers with prior convictions.

Judicial concern has greatly reduced the number of jacket lawyers. The activities of the bondsmen are being subjected to a continuing scrutiny. The judiciary seeks to escape the labyrinth of corruption.

On April 7, 1960, Robert Beaman, a thirty-six year old Harlem policy collector, was sentenced to $100 fine or ten days in jail; he paid the fine. His relatively light sentence was based on a police record, known as a ‘yellow sheet,’ showing that he was a first offender.

Shortly after the sentence had been imposed, a sharp-eyed stenographer stated that he had reason to believe that Beaman had a previous record.

A re-check on the gambler’s yellow sheet showed fifteen prior convictions. It developed that a half-dozen other gamblers had similarly avoided the harshness of the new policy.

There are unconfirmed reports that the gamblers were paying between $2500 and $3500 to have their police records altered.

The record fixing reflects the acute desperation felt by gamblers and their hirelings as they sense the end of an era of turnstile justice and routine fines.

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