Placing a bet

Bets were placed with numbers runners.  Some numbers runners went around knocking on apartment doors in Harlem and San Juan Hill to pick up bets from their clients; others stationed themselves on the city’s streets and avenues, accepting business from passing pedestrian traffic.  Storekeepers also worked as agents, taking bets for runners.

Runners and agents worked on commission, skimming off twenty percent from their total receipts before they passed the day’s bets and takings on to their “banker.” As well, if one of a runner’s client’s bets hit, the individual gambler was obligated to pay the runner ten percent of her or his winnings, effectively reducing the winning odds from 600 to one, to 540 to one. In the 1920s there were many runners making $20-30 a day, and it was not unusual for some to make in excess of $50. But, of course, it was the bankers who had the largest opportunity to make money. It was they who were successful, who became the Kings and Queens of Harlem.

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