“Friday Night Bingo” is the sixth in a series of 1990 skits from “My Corner of Boston” performed at the North End Union, produced by resident Rosaria DiFinzio. See all the scenes here.
Without a doubt, the biggest and most profitable industry in the North End when I was a child was gambling. It blended into the background to such an extent that you didn’t even notice, but it was an integral part of everyday life and was as common as confetti at weddings.
Many North End families, my own included, made a substantial portion of their income from gambling and I knew scores of guys who bought homes in the suburbs and educated their kids on money made from gambling.
During Prohibition, the North End was the center of the illegal liquor business and when that ended in the mid 1930’s another source of income was needed. The numbers racket filled the bill. This was a lottery based picking numbers in the correct sequence. Every day four numbers were obtained from horse racing results at one of the big race tracks Aqueduct in the summer or Hieleah in the winter. The results would be printed in the evening Record American and would be based on the fourth horse in the first four races. For example if the race results for the first race were, 4-9-7-3, the three would be the first number, the “lead”.
Everyone played the numbers game including priests and cops. Bookies went crazy with all the old ladies who wanted to play twenty numbers for five cents each which involved a lot of book keeping for very little return.
Odds varied if you played one (the lead), two (box cars), three or all four numbers. A lot of guys went broke playing the lead and doubling up every day their number wasn’t picked. The loan sharks in the Florentine were always there to help them out. There were also gambling parlors, Bee-Gee’s on Prince Street, Woppo’s in the Cafe Vittoria, Fiore’s Barbu game on Garden Court Street, Chigelo’s on Endicott Street and many others. The guys who ran the games would cut the pot, take a small percentage of each pot in return for keeping the players supplied with booze and cold cuts and paying off the cops. When he got out of the Army in 1945, my father helped his best friend Minnie run a floating craps game in the South End.
There were also gambling parlors, Bee-Gee’s on Prince Street, Woppo’s in the Cafe Vittoria, Fiore’s Barbu game on Garden Court Street, Chigelo’s on Endicott Street and many others. The guys who ran the games would cut the pot, take a small percentage of each pot in return for keeping the players supplied with booze and cold cuts and paying off the cops. When he got out of the Army in 1945, my father helped his best friend Minnie run a floating craps game in the South End.
These gambling parlors were patronized exclusively by men, I never saw a woman in one, and if one showed up she wasn’t there to gamble. There was always the risk the game would be held up by some wise guy trying to make a quick score. If you were held up what could you do, call the cops?
Women wanted to gamble as well so Bingo games became popular. They were safe because they were often held in church halls and were social events where the ladies could schmooze with their friends.
In this skit, Rosaria portrays a clueless but very lucky lady who breaks the bank much to the chagrin of the other players.
If you missed the previous sketches from Rosaria’s My Corner of Boston, see all the scenes here.
Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.” Read more of Nick’s columns.