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The “Lottery-Crazed Ghetto”

Lawrence Bush
June 26, 2017

The New York Times reported on this date in 1896 that the New York “district east of the Bowery, which, from the preponderance of the Hebrew population has come to be known as the Ghetto,” is “lottery-crazed.” Tickets for the Louisiana Lottery and both German and Austrian government lotteries were most popular, said the article, and “Russian and Polish Jews . . . are the most eager purchasers,” with agents “haunt[ing] the tenement houses and the sweatshops and urg[ing] the credulous to invest . . .” and even offering customers installment purchase plans. “A story was told on the east side yesterday about Jodek Simon, a poor Polish tailor, who has a wife and five children living in Poland,” continued the report. “He earned an average of $5 a week through hard work. He is ignorant and superstitious, as most of his compatriots are, and was induced to purchase a lottery ticket.” The ticket won a $15,000 prize, the “only prize of considerable value ever won” on the Lower East Side, but by “a series of misrepresentations,” Simon was “induced to dispose of his ticket for $7,000 and to sign a receipt for $15,000. Then the checks were cashed at a discount of $200. Simon gave $800 to his brother-in-law,” from whom he had borrowed money for the ticket, and “he went to Poland with the rest” to fetch his family — but returned penniless, he said, after being robbed by Russian customs officials.

“Acting Captain Hogan of the Eldridge Street police station said he was aware of the sale of lottery tickets in his district, and had found great difficulty in putting a stop to it.” -- The New York Times

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.