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The Boss

By David Dayton McKean
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

The Mayor himself is very fond of betting on the horses, band he sees no reason why any other citizen should not bet too, if he wishes. Since few are able, like the Mayor, to go to the Florida or California race tracks and bet in person, the pool halls of Jersey City furnish a substitute. The system has een freely discussed, even in the Hudson County news- papers, for many years. The Case Committee reported on it:

The Committee investigated race-track gambling condi- tions in Jersey City, and found that Jersey City occupies an important place in that business. The evidence disclosed the existence of several pool rooms with elaborate telephonic equipment. One pool room conducted by Samuel A. Mateer is the center of a system by which information is relayed to various other points in Jersey City and Hoboken. Mateer left New Jersey and has remained outside the jurisdiction of the Com- mittee during the progress of this investigation. Other places were found to be connected by wire with various cities through- out the country, in the neighborhood of important race tracks. The Committee was not interested in race-track gambling per se, which is purely a police problem. The Committee en- deavored to ascertain whether this system is politically pro- tected, and if so, to what extent and by what means it is ar- ranged. Beyond the inference that pool rooms with elaborate telephonic connections with near-by points and distant cities cannot carry on extensive business without the acquiescence or connivance of the police authorities, the investigation of the Committee on this point was fruitless. (Report, Senate Journal (1929), p. 1142.)
Writing in his syndicated column, Westbrook Pegler charged in 1938 that Jersey City was the headquarters of the horse-race gambling of the country:
Jersey City under the dictatorship is the home of the greatest gambling industry in the United States and perhaps the greatest, by volume, in the world – the Horse Bourse, in which enormous quantities of money are wagered on the races run at all the tracks in this country and Canada. The business is conducted over a system of wires leading to the tracks and to other horse rooms in many cities which stand in the same relation to Jersey City as minor exchanges and brokers' offices around the country stand to the New York Stock Exchange.

Jersey City is the Wall Street of the horse-gambling business, with many offices in daily operation, and the pressure of money from the Bourse is able to make and control prices almost instantaneously at horse parks thousands of miles away.

For example, if a Jersey City operator finds himself unable to lay off with other operators elsewhere a bet which he does not want to handle alone, he wires the track at which the race is being run, just before post time, dumps a load of money into the mutuel machines through an agent on the grounds, and hammers down the odds so that his loss, if he should lose the bet, will be reduced to convenient size.

The man who is reputed to be the greatest single operator on the Jersey City Exchange was once a waiter in New York but is now regarded as a millionaire. However, the business is not a monopoly, and many New York bookmakers' clerks find employment on the Horse Bourse during the months when the steeds are not running on the New York tracks. It is an illegal business, but clean by comparison with prostitution.

The ramifications of the system are vast and mysterious, but its existence has been a matter of common knowledge in the sport business for years, and there is no doubting that the volume is such as to beggar the daily handle of such tracks as Hialeah, Narragansett, and Santa Anita.

Inasmuch as it is a known fact, acknowledged by the horse business, that notorious racketeers with criminal records and underworld connections are permitted to operate horse tracks, it is not unthinkable that some of the brokers holding seats on the Jersey City exchange may also be silent partners in some of the tracks. In that case they would possess a strong advantage over the customers who place bets with them.

In years past both St. Paul and Toledo were notorious havens for criminals who were permitted to rest and spend their money in those cities under police protection on condition that they refrain from professional operations. Jersey City offers similar hospitality to horse brokers who come properly sponsored, although, of course, there is no requirement that they cease operations. Driven out of other cities or harassed by unregulated executions and raids, they settle down in Jersey City and do business in security and dignity, with profit to themselves and to those who guarantee their freedom from molestation.

The immensity of this phase of Jersey City's commercial life is so well known to politicians and persons in the gambling business that it seems frivolous to speculate on other sources from which some Jersey statesmen derive income obviously much in excess of their known pay.

The Horse Bourse is a protected racket handling millions of dollars, and it would not exist for an hour if the local administration were not interested in its preservation. In addition to the more obvious temptation of a percentage or a flat license fee, there is also the interesting business chance provided by the landlord who rents office space to a member of the Bourse at a rate roughly comparable to that charged in other cities for premises used as brothels. The landlord can afford to be liberal

Jersey City is rather proud of her reputation for cleanliness to the political leaders. as regards commercialized vice. Her leaders are of the type who have an honest detestation for any man who would make a dollar off a woman, but even if they were less fastidious, the vice racket would be hardly worth the bother with the horse racket so well organized and so lucrative.

An organization with the private little Wall Street grinding away in its behalf under effective regulation and iron discipline can well afford to reject with pious scorn any part of the money which a policeman might bring from the cold fingers of a rainsoaked street walker in the mouth of an alley at night.

Jersey City has the richest, the most regular, and the least troublesome racket of all.

Dan Parker, in a column in the New York Daily Mirror in January, 1940, alleged that after the collapse of the Moses Annenberg horse-race information syndicate with Annenberg's indictment for income-tax evasion in Chicago, his business was reorganized with the eastern headquarters in Hudson County. Operating as it does illegally, the facts about horse-race gambling become public only piecemeal. It is possible for an enterprising inquirer to obtain lists of the Hudson County establishments, but these change from week to week.

The telephone and telegraph companies, just as much as the police, must connive at the use of their services by gamblers. In New Jersey they do so at the risk of the loss of their franchises, for an act of 1938 sets this penalty for any corporation which aids or abets gambling or bookmaking. The Jersey Journal, February 20 and 23, 1940, carried news stories that the Western Union Telegraph Company and the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company were planning to discontinue the use of their services by various Annenberg agencies in Hudson County. A business that has been flourishing for a score of years, however, is not likely to end overnight. As long as it receives the indispensable police protection it will find some means to carry on. That the protection is indispensable was clearly shown in 1939 when, during the campaign to amend the state constitution to permit pari-mutuel betting, all the gambling houses were closed by official orders.

Those citizens of Jersey City who cannot afford two dollars to bet on horse races, and who do not desire to gamble in church or other Bingo games, may still wager their dimes and quarters in the `numbers' or `policy' game. This enterprise is another that the police do not see; indeed, it is one of Jersey City's open secrets that the protection comes right from the top of the Department of Public Safety. In 1932, when the game was in other hands, Mayor Hague made public a letter to the judges of the Courts of Common Pleas of Hudson County in which he urged stiffer punishments for convictions in this lottery; he also urged the police to `grab everybody in the number racket,' pointing out that the proprietors were taking in twenty-five thousand dollars a day in Jersey City. Everybody promised co-operation, but nothing was done – at least in public.


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