Despite the state's efforts to corner the market, organized crime is still making a killing with numbers bets on borough streets.
This was supposed to change when the state went into the lottery business 15 years ago, but the street still has the edge.
Take the case of Anthony DeSimone, a reputed associate of the Gambino crime family.
Last Thursday, DeSimone was charged in Criminal Court with running a numbers racket after he and nine others were arrested in a series of raids on gambling joints from Highbridge to Eastchester.
Cops say they found DeSimone in a sparsely furnished Clarence Avenue apartment that functioned as a policy bank, where runners reported bets placed throughout the borough.
According to a complaint filed in the case, a search of DeSimone's home on Stadium Avenue resulted in the seizure of additional gambling records and more than $16,000 in cash.
DeSimone, 48, faces charges of possession of gambling records and promoting gambling; both counts are felonies punishable by up to three years in prison. In his 13 previous cases, he pleaded guilty to less serious misdemeanor charges.
Illegal numbers operators, mostly from organized crime families, thrive in low-income communities around the city, police said. "It's a problem citywide," said Detective Ronald Lowe of the Bronx Vice Enforcement Unit. "It's very big in Manhattan North and the Bronx."
Street betting has advantages over legalized betting. "There is a higher payoff, which is why people play it," said Thomas Leahy, chief of the district attorney's rackets bureau. "And there are no taxes taken out when you win."
Gamblers can also place bets almost anywhere. DeSimone's associates worked out of a bar and a barber shop, among other sites, police said. Illegal betting occurs "in the back of bodegas, in vacant storefronts, out of cars on the street, or right off the street corner," Lowe said.
The most popular bet is the New York Number, the last three digits of the total bet at a selected racetrack. For example, if the day's bets total $5,281,428 at Aqueduct, the winning street number is 428.
With so many more serious crimes to worry about, residents tend to be tolerant of numbers operations. They may even welcome them. "At a lot of these places, you can go in and get free coffee and food and read the paper. It's actually almost like a little neighborhood social club," Leahy said.
But Leahy said people don't see that the numbers finance other crimes that can contribute to neighborhood decay. "The effect is that the profits that are made from illegal gambling are used by organized crime to fund things like narcotics," Leahy said.
"The average citizen is happy to play illegally," Leahy added. "But if they realize that the bosses behind it are taking this money and doing other things with it, they may have second thoughts."