×

Back for the holidays: Three-card monte

Three card monte
Halfdark | Getty Images

Classic con-artist routines, namely three-card monte and the shell game, apparently made a return to New York City streets for the holidays.

According to a report in the New York Post: "An army of the shady gamblers—offering both crooked card and shell games—set up between West 53rd and 56th streets, fleecing Christmas tourists like hapless rubes in an old-time movie."

Three-card monte, also called "Find the Lady," typically involves a dealer challenging passers-by to pick the queen out of three face-down playing cards "randomly" shuffled out on a cardboard box. The dealer often uses sleight of hand and misdirection to rig the game in his or her favor. In addition, the dealer has accomplices in the crowd to help with encouraging victims to play and to help misdirection.

A shell game is the same type of operation, using cups and a ball instead of playing cards. Again, sleight of hand is used to tip the game in the dealer's favor.

When a victim catches on to the plot, accomplices will "spot" police nearby and the dealer will quickly fold up the operation and depart. Hence the common use of cardboard boxes, which can be carried away or abandoned as needed, as playing tables.

As noted in the Post report, such con games were prevalent on New York City streets during the 1970s, when the city was experiencing budget and economic turbulence. An eventual crackdown by the police department, as well as economic rejuvenation of the Times Square area, led to the disappearance of the con-artist routine.