Three-card Monte

On my holiday Europe trip and skating around Paris on Christmas Day, I ended up at the base of the Eiffel Tower with it a bit too crowded to hike up the stairs to the top as I had planned. I was chilling out on the Pont d’lena Bridge across from the tower watching people go by and the Gypsies (Romanians) pulling in suckers for some ‘Three-card Monte’.

It took an odd observation to see what was really going on. When the police came by, the gamblers and the outlaw junk sellers had to clear out of the area. Obviously, the dealers of the game would get lost. I noticed that about five other people would end up going in the same direction as the dealer and reemerge again. This going on for several games and dealers. Clearly, there was a connection between these people. I stuck around and watched this cycle for a while. Every now and then it gets broke up by the police then reforming. I learned a lot about crafting the hustle.

It takes a team to make money like this on the streets. While the construct is that gambling is the generator of the profit, another darker revenue generator was in place.

This is how it worked:

  • Everybody on the team, five actors (shills) and one dealer, go into the scene with cash in their pockets.
  • The dealer sets up the game of Three Card Monte there on the street.
  • The shills pretend to be eager gamblers; placing bets and creating energy to pull folks in.
  • The dealer plays the game with the shills giving the ‘cards’ a slow shuffle and allowing for some peeking of the underside by the crowd. Everyone knows where the ‘lady’ or ‘white’ card is.
  • The shill picks the wrong card and looses, intentionally.
  • The marks or ‘suckers’ get energized now. They’ve seen a few rounds where they could have won when others have lost. Greed takes over.
  • The dealer will, during this part of the process mistakenly hand money toward the mark like they are making a mistake. This lets the mark see the money. Almost, or maybe, touch it. Greed. Want.
  • The mark is finally tempted to get in on the action.
  • Of course, now the dealer moves the cards very quickly and in a way that doesn’t tell the lady’s position.
  • The mark looses…or get’s baited into a longer loss.

You might think it’s this simple. It’s not. Remember that this is a team of six people working together.

  • When the mark gets into the betting ring, there is energy and movement created by the several shills.
  • People are close and the shills are positioning themselves in exactly the right positions relative to the mark while breaking ‘personal space’. People bump one another.
  • The mark is distracted and trying to focus on the cards.
  • This is when the pickpockets do their work. They don’t get anything most of the time. They are waiting for a real score as their day in that location will be over if they get lucky.

When the game is broken up, they trade notes on if they need to move on (ie, pickpocket score) or they put betting money back into the hands of the shills for the next cycle.

It’s a real pro job. Great to watch. Growing up I’ve only seen simple Three Card Monte played on the street or at parties. Nothing on this level. What a big world.