Green’s Dictionary of Slang

three-card monte n.

also three-card mollie, three-card molly
[Sp. monte, a 19C game of chance, played with 45 cards. The modern game is played only by confidence tricksters. There is no gambling and unless the trickster desires otherwise – to entice a new victim – the house invariably wins; however, note Asbury Sucker’s Progress (1938): ‘Three-Card Monte was a Mexican invention, and a misnomer if ever there was one, for it had no more actual relationship to Monte than to Old Maid.’]

1. (orig. US) the three-card trick.

implied in three-card (monte) man
[US]‘Artemus Ward’ Artemus Ward, His Book 173: A party of bald heded cullered men who was playing 3 card monty on the stoop of the Red Eagle tavern.
[US]J.H. Beadle Undeveloped West 140: I had the pleasure (?) of seeing at least a score of ‘smart Alecks’ relieved of their surplus cash by betting on the ‘strap galoe,’ ‘patent lock,’ ‘ten-die game,’ ‘three-card monte’ and other beautiful uncertainties.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 7 Mar. 13/2: Oh, we can only put up three-card monte and the themble in tents, and what with the friendly Harabs staken’ with coin what a bloke’s not up to there’s not much in it.
[US]G. Devol Forty Years a Gambler 295: When a sucker sees [...] a little spot on a card in three-card monte.
[US]W. Irwin Confessions of a Con Man 13: I dallied with all the games – phony poker, three-card monte, gold bricks, [...] and a dozen others.
R.T. Morris Microbes and Men 17: Nature chose to make the game a game of three card monte, leading people astray when they are most sure they are right.
C.M. Sheridan Life of a Lumberman 28: These crooks explained the game of three card monte to us and, of course, it looked like a sure thing. It was. It always is. But not for the sucker.
[US]H. Asbury Sucker’s Progress 42: A great many other games of chance, some of them downright swindles from start to finish, have enjoyed more or less lengthy periods of popularity in various sections of the United States [...]: Monte, Keno, Three-Card Monte.
[US]F. Brown Dead Ringer 21: Your pennypitch games that slide along the borderline of gambling would be shell games and three-card montes.
[US]C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 325: Three-card monte, A gambling-game in which three cards, usually one face card and two numbered cards, are shuffled and laid face down, the bettor then attempting to win by guessing which one is the face card.
[US]C. Brown Manchild in the Promised Land (1969) 170: He showed me the trick in three-card mollie.
[US](con. 1950s) D. Goines Whoreson 36: Two slick old Negroes playing three card molly with four white men.
[US]N. Algren ‘The Last Carousel’ (from Playboy) in Texas Stories (1995) 140: They’d sheared the rubes and flapped the jays, flimflammed them at the jam auctions and suckered them at three-card monte.
[US]Duke Bootee ‘Broadway’ 🎵 Running three-card monte over by the station.
[US]S. Morgan Homeboy 26: Now he was reduced to hustling streetcorner threecard monte.
[US]‘Jack Tunney’ Cutman [ebook] I could read trouble the way a con-man [...] hustling three-card Monte [...] could read a mark.

2. attrib. use of sense 1.

W.H. Maher On the Road to Riches 325: Three-Card Monte Trick. The three-card monte game is the best one to get the greenhorn’s money.
[US]S. Walker City Editor 51: The big town [...] is duck soup for medicine men and three-card monte adepts.
[US]D. Maurer Big Con 2: The three-card monte grifter takes a few dollars from a willing farmer here and there.
[US]W. Burroughs Naked Lunch (1968) 218: With gambler fingers he shifts the photos in Three Card Monte Passes.
[US]P. Beatty Tuff 152: The three-card monte con they’d all come to Brooklyn to learn.

In compounds

three-card charlie (n.)

one who conducts the game.

[US]Z.N. Hurston Mules and Men (1995) 173: De Jack is Three Card Charlie who played me for a goat.
three-card (monte) man (n.) (also three-card bloke, three-card cove)

one who conducts the game.

T. Parker in Weiss Life Theodore Parker II 134: Three-card-monte men, and gambling-house keepers [DA].
[UK]Man about Town 6 Nov. 69/1: The three-card man and the Welsher, The very fast man and the slow.
[UK]Sportsman (London) 9 Mar. 2/1: When the biter gets bitten, nobody objects. When a so-called greenhorn gets taken in by a three-card man, who cares?
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 15 Oct. 6/1: A three-card monte man plied his illegitimate craft near the steamboat landing at Rockaway.
[UK]H. Smart Post to Finish I 7: Three-card men hoarsely vociferating that you do not name the Queen of Clubs for ‘a croon.’.
[Aus]A.A. MacInnes Straight as a Line 133: [W]hat a day the men who played games of chance on the racecourse were sure to have! —the ‘three card’ men; ‘under and over’ dice manipulators; ‘Who'll have the lucky number seven?’ [...] and a host of others.
[Aus]W.A. Sun. Times (Perth) 26 May 1/1: Being taken for a ‘three card’ man last week has not abashed ‘Mine Uncle’ in the least.
[Aus]‘Dads Wayback’ in Sun. Times (Sydney) 14 June 1/6: ‘Sir John wouldn't score as a three-card cove; an’ I’m sartin sure he couldn’t keep hisself warm at ther thimble an’ pea game’.
[US]C.E. Mulford Bar-20 xxiii: The three-card-monte men on the street corners enriched themselves at the cost of venturesome know-it-alls.
[Aus]Truth (Brisbane) 2 Aug. 9/7: Awl the clever devvil burglars, / Three card blokes, and trickkey men.
[US]G. Bronson-Howard Enemy to Society 119: Through the various stages of piano-player, floor manager of dance halls, three-card-monte man.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 14 Nov. 2/4: In one business block in Melbourne there are four ‘dummy’ auctioneers. They all sell the same class of shoddy and have the same ‘gee-ers’. During the holiday week this class of rascal does roaring business. These auction rooms are the spieler’s haven of rest. The runners-up or ‘gee-ers’ are all well-known confidence and three-card men. [...] In the bogus auction rooms they act the parts of jewellers and dealers, and keep a look out for mugs who are fleeced for the auctioneer, and later on skinned for the crook’s own benefit, if their hides are worth the trouble.
[US]C. Rawson Headless Lady (1987) 34: I want you to meet the dean of the broad tossers, the best three-card-monte man in the business.