numbers, the n.
1. (US gambling) a popular form of street gambling called Policy, which involves predicting a combination of the winning numbers (between 000 and 999) at a racetrack, esp. widespread in US black community.
|[||Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 8 Nov. 91/3: Arrest of Policy Players [...] A the time of the arrest [...] the negro was in his shop purchasing a number].|
|[||Secrets of the Great City 514: A man might play three numbers every day for a year, and not have the satisfaction of seeing all three come out at one time on the drawing.].|
|Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 15 Nov. 14/4: All the darkies dream numbers, but not with equal success.|
|Artie (1963) 170: She tell Belle ’at she heah I like gin an’ roll ’e bones an’ play numbers [DA].|
|Nigger Heaven 4: Nummer come out. Drew sixty-seven bucks. [Ibid.] 235: Everybody plays Numbers, and yet it is just a lottery and consequently against the law.|
|Sucker’s Progress 88: For more than a hundred years Policy was the favorite game of the masses, and is still the most widespread method of gambling in the United States, although it is better known nowadays as Numbers.|
|Tucker’s People (1944) 10: It was a popular game in Harlem, where it was called ‘the numbers’.|
|On the Waterfront (1964) 59: We got the numbers and the horses going, and some other stuff.|
|Rage in Harlem (1969) 21: He put ninety dollars on numbers in the night house.|
|Nam (1982) 206: I was out on the street running numbers, selling some smoke, some coke. I had to survive.|
|Goodfellas [film script] 23: It was an even bigger money-maker than numbers.|
|Midnight Lightning 97: My uncle was a freakin’ gangster who worked for Nicky Barnes’s numbers-running and dope operation in Harlem.|
|Them (2008) 37: He used variations of [...] 1023, for good luck when he played the numbers.|
|Alphaville (2011) 359: Running numbers and taking bets (what the old-timers called ‘policy’).|
2. attrib. use of sense 1.
|Pinktoes (1989) 148: Bessie Shirley told the Theresa Hotel bellhop to tell the numbers writer [...] she figured this might be the day to get down on 409.|
|Tragic Magic 75: We used to stick up numbers joints [...] that’s where the money was.|
|At End of Day (2001) 48: Didn’t have to keep the numbers bankroll in the shop anymore — someone hit the number, Brian’s runner brought the payoff around.|
|Snitch Jacket 219: Numbers guys, shylocks, professional arm-breakers.|
|What It Was 127: Red Jones [who] showed his heater, and took off numbers kingpin Sylvester Ward.(con. 1972)|
one who runs a numbers lottery.
|Black Manhattan 217: On February 2, 1929 a play was put on at the Appollo Theatre [...] called Harlem and it was a portrayal of life in a Harlem railroad flat, of rent parties, of the ‘sweetback,’ of the ‘hot stuff man,’ of the ‘number king’ and the number racket.|
|(con. late 1920s) Little Ham Act I: You done got yourself all tied up with that numbers baron.|
|Pittsburgh Courier (PA) 16 Sept. 11/1: Lulu Lewis [...] is playing the town with that young ‘number’ banker .|
|‘Kitty Barrett’ in Life (1976) 53: All the pimps and numbers men were digging the scene.et al.|
|Crazy Kill 65: He and Dulcy, along with other well-heeled Harlem pimps, madams and numbers bankers, lived on the sixth floor of the flashy [...] apartment house.|
|‘Konky Mohair’ in Life (1976) 105: And a big numbers banker, name of Dirty-Money Tanker, / Showed with a whole year’s play.et al.|
|Algiers Motel Incident 94: Clean-up basically deals with blind pigs and prostitutes and numbers men.|
the office where the numbers ‘racket’ is run.
|Inner City Hoodlum 41: Duke silently calculated...what numbers house had been involved.|
laying odds and betting on numbers.
|Really the Blues 182: The profits they raked in from the big nightclubs and speakeasies and from the numbers racket.|
|Pimp 39: He was a ‘sharpy’ from a number-racket family in New York.|
|Choirboys (1976) 53: The numbers racket [...] had been a dismal failure in western America.|
|Hip-Hop Connection Dec. 4: Johnson (Fishburne) returns to...find that Dutch Schultz (Roth) is muscling in on his lucrative numbers racket.|
one who takes the money from individual bettors and who delivers any payouts.
|in Dundes Mother Wit (1973) 63/1: As a numbers runner he is a bringer of manna and a worker of miracles .|
|Rivethead (1992) 162: Several of us had money ridin’ with Frankie, our in-plant numbers runner.|
1. to make a successful bet on the numbers game.
|(con. 1940s) Autobiog. (1968) 144: I nearly quit because I had hit the numbers for ten cents.|
|Down These Mean Streets (1970) 152: Poppa ony called us kids ‘honey’ when he was feeling something big, like hitting the numbers or getting a raise.|
|Wiseguy (2001) 64: She also knew he had hit the number for a couple of thousand dollars.|
2. to be successful, in a non-gambling context.
|‘Catch On’ [lyrics] I can shake my shimmy and do the rhumba, / But I can’t hit the number!|
|Howard Street 68: Boy, you sure hit the number tonight, baby.|
|House of Slammers 43: Lordy! [...] Chile, that sho-nuff hit the number!|