Green’s Dictionary of Slang

policy n.

[SE policy certificate; the original game may date to the lotteries of early 18C UK, although it is now US and esp. widespread in the black community; although policy is usu. synon. with numbers, the n., Carlson, Argot of Number Gambling (1947), defines it: ‘A number game in which players wager on numbers within a range of 1–78. Winning wagers are determined by a drawing. Capsules or balls numbered from 1 to 78 are placed in a container. From these twelve, twenty-four, or thirty-six numbers are drawn, depending on the type of house.’; for details and history see Asbury, Sucker’s Progress (1938), pp.88–106]

(US) a popular form of street gambling that involves predicting a combination of the winning numbers at a racetrack; thus policy runner n., one who acts as a go-between between bettors and the policy ‘banker’; policy king n., one who controlled a network of policy shops.

Baltimore Amer. 26 Aug. 3/2: To Adventurers and the Public, Policy Certificates, in the greatest variety, Whole And Shares, Constantly For Sale [DA].
[US]Morning Courier and N.-Y. Enquirer 12 May 2/4: Mrs. Fonnell it appeared made a hit of $100 on her policy, which Scriber as is customary with the likes of him, refused to ‘fork over.’.
[US]Flash (NY) 3 July n.p.: This individual, we believe, is the most notorious of the [illeg.] of swindlers called Policy Dealers, that prey on the poor and ignorant of the community .
[US]Brooklyn Eagle 20 Nov. n.p.: An old broken down gambler, formerly of Cincinnati, known as Zeolus Graves, once in the policy business, but more recently as a receiver of stolen goods.
[Scot]Dundee, Perth & Cupar Advertiser 23 June 2/1: [from N.Y. Tribune] Thousands of lottery dealers, policy backers, pickpockets, hall thieves, burglars, wharf-rats, area sneaks, pimps and vampyres, practice their knaveries openly.
[US]‘Q.K. Philander Doesticks’ Witches of N.Y. 54: The propinquity of the ‘lottery agency’ and the ‘policy-shop,’ just round the corner.
J.F. Poole Double-Quick Comic Songster 38: He used to play in the policy, and often made a hit, For he got the lucky numbers from a moke in Thomas Street [DA].
[US]‘Johnny Cross’ ‘The Charcoal Man’ in Orig. Pontoon Songster 53: But he upset Mary Jane, wagon and all, bang into a policy shop.
[US]C. White Magic Penny in Darkey Drama 5 Act I: I’ve lost every cent I had in the policy.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 5 Nov. 7/3: Many regard policy as the negroes’ game exclusively, but that is a mistake.
[US]J.J. Flinn Hist. Chicago Police 392: He was detailed to break up the policy shops which had been running wide open for a number of years.
[US]Century Dict. 4593/2: Policy slip [...] the ticket given on a stake of money at a policy-shop.
[US]J.A. Riis How the Other Half Lives 155: The game of policy is a kind of unlawful penny lottery specially adapted to his [i.e. a Black man] means, but patronized extensively by poor white players as well. [...] Between the fortune-teller and the policy shop, closely allied frauds always, the wages of many a hard day’s work are wasted.
[US]A.H. Lewis Boss 326: The policy shops stretch forth their sordid palms for the pennies of the very poor.
[US]F. Hutchison Philosophy of Johnny the Gent 73: [T]here ain’t no crap-shootin’, policy-playin’, pigeon-brained, pipe-fiend smoke in the bad lands that’s got a thing in the world on that guy when it comes to bein’ superstitious!
O.R. Cohen ‘Pool and Genuwine’ in Polished Ebony 49: Jackson Ramsay, the portly white man who ran the policy game.
[US]O.O. McIntyre New York Day by Day 12 Oct. [synd. col.] Al Adams, the policy king, had the reputation of never double-crossing a friend.
[US]H. Asbury Gangs of N.Y. 88: A great number of the policy and raffling houses, were reputed to be owned or backed by Reuben Parsons, unquestionably the gambling monarch of his time.
[US]C. Himes ‘Her Whole Existence’ in Coll. Stories (1990) 92: He is the ‘king of the policy rackets’.
D. Burley in Chicago Defender 31 Oct. 26: He just glimpsed the eastern scribe darting out the door with the wife of a well known policy baron.
[US]H. Asbury Sucker’s Progress 98: It was [in New York] that the most powerful of the so-called Policy kings arose who dominated the game [...] and drew tribute from a wide area. [...] Frink [...] owned or controlled from 300 to 350 policy shops.
[US]C. Himes ‘All God’s Chillun Got Pride’ in Coll. Stories (1990) 26: He even tried writing policy, but the players didn’t like him.
[US](con. early 1930s) C. McKay Harlem Glory (1990) 9: Millinda was the consort of Ned Rose, the late Policy King.
[US]I. Shulman Cry Tough! 103: Fixers, policy operators, important pimps and procureres [...] they too had to obey.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 161/2: Policy bank. The central office of a syndicate operating a policy-numbers lottery. [...] Policy game, the. The policy-numbers lottery, usually based on pari-mutuel aggregate race track wagers for the day.
[US]Lait & Mortimer USA Confidential 110: South Main Street, where you can buy marijuana or policy slips without trouble.
[US]F. Paley Rumble on the Docks (1955) 174: A small-time gambler and policy runner.
[US]J. Scarne Complete Guide to Gambling 688: Policy King – a boss or big shot in the policy game.
[US]T. Berger Reinhart in Love (1963) 123: Big Ruthie [...] had a nice policy trade but the bulls closed her up.
[US] in S. Harris Hellhole 126: Fences and thieves and small-time policy runners.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 63: Did you know that peckerwood of Pepper’s is the bankroll behind the biggest policy wheel in town?
[US]E. Tidyman Shaft 46: He took control of the policy racket. [Ibid.]190: I need an army, not a bunch of policy runners.
[US]H. Gould Fort Apache, The Bronx 134: So we let a policy guy slide to get a murderer, is that a bad deal?
[US]C. Stroud Close Pursuit (1988) 150: Integrity officer sees you even talking to a policy runner or a bookie [...] you’re bagged for ‘seen-in-corruption-prone-location-with-known-perpetrators.’.
[US]Codella and Bennett Alphaville (2011) 359: Running numbers and taking bets (what the old-timers called ‘policy’).