Razzle Dazzle

Sep 18, 2015
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GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Circus, Circus" episode. For our next story, we've got a window on the black sheep of the circus family, the bad boys of the circus experience. And I'd advise you to please keep a close eye on your purse at all times. Jamie DeWolf, please show these nice people the next story.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAMIE DEWOLF, BYLINE: In the carnival world, there's clowns. There's geeks. And then there's the grifters. This here is Doc.

DOC: Doc, my nickname is Doc, traveled the carnival business for about two-thirds of my life.

DEWOLF: Doc is what some would call a grifter, a small time hustler. In the old days, Doc ran games that were designed for only one thing, to take your money. These are the carnivores of the carnival, and they're all hungry for their big score.

DOC: You know, everybody talks about the big scores. Most of the big scores really didn't happen on carnival lots. They happened on the little side street fairs and festivals or things like that.

DEWOLF: And when the carnival season ends, some grifters want to get in a little off-season hustle. So that's when you take your games to the roadside.

DOC: Roadsiding is a trailer that has awnings and a door on it. And usually you get a small, cheap one when you roadside. You don't want to take an expensive one in case you have to leave it (laughter).

DEWOLF: So you find an unsavory neighborhood where people got cash to burn, the kind of cash that nobody wants to talk about where it came from.

DOC: Usually when you roadside, you don't have police protection unless you have an in and you're paying one. So you're working pretty much at your wits end. We pay a gas station. We'd set up right in front, and we'd start duking them in with duke (ph) cards and getting the local guys playing.

DEWOLF: If you walked by, all you'd see was a trailer with a tent on the street with teddy bears and motorcycles out front that look like they're for sale. But when you step in the tent, that's when they ask you, do you want to play a game?

DOC: The game is called a Razzle. It's a box with holes in it that marbles will fit in after rolling around in it. And on these rows, there's numbers one through six. There's eight marbles.

DEWOLF: It's just a board with marbles and holes and some kind of point system - that's it - and three other guys gambling with you who are all in on the con.

DOC: The whole gist of the game is - it's an I-win-you-lose. It's all a confidence game. To get them playing and starting when they roll, you laugh and go, wow, a whole bunch of high numbers. And you count them up and grab them up real fast and say, wow, that's amazing. You won 50 points. And the guy says, what'd I win? Well, you got half a prize. I mean, you tear a teddy bear in half. In order to win the game, you have to get a 100 points or more. But when you win, you get not only the return of your money, but whatever equivalent house money is promised, as well as any corresponding prizes. Basically, it's just playing on their greed. At some point, they're not playing for a teddy bear anymore. It can start off high, $5. It can start off with a lousy quarter. Hey, let's put up a quarter. You're not playing for anything big yet. And once they get involved and understand that they might win cash, there's a certain look that gamblers get in their face. You know when you have one hooked.

DEWOLF: But it takes money to make money.

DOC: We had three or four guys. And, you know, we were all set up for it and had big flash money. A lot of times it was more boodles than anything, a bunch of ones with a few hundreds around it. And the first day we go there, we'd lose money - we call throwing them over the fence. We'd let a few of them win, or we'd break even or just take a few hundred for the fellas, you know? And then the next day, we'd go to work on them.

DEWOLF: One day in Tampa, Fla., Doc and his boys find a neighborhood the cops won't come to. They pay off a gas station owner who lets them put out their flashy little motorcycles in front of their tent and set up right there on the roadside for the Razzle.

DOC: Well, we had a couple of big plays that day, a few thousand here, a few thousand there. And this guy pulls up, plays the game a little bit. And they let him win for 50 bucks. And he goes away, and he comes back with a buddy of his. And they wrap this guy up. And they played him for two and a half hours. The guy kept going back to the car bringing out loads of cash. It was no big deal. Pokerino (ph), Bill (ph) and a couple of the other guys and Wiley Jim (ph) are keeping an eye on everything. And the guy dumps in $25,000 cash money. And his head snaps when it's time for him to double up.

DEWOLF: So now this guy's got to double down or walk away from his 25 grand.

DOC: And he ran out of cash. And I said, well, now, you understand, we're gambling. You win like a gentleman; you lose like a gentleman. Basically, I've got your money. And that can be it. We can shake hands, you know.

DEWOLF: So Doc gives him one more option just because he's a nice guy.

DOC: I said, or I'm allowed to, in certain circumstances, give you one opportunity to go get cash and to finish this game out. And he throws a temper tantrum. And he gets on his cell phone on the way to the car. And he says, get the other fellows; we're getting our machine guns. It's time to go. This is called an immediate slough of the joint. Get gone.

DEWOLF: This is when it helps to have your hustle on wheels.

DOC: Well, I'd already had the truck hooked up to the trailer. But the awnings were all out, and teddy bears were hanging off of them. And all the guys are getting nervous. And Wiley Jim takes off in the Cadillac. And one guy's throwing teddy bears in. Pokerino says, just go; leave that crap. We got a $25,000 score, right? And the truck starts, and I'm hitting it.

DEWOLF: Doc had the truck, but his boys needed getaway rides too.

DOC: There were these two little mini hot shot motorcycles with 100cc motors sitting out there. Pokerino and another guy that worked for him - I can't remember his name... Oh yeah, New York Johnny (ph) jumped on these mini scooters. And off we go. And we're flying down the road. Now, I'm way ahead of them, but I can see these two idiots in the mirror. And both of them are 300-pound burley, ugly looking biker guys on these little mini scooters flying down the road.

DEWOLF: That's when the boys and the motorcycles catch up to Doc in the truck.

DOC: One of them gets up beside me - make it to the bridge, and we'll pull over there by the side. So I made it to the bridge. And I'm waiting. And I'm waiting, and I'm waiting. And all of a sudden, I see them coming. And they got this crazy look on their face. And they come flying up on me. And they go straight through the ditch and up into the brush and into trees, both of them. And they're all beat up. And I pull them out. And they're screaming, and they're cussing. You still got the money? Yeah, I got the money. What the heck happened? Well, the guy had got up behind them and was shooting at them. And they slid up off into some grounds and wrecked the bikes once - got back on them. And the guy tried to go through the parking lot and got his car stuck on a pole. So they got away. We got the bikes back out, went back to Gibsonton, Fla. and cut our money up (laughter).

DEWOLF: So Doc finally did get his big score. But those are the golden days for grifters. Now they're on their way out.

DOC: You know, I've had a lot of people, friends that have had guns pulled on them. I've known a couple that have been killed, a couple that have been shot. You get in big trouble if you get caught doing this game now because it's death by deception. It's not a viable thing anymore. The world's gotten way too violent now. It's not something - you know what I mean? - you're going to see a lot of anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WASHINGTON: Right on, right on. Tell them. Tell them, Jamie DeWolf, that I want double or nothing. That story was, of course, produced by Snap's own Jamie DeWolf with sound design by Renzo Gorrio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.