Arnold Rothstein: Big Man Behind World Series Gambling Scandal

Last week’s case told the story of Michelle Mockbee, a mother of two brutally slain in the warehouse where she worked. This week, we look at Arnold Rothstein, a gambling kingpin known as “The Brain.” We briefly met Rothstein in a blog post from December about throwing the 1919 World Series.

Arnold Rothstein

Arnold Rothstein was a notorious gambler, businessman, and racketeer best known for fixing the 1919 World Series. He had an impressive gambling career spanning more than two decades. Despite his shady dealings and criminal activities, he was respected in New York City.

(7/22/1928-New York, NY- Photo shows Arnold Rothstein, big time gambler, as he appeared in New York State Supreme Court, fighting a bankruptcy receiver's attempt to collect $366,000. (Getty Images)
(7/22/1928-New York, NY- Photo shows Arnold Rothstein, big time gambler, as he appeared in New York State Supreme Court, fighting a bankruptcy receiver’s attempt to collect $366,000. (Getty Images)

Rothstein was born in 1882 in New York City to a family of Jewish immigrants from Poland. His father owned a successful garment business, which allowed young Arnold to live comfortably and attend private school. At 17, he began working as a clerk for one of his father’s business associates but soon became bored with the mundane job and decided to pursue gambling instead.

Arnold Rothstein in his office (Jack Benton/Getty Images)
Arnold Rothstein in his office (Jack Benton/Getty Images)

Rothstein quickly developed a reputation as a master gambler and began amassing wealth through high-stakes poker games. He soon expanded his operations to include illegal activities such as bootlegging, loan sharking, drug trafficking, and prostitution rings. Despite these illicit activities, he kept out of trouble with law enforcement until 1919, when he became embroiled in the infamous Black Sox scandal.

Arnold Rothstein and the 1919 Black Sox

In 1919, Rothstein became involved in fixing the World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. It is believed that he bribed some players on the White Sox team to throw the game in exchange for cash payments from gamblers who were betting on the series’ outcome. Although Rothstein denied any involvement with fixing the game, several players later admitted that they had received money from him for their efforts.

The 1919 Chicago White Sox (Chicago Tribune)
The 1919 Chicago White Sox (Chicago Tribune)

After the bribery scandal came to light, Major League Baseball appointed Kennesaw Mountain Landis, a respected judge, as Commissioner of Baseball. Landis had almost unlimited power over the sport and banned eight former White Sox players from the game for life.

Rothstein continued to engage in illegal activities until his death in 1928 at age 46 following an altercation at Manhattan’s Park Central Hotel. He died two days after being shot by an unknown assailant during an argument over a large amount of money owed to him by another gambler, who had lost it playing craps. To this day, no one has been able to identify Rothstein’s killer, and the case remains officially unsolved. However, many believe it was someone close to him due to their familiarity with his daily routine.


Although there is still much debate over how much truth there is behind some of Arnold Rothstein’s most infamous stories—such as his involvement in fixing the 1919 World Series—there is no denying that he left an indelible mark on American culture both during his lifetime and long after his death. From inspiring characters like Meyer Wolfsheim in F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby to becoming part of pop culture references today (like “A Bigger Gamble” episode on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire), without question that Arnold Rothstein will remain a significant figure for a long time to come.

Arnold Rothstein's grave in New York's Union Field Cemetery (
Arnold Rothstein’s grave in New York’s Union Field Cemetery (

Several books portray the life of Arnold Rothstein, while others focus on the 1919 World Series scandal. Three biographies are Arnold Rothstein: The Life and Legacy of the Notorious Mob Kingpin Accused of Fixing the World Series, produced by Charles River Editors, The Big Bankroll by Leo Katcher, and Rothstein by David Pietrusza.

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