Cardroom Scams

Cardroom Scams

You can buy almost anything in a cardroom. You can also get taken more easily with what you buy in a cardroom than almost anywhere else.

Sure, you can get some bargains, but caveat emptor never applied more than in a cardroom.

One of the most successful cardroom scams is the sale of “hot” items. People’s natural larceny seems to take over when they are told they can get a good deal on something because it “fell off the truck.” They reason that thieves expect only a small percentage of the value of a stolen item from a fence, so if they’re trying to push something in a cardroom, that something must be worth considerably more than the asking price.

“Yeah, we’re moving these shirts. They fell off the truck on the way to the warehouse. European. Silk. Latest style. You know. Ten bucks each. You’ve seen ’em for fifty or sixty.” Thus goes the pitch, from someone you’ve seen hanging on the rail before. You feel like you’re privy to something underground and dangerous. You understand the slang. Fell off the truck. Liberated. Such terms mean a highjacked shipment, or, more likely, an intercepted shipment that never made its destination. Likely an inside job. Employees trying to make a few extra bucks. Can’t hurt to buy one or two. Even if the thieves ever get caught, no way they can trace one or two shirts back to you. And how could anyone ever prove you didn’t buy those shirts legitimately? You could turn these guys in, too, but what business is it of yours? And if you don’t buy them, someone else will. At least, it’s worth a look.

So you go out to the guy’s car.

A beat-up old Ford, likely, or some other clunker. He opens the trunk, and you see boxes of shirts, all name-brand labels. He’s got your size, and a couple of nice looking items. Not exactly what you would have picked for yourself, but he assures you they’re the coming style. After all, they were heading for the warehouse, weren’t they? About to be shipped to Neiman-Marcus, or some other fancy outlet. You pick out a couple, thinking if your wife or girlfriend doesn’t like them on you, they would always make dandy gifts.

Ten bucks, you think. Good price. Worth a lot more at the department store. And it’s that hot merchandise that gets you. Your common sense is overcome by your sense of larceny. Just like people always trying to get something for nothing.

But now you’re going to get a better deal. “Well, yeah, I might like a couple, but, gee, ten bucks for these? You’re gonna have a hard time moving them. Tell ya what, gimme three for fifteen and you got a sale.”

“Three for twenty. Best I can do.”

You always were a helluva bargainer. Look at that, got him down a third just like that. So you take the three over to your car and put them in the trunk.

You go back to the table, and play for a few hours.

Drive home, and then remember the shirts, which you bring in from the car. Boy, in the bright light of your living room, they don’t look quite so hot. You tear the plastic off one, and feel it. That’s not silk; it’s rayon or some other polyester. You look for the label in the back of the neck. There isn’t one. You put it on, and it doesn’t fit right. As you take it off again, your arm catches on a seam, which easily comes apart. With the shirt unfolded, you notice loose threads all over.

You’ve just been victimized by the “hot shirt scam.”

Those shirts weren’t stolen. There’s some factory in Oakland or East LA or Henderson or Sparks turning these out by the thousands. They’re worth maybe a couple of bucks each. Some clever guy came up with the story to tell cardroom habitués who would never question the worth of supposed “hot” merchandise. The shirts couldn’t be sold in any department store — if one could even be found that would carry them — for over five dollars each; at a discount store, they wouldn’t even bring three bucks.

But imply to someone in a cardroom whose larcenous nature is likely to get the best of him that the shirts are stolen, and he’ll pay ten bucks each for dollar shirts he thinks are worth fifty bucks.

And, as you can see, it wouldn’t have done any good to turn the guy in to the police. The worst he could’ve been accused of was lying, and he worded things in such a way that even that would be difficult to prove. Just smile when you see the hot shirt scam in action, and realize that you’re too smart to get taken. As P. T. Barnum said, “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

And if you see someone come into a cardroom, as I have, with a box of sirloin steaks that he’s offering at a buck apiece, which he and his buddy just lifted and “gotta move real quick,” forget it. More likely they’re some butcher’s rejects that an enterprising soul thinks he can make a few bucks on. Don’t take a chance on ptomaine poisoning.

by Michael Wiesenberg

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash