By Matt Goldstein
As he is portrayed in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Arnold Rothstein was a refined businessman who made millions in gambling ventures many years before prohibition went into effect. In Boardwalk Empire, Rothstein and his young protégé, Charlie Luciano are seen making a business deal for liquor at the very onset of prohibition. This deal comprised of Atlantic City political and crime figure Nucky Thompson, AKA Nucky Johnson, and Johnny Torrio and Jim Colosimo who were early bosses of Al Capone. Rothstein is refined and reserved while Luciano is hotheaded and arrogant. Rothstein also seems to see the business deal a few steps ahead as he agrees to a deal with Nucky that he knows is not necessarily fair, but then proceeds to steal more than his fare share back from Nucky’s casino, and almost flaunting the fact that he cheated. In episode 2, we see a more violent side of Rothstein. Many moments in Rothstein’s life were of course very similar to the show.
- 1882, Arnold Rothstein is born on East 47th Street in NYC, to an upper middle class family where his father is a businessman and his older brother becomes a rabbi.
- Arnold Rothstein flunks out of school because he spends all his time gambling.
- 1908, future Rothstein business partner Abe Attell defeats Tommy Sullivan and becomes the undisputed featherweight champion.
- 1912, by the age of 30, Arnold Rothstein is a millionaire owner of gambling parlors and racetracks.
- 1914, Rothstein begins laying off the largest bets in the country and becomes one of the most influential and powerful bookmaker in the world.
- 1919, Arnold Rothstein fixes the World Series with Abe Attell. The Chicago White Sox intentionally lose to the Cincinnati Reds. The incident now known as the Black Sox scandal becomes the most infamous and egregious gambling scandal in history.
- 1920, Prohibition begins and Rothstein becomes a bootlegging pioneer.
- In 1921, eight baseball players are convicted and banned from the sport. Abe Atell is also convicted of trying to fix the Series. Rothstein was acquitted of all charges. Along with Shoeless Joe Jackson, Rothstein maintained his innocence for life.
- In the early to mid 1920’s, Rothstein’s influence on prohibition and organized crime are as deep they come. Rothstein plays a pivotal role in the National Crime Syndicate, Murder Inc, the Commission, smuggling booze, drugs, diamonds and mentoring legendary mafia figures such as Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Bugsy Segal among others…
- 1925, The Great Gatsby is published and character Meyer Wolfsheim is based on Arnold Rothstein.
- 1926, Rothstein wins $500,000 on the first Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney fight.
- 1928, Rothstein is murdered after reneging on a $300,000 loss in a poker game. Refusing to pay after accusing the other players of cheating, Rothstein murderers reportedly killed him in order to teach him a lesson. On his deathbed, the Jewish Rothstein stuck to the code of the streets and refused to name his assassins.
Source: American Jewish Historical Society, The Jewish Virtual Library and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Boardwalk Empire Fact or Fiction: Nucky Thompson, Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Al Capone