Las Vegas on 61st Street: Is Gambling OK on Upper East?

New Yorkers will forgive each other almost anything, but the one thing they won’t forgive is having their sleep interrupted. So you’d think that if someone was doing something illegal at 1:30 a.m.—such as running an illegal gambling operation—they’d at least do it quietly.

However, the croupiers, cigarette girls and high rollers populating a gambling parlor at 328 East 61st Street on Oct. 20 failed to observe even that rudimentary rule of etiquette, prompting a call to the police—undoubtedly from a light sleeper—complaining of a disorderly group gambling in the building.

The cops who responded to the scene, from both the 19th Precinct and the vice squad, entered the building and took the elevator to the fifth floor. Upon their arrival, they confronted a scene straight out of The Sopranos, or maybe the gambling floor of the Bellagio Hotel in Vegas: Dozens of people were crowded around seven gaming tables, and the chips were flying. The police also witnessed one player cashing in his chips.

And this apparently wasn’t just some pickup game either, a bunch of friends deciding to play for pennies at a buddy’s apartment—there were eight surveillance cameras rolling to keep the gamblers honest. “And you thought Mega Millions was big!” said one of the cops who was at the scene, and who drove one of the NYPD courtesy vans that chauffeured the players and staff—approximately 42 people in all—back to the 19th Precinct stationhouse. The officers also confiscated the security cameras, four computers and $2,331 in cash.

“Stop, question and frisk” reports were prepared on everyone, but only six people were arrested: the four men and one woman running the operation (for promoting gambling), and a fifth man who had an outstanding warrant.

“They were surprised,” said a police officer of the gamblers’ reaction to their visit. “Anybody who was arrestable was arrested.”

Incident at Elaine’s

Elaine’s, the Second Avenue watering hole, attracts not only the famous but also those who like to bask in their reflected glory—not all of whom know how to hold their liquor, if an Oct. 23 incident is any indication.

The police responded to the scene after a 58-year-old woman, described as “disorderly and combative,” was escorted out of the restaurant. A police officer “engaged in conversation” with the woman “as to why she was asked to leave restaurant,” which is no more than you’d expect at a literary landmark whose regulars over the years have included Norman Mailer, Woody Allen and George Plimpton.

The suspect responded to the question in decidedly unliterary fashion—unless she was thinking of Mr. Mailer’s pugilistic period: She struck the officer with a closed fist across the chest and then resisted arrest by flailing her arms when he tried to handcuff her. She was charged with assault.

Too-Good Buys

The con man who has turned the Best Buy store at 1280 Lexington Avenue into his personal piggy bank has struck again—twice, in fact, on Oct. 19 and Oct. 21. In the first incident, the victim, a 53-year-old Bronx resident, told the police that he received a call from someone named Jose who identified himself as the manager at Best Buy and offered him merchandise at a steep discount.

The two went to the store, and “Jose”—described as a 5-foot-9, 35-year-old male—took the victim’s $3,000, promising to return shortly with his purchase. Instead, he fled through a different door. The police canvassed the area, with negative results.

In the Oct. 21 incident, the victim, a 41-year-old Bronx man, told the police that he received a phone call from his niece saying that she knew someone who could get him a good discount on a TV.

So the bargain hunter contacted the con artist, who told him that he worked for Best Buy and that he was able to get him a deal because the store was going out of business. The customer picked up the crook at 63rd Street and Madison Avenue, as instructed, and drove him to Best Buy, where he handed him $1,500 (75 $20 bills).

The con man entered the store and departed shortly afterward through the opposite entrance (or, in this case, exit). Though he’s now pulled this scam on numerous victims, the police are confident that it’s only a matter of time until the perp is arrested.

For one thing, the cops have an excellent picture of him, taken by Best Buy’s surveillance cameras. “We’ll get him,” vowed James Rogers, the 19th Precinct’s commanding officer. “Everybody up here is aware of him.”

However, he added, they wouldn’t have to go to the trouble in the first place “if people wouldn’t agree to steal from the store” by letting their greed—their love of a deal, however sketchy—cloud their common sense. “If it’s too good to be true,” the precinct commander added, “it’s too good to be true.”