From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Negro Gig: Four, Eleven, Forty-four

4-11-44 was also referred to as the Negro gig, the coon gig, or the washerwoman's gig. The numbers were a favored combination for "policy" because of the promise of a large payout, but the number sequence rarely hit.

"Policy" was an illegal gambling system for players who paid a small sum each week to select three numbers. If all three numbers hit, it was referred to as a "gig"; the payout was about $10 per winning ticket. This was a lot of money in 1892 when the numbers hit in the Frankfort Lottery drawing in New York City. The policy shops [gambling houses] took a hard hit, losing about $20,000.

The lotteries were actually outlawed in New York State in 1834. The numbers thereafter came from New Jersey until lotteries were outlawed there in 1840. After that, the numbers were drawn in Kentucky, Missouri, or Louisiana, then sent by telegraph to the headquarters in New York.

The 4-11-44 number sequence hit in 1886 in Chicago and paid out about $3,000, which was considered a big hit to the policy houses. In 1898 the sequence hit two days in a row in Chicago. By the early 1900s, the odds of winning at policy were 7,878 to 1. The game was said to be common in African American communities within cities.

Around 1915, Sam Young, remembered as the father of Policy, named his Policy wheel, located in Chicago, the Frankfort, Henry, and Kentucky. Policy eventually evolved into the numbers game.

There were dream books that were published to help policy players choose numbers based on their dreams. See the Digital Harlem webpage Polcy Pete's Dream Book (1933).

For more see "A shock to the policy shops, 4-11-44 comes out and the players win something like $3000," Chicago Daily Tribune, 12/24/1886, front page; "Policy players win on 4-11-44: famous gig comes two days in succession and there is joy on the levee," Chicago Daily Tribune, 2/05/1898; "Four, Eleven, Forty-four," New York Times, 8/14/1892, p. 20; "Policy Sam Young Rites held Friday," Chicago Defender, 5/22/1937; R. M. Lombardo, "The Black Mafia: African-American organized crime in Chicago 1890-1960," Crime Law & Social Change, vol. 38 (2002), pp. 33-65; J. Burnham, "Gambling," Encyclopedia of Recreation and Leisure in America (2004), vol. 1, pp. 373-382; and T. Sellin, "Organized crime: a business enterprise," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 347: Combating Organized Crime (May 1963), pp. 12-19.

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Read about Franklin County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Negro Gig: Four, Eleven, Forty-four,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 24, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-06-23 14:01:43