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Woman, we just pulled off the wire in the time it takes to get a pizza delivered.

Alec Hardison, The Bottle Job

The wire scam, also known as the wire game, is an out-of-date long con, in which a mark is lured into wagering on rigged off track betting by promising advance knowledge of the outcome of a race. It was one of two cons used in The Bottle Job, and was the principle con in the film The Sting.

How it Works[]

The central idea of the wire is that the a grifter persuaded the mark that he has advance knowledge of the outcome of race results before they reach off-track betting sites. As seen in The Sting, this generally was accomplished by having a confederate with the ability to briefly delay results coming from a local telegraph office, allowing a grifter and the mark to place a bet before the results are released via telegram. The mark may be allowed to place, and win, smaller bets before placing a significantly larger one which he will, of course, lose, generally when a small planned miscommunication leads him to make the wrong bet.

The wire was most popular in the early 20th century, when horse and dog race results were sent to betting parlors via the telegraph. It began in the early days of telegraphy, when it was possible for a telegraph operator to delay racing results long enough for a few confederates to make bets, and make good money. As telegraphy became more widespread and local bunco squads put protections against delaying results into place, grifters began to create the illusion they could delay results, giving rise to the wire con. The con is time and personnel intensive, requiring a team of cons to set up and operate a fully staffed, but fake, betting parlor. Critical to the con is the "roper", a grifter who must lure the mark in with promises of advance knowledge and guaranteed wins.


In The Bottle Job, Mark Doyle, a Belfast loan shark, holds a marker for $15,000 and is threatening to take John McRory's Place from McRory's daughter, Cora. The Leverage team use the wire set up Doyle by using Tara to attract Doyle, then introduce Nate as her gambler ex-boyfriend. By delaying the television broadcast of a basketball game to McRory's bar long enough for Nate, as the roper, to lure Doyle into making a few small, "friendly" bets. To do so, Hardison intercepts the cable feed, delaying it 20 seconds, while communicating plays to Nate via his comm. After losing a series of small bets, Nate proposes an all-or-nothing bet on the final play, allowing him to win the marker on the pub.