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By Led Black

Dream_home If you don’t know what a Pale is, chances are, that you are not Dominican.  A Pale is any combination of 2 numbers that a person chooses as their pick for the Dominican lottery.  Typically, depending on where you play your numbers, each Pale pays $1,100 for each dollar a person plays.  So if your Pale were to hit and you bet 5 dollars you would win $5,500.  The Dominican Lottery’s range of numbers is from 1 to a 100 as opposed to let’s say the Mega Millions, which is from 1 to 46.  Back in the day in the 80’s, Dominicans in New York only bet on the Dominican lottery on Sundays.  Now a person can play, if they know where to go, numbers any day of the week. 

Another thing that has changed with the Dominicans numbers game since I was growing up, is that is has pretty much been driven underground.  Literally – one of the places that I have played my numbers was a basement that you had to go through a nasty urine smelling alley to get to.  Not too long ago, one was able to play their numbers in anyone of the many bodegas that somehow exist in The Heights.  Believe me, that’s a whole lot of bodegas.  There are about 3 bodegas on each block in the hood.  That is no longer the case; constant police harassment has sent the Dominican numbers game, better known as Los Numeros, in the Heights to less conspicuous places.  Word of mouth is usually the way a person finds out where they can place their bet.  It is usually in the back of a legitimate business, a bakery, a salon or a barbershop.  In the corner of said business, there will be an older, sharply dressed Dominican man with a beret on his head (Dominicans called these hats boinas) and a toothpick in his mouth.  That’s the numbers man.   

While the definition of a Pale, is pretty much straight forward.  How one picks a particular Pale, is something else altogether.  The Pale that I play, every once in awhile (yeah right), is 8 and 13, my birthday.  Other folks play their year of birth or the year that they came to this country, but the real foundation for the choice of which Pale to play is a person’s dreams, their Sueños.  What you dream about you usually dictates what numbers you bet on.  There is a whole pseudo-science dedicated to understanding the numerological meaning of everything imaginable.  Everyone has that aunt or uncle that can tell you the exact Pale to play.   For example, if you have a dream that you’re dancing Perico Ripiao with Fefita La Grande, in the middle of a rice field during a hurricane, that means that you should play 17 and 76.  My mom once had a dream of me as a child on a donkey with my back to her.  She in turn, played 80 & 31 (my birthday backward) and ended winning about $5,000.  Mind you, I never got my fair share of that money.

Me, well – I haven’t yet hit the big one but I know it’s just around the corner.  God is waiting for me to really need the dough before he blesses me with it. This morning in the deli where I buy my morning bagel, I played the Mega Millions, just in case, you never know.  You see, I don’t really want to be rich; I just want enough money to live comfortably.  To be able to pay the mortgage, feed and clothe the kids without having to work that spirit-crushing, corporate nine to five.  To be creative full-time, without having to worry about paying the bills, is my dream.  I know it’s out there and on it’s way.  So tonight if I don’t hit the Mega Millions, I’ll be looking for the numbers man on Sunday to get my numeros fix on.  That big beachfront house in DR is just waiting for me to purchase it.  Hey, a guy can dream can’t he?

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  1. Reply
    the dominikilla

    this was a great piece….i really found it very deatil and if someone didnt know what a Pale they sure do now… great piece… you need to write a book or your stuff needs to be published.. write more

  2. Reply

    Led Black,

    As always, great post.

    You sure do know how to let the blogosphere world know about the Dominican way of life, through your informative, funny, and very well written articles.

    Keep it up!

    Richard Liriano

  3. Reply

    Damn Brother !!! You brought me way back to the days of hearing all of my relatives yelling…”Salieron los numeros¿” Or my favorite…”Diablo, si me saco un pale me voy pa’ Santo Domingo. Pero no pa’ donde la casa de nadie. Me voy pa’ un hotel.” Those were the good old days. Great piece, as always. By the way…Happy “belated” Dominican Fathers Day. Peace.

  4. Reply
    Franziska Castillo

    Hey I’m with you on that dream of just getting to be creative all day. But I’m glad you find some time outside of your 9-5 and family to write these little stories. they always bring a smile to me to break up my work day. Maybe you should save them all and make a book…

  5. Reply

    I love your stories!!! They are great. I’m sure I told you b4 I share them w/my incarcerated bros. and they go bananas when you take them back into time. With this one about where numbers use to played: in an alley that smelled – that’s goign to make their heads spin. They’re going to be like “DIABLO!!! Remember that shit??!!” Thanks man, keep up the good work. I know I play my #’s in the back of the “salon” I go to. HAHAHAHAHA

  6. Reply
    Led Black

    I just wanted to thank everyone on the positive feedback, it is much appreciated. I’m glad you guys like my work and took the time to post.

    Led Black

  7. Reply

    You educate me in Dominican culture as always!

    Once again, Blacks and Hispanics have much in common, especially in the numbers game! LOL.

  8. Reply

    I must admit, even though I am Dominican and lived and work in The Heights, I have never played “los numeros”. I never really understood how the lottery (Dominican or American) work. I remember being in the salon when all of a sudden I was approached with an offer to purchase an overpriced watch. The real deal was that “los numeros” were located behind it. I was supposed to write my numbers on the sheet provided and then pass it on to the girl in the hair dryer next to me. I was so confused…Thanks for the clarification. That event has marinated in my head for so long! Good luck on the dream house and by the way, this weekend I dreamed that my father-in-law helped me park the car so he played 51 in honor of my license plates but unfortunately didn’t win :(

  9. Reply
    Nelson Berroa

    Los numeros has definitely gone underground. My grandmother asked me to play some numbers for her the other day (She had a good dream the night before). I rarely play so I didn’t know exactly where to go. After some grueling research (asking all my neighbors in the building), I was off to the numbers man in the laundromat. I entered the laundromat and found an older looking man wearing a stylish Kangol and a pair of old school shoes that looked like he’s been shining them since the day he bought them. I introduced myself and stated my purpose. He was very leery of me; so I had to break down who I was, where I lived and who I’m related to. All this just to play a few numbers. Needless to say I was able to play my numbers and found out just how popular my grandmother is around the neighborhood.
    I remember the good ole days when all I had to do was just run to the 2nd floor of my building to play “Los Numeros”. I would go to my favorite family in the building and exhibit Dominican hospitality at its best. You would walk in, and a plate of food and a nice cold beer would automatically be offered to you. You could never say no to both. You had to except one or both. I barely got a thank you from the man in the laundromat. Time definitely has changed.

  10. Reply
    trina!!! Right down to the comments on the blog, I love every part of it.

    Thank you for sharing your life. Let me tell you, you are one of the reasons why I love Dominican people. The “numbers” one cracked me up – my husband is addicted to the lottery (which I realize is somewhat different from “the numbers”), and if, by some chance, I forget to play the lottery one day, let me tell you, es un gran cosa! I’m in the doghouse, because he’d had a dream the night before, and for sure, those were the numbers that were going to win. I patiently look up the winning lotto numbers after they come out to show him that I wasn’t this terrible little dreamstealer, and lo and behold, he hadn’t gotten even one number right! But, in his mind, if I’d have played “his dream numbers”, Dios queria cuidarnos, so his numbers would have been the winners…but since I didn’t play, Dios lo di a otra gente. Probably Dominican people, too…I’m sure….

    You also shared some insight as to why my husband’s fathering skills are so…errr…traditional, and like you mentioned, a little iron-fist-like. Although I could never imagine him with firecrackers or even being drunk for that matter, I can definitely relate to the control of the remote, especially when the METS (no, not Yankees, definitely NOT) are playing and his beloved Pedro ‘ta pichando.

    I immensely enjoyed reading your blog, it’s definitely refreshing and a welcome addition, esp. in light of recent blogs that have ‘enhanced’ our reading experience. I loved the travelogue articles, and look forward to future blog episodes.

    Thanks again for sharing – I’ve saved you to my favorites, subscribed (you’re NOT going to SPAM me, right?), and will patiently await future entries.

  11. Reply

    Hey Trina…thanks for blessing our entry with your comments. They are greatly appreciated! We love the sense of community that our readers comments evoke. Just wanted to give you and everyone else who reads this a heads up, that we don’t spam. We will never rent or sell our readers to any 3rd parties. It’s a policy of our parent company Republica Trading Co. ( that extends down to us. So rest assured that you won’t be spammed. We’re glad that you’re enjoying our blog as much as we are!



  12. Reply
    Claudia Cruz

    Thank you for this ode to Pale. I wanted to dedicate this response to Rafael, the Pale man in my building (may he rest in peace). Every Sunday when I was little, I would go to church with my mom and before leaving the building she would play the “numeritos” with Rafael. She would usually play my birthday or my sister’s birthday and yes, I was always perplexed at how she “dreamt” up other numbers. As your posting notes at one point pale was played everyday and sure enough, Rafael was downstairs in the building stoop collecting numbers. I fondly remember that eventually Rafael because the building’s “watchman” and he knew everything that was going. If my mom was leaving the building, she would leave a message for me with Rafael. “Oye, tu mama me dijo que te dijera . . . ,” he would say. Eventually, Rafael’s cancer forced him to stay upstairs and the few times anyone saw him anymore was when he was on his way to the hospital. He was a good man Rafael.

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