John Scarne was born on March 4, 1903, in Steubenville, Ohio, United States, into the family of Fiorangelo and Maria (Tamburro) Scarne. He grew up in the New Jersey communities of Fairview and Guttenberg. When he left school after the eighth grade, he learned from a local card sharp how to perform such swindles as The Three Card Monte, and how to cheat in gambling card games by manipulating the cards. Scarne began practicing sleight of hand with the goal of becoming a card sharp, but his religious mother dissuaded her son from gambling in general, and cheating others in particular. She persuaded him to practice magic instead. Scarne soon extended his skill at handling cards to learning — and devising — magical effects with cards.