Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

A tax on stupidity

How much would you spend if your 'chances of winning were 2,600-to-1'? Turns out, according to the Mail, that those were the odds of winning a prize at a Blackpool hoopla stall, as calculated by a maths expert at Lancaster University.

Trading Standards stepped in after secretly filming two girls aged 14 and 15 spending £70 without winning a single prize. The stall's equipment was sent to Lancaster for analysis and the operators successfully prosecuted by the council for breaching gambling laws.

'Council public protection officer Shaun McKinney said: "One individual who had come to Blackpool had spent £1,200 to £1,500 playing the hoopla game.

"Obviously a lot of it was to try and win their money back from the initial losses, and it's a case of keep playing until they think they can win it back." '

Here's an idea for Michael Gove & Co.; if you want lessons in school to be relevant and useful in later life, you could forget about Citizenship GCSE's and teach some basic probability and a realistic calculation of the chances of winning.

Of course, the National Lottery would take a nosedive...
Update: From the Telegraph,
'Staff at the stall would bully "vulnerable" tourists to keep playing to win back their lost holiday money, Blackpool magistrates’ court was told. Prosecutors said some were even led to cash machines after falsely being told they would eventually win prizes.'


  1. The maths quoted is nonsense. The odds of winning something may(?) have been 2600-1, but even if you beat the odds with your first go, you are not going to get a payout of 2600 times your stake.

    The gambling odds (ie your financial return if you win) and the actual odds of winning are two different things. A horse can be 100-1 in a 10 horse race. The actual odds of it winning are probably much less, given its poor record for example. I am assured that if I put a pound on it, I get 101 back IF IT WINS. But it does not mean if I bet on that race 100 times I will win once.

    It may have been a scam, but I have seen fairground games such as this where the public fail miserably, but the operators can demonstrate repeatedly that it can be done, as they have the knack.

  2. Thank you, Sobers; you obviously paid more attention in A Level Stats lessons than I did (or have a better knowledge of the gambling world).

    It would be interesting to know whether TS officials asked the stall operators to demonstrate the technique before carting off the kit.