back to article Statistics prof nails Blackpool hoopla scam

A statistics professor called in by trading standards helped nail a Blackpool hoopla stall operator who fleeced holidaymakers of thousands of pounds in a game which was pretty well "impossible to win", the Telegraph reports. Blackpool Council moved against Philip Williams' Golden Mile operation following complaints that he was …


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  1. ravenviz
    Thumb Up

    About bloody time

    About time these robdogs got their comeuppance!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    only idiots play those games anyway so they should have fined the players for their stupidity

  3. Doc Dish

    Tarnished reputation?

    Presiding magistrate Julie Blackwell told the pair: "We think this sort of behaviour tarnishes the [town's] reputation..."

    I'd be impressed if she managed to say that with a straight face. It's very difficult to tarnish a turd.

    1. Winkypop Silver badge
      Thumb Down


      Blackpool must be one of the bleakest, nastiest and ugliest man-made cesspools on this, in the known universe!

      No turd icon?

  4. Flugal


    I assumed all such stalls were run like this. Sounds pretty standard.

    As for a doctor being fleeced of £1,200, any chance of his email address....I have a large amount of money I need to get out of Nigeria and he sounds like just the person to help!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Citation required

    I assume the Professor has acknowledged that this is not new research and given a citation to the seminal paper on ths subject by Professor Barnum entitled "There's one born every minute"

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

      W. C. Fields says it all...

    2. PT
      Thumb Up

      Re: Citation Required

      Here's one -

      Scarne, John - "Scarne's New Complete Guide to Gambling"

      A whole section of the book is devoted to explaining why the sucker can never win at sideshow games.

  6. craig chester


    ... £1200 on session, wonder how long it took him to lose that bundle. He clearly didn't know when he was on to a loser and there's me thinking people had to have a certain level of intelligence to be a Doctor.

    1. Code Monkey


      I guess doctors can have gambling problems the same as the rest of us proles. It's sad.

  7. Stone Fox


    Fair type 'games of skill' hard to win!

    Ursus arctos defacates in boreal forest!

    Holy see has catholic tendancies!

    Russians like bribery!

  8. Stuart Elliott
    Black Helicopters

    Shock and awe!

    Fairground attractions in "rigged against the consumer" shocker, news at 11.

    In other news, water is wet.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    In other words...

    They found a stall that's about average and decided to give the owners a shitstorm for being bullies.

    Pirate because of the money nicking.

  10. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

    This is really, really old news

    "Carnies" have been doing this in the States since the early 1900's, also how can a DOCTOR lose 1200 pounds to a guy pulling an almost 100 year old scam? What next, Europe having problems with traveling Snake Oil salesmen? Is the internet really making people that stupid now?

  11. Michael

    how thick

    do you need to be to waste £1200 on hoopla?

    I can agree that the stall being set up such that the items were wider than the rings is wrong. But surely people aren't that stupid to spend so much money on hoopla. Go buy the bottle of champagne.


  12. GettinSadda

    Let's see now...


    Up to £1200 from each customer with no risk of having to pay out.


    If you are really unlucky you might find that a statistics professor can convince a court your game is dodgy, leading to 14 weeks in an open prison (cut to 7 weeks because it always is), a few hours litter duty or cleaning graffiti, a "pocket change" costs settlement, and back to business as usual in a different town.

    Where do I sign up?

    1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      "...My purpose most sublime..."

      It seems to me that an appropriate punishment would be to require the stall owners to play their own game and remain in custody until they manage to win one of the prizes on the top shelf.

  13. Will

    What sort of a twat spends £1,200 in a session of throw the hoop

    .. and they were a doctor?

    Not much more to say on that!

  14. Gordon is not a Moron

    Whilst I hate to go all Daily Mail

    but if I mugged\ demand money with menaces from teenage girls and doctors I'd expect more than a suspended sentence and a bit of light community service. So either a good defence lawyer or a lousy magistrate.

  15. Robert Ramsay

    Didn't they realise...

    That those games have *always* been like that? Like the basketball games where they hang the stuffed toys up at such a point that is smack dab in the trajectory you would need to win...

    Sounds like if he hadn't started bullying people, he might have got away with it forever...

  16. McMoo


    Seriously? A doctor got taken in by this obvious scam? Whip away his medical license, he's clearly a moron. Any fool can tell this sort of game, like the "grabber" machines have a low chance of winning and should be played for novelty purposes, rather than in the genuine hope of winning a prize.

    If the vendor really was "bullying" people to part with money, there are any number of public order related offences hd could have been booked for.

    I'm incredibly underwhelmed by this story - I despise the continuing cotton wool we wrap Britain's morons in.

    Typical example of a local authority taking a very long winded route round a very basic problem.

  17. Peter Galbavy

    so what's new ?

    I was under the impression that when it came to these so-called "games of skill" that is boiled down to the two old sayings: "A fool and his money are easily parted" and "There's one born every minute".

    Does anyone ever win at these things ?

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Statistics on rehabilitation?

    So, between them they had to pay £2,575 in cash. Hmm. They fleeced a doctor for almost that in one go. I suspect they're both still well up on the deal.

    One of them goes to prison for a brief period (almost certainly a *lot* less than the 14 weeks stated). That wouldn't appear to be too bad.

    But then only one of them is stopped from doing this again afterwards, but only for a year. I assume that this year is "concurrent" with his jail sentence, and therefore will only be 38 weeks if he serves the complete sentence.

    Why aren't people like this banned for life? Does he contribute enough to the local economy to warrant ignoring his criminal behaviour?

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      It's "suspended jail sentence"

      Not "suspended from ripping off the public" per se. But I assume some kind of licence is needed to set up a stall like this in most places, and if you have a dodgy record then a lot of operators won't want you around. I mean, a journalist may well follow you to any new site and then have a lot of fun describing how you're still at it. Even if "it" is mostly legal this time.

  19. irish donkey

    Everybody has seen these and even sometimes tried a few

    £1200.00 in one session. WTF? The stall operator must of thought Christmas came on a sunny day. And two teenage girls dropping £70. Some people have a lot more money than sense.

    i wouldn't fall for such crap.... oh look the PrimeMinister of some obsurce African Country needs to borrow some money to fund the World Cup and if I lend him a few bob I will qualify for free tickets and a hefty share of the profits.

    I'm in..................

    1. Danny 14
      Thumb Up


      I was thinking that, I reckon the 13/14 year olds probably got that money from a doctor, hence they didnt mind losing it.

      Maybe the doctor asked them to play the game for him.

  20. Sampler

    Wait what?

    There's people out there that /don't/ think carnie games are rigged?

  21. mego

    How.. wait.. what..

    I'm still confused at how you can be bullied to interact in a game of chance? I mean, sure, if they're being threatened with knife/gun/etc then I see the case.. but you don't get just 14 days in the clink for that, that's armed assault.

    So.. I'm confused.. what in blazes did they do that isn't done by every carnival operator already?

  22. Anonymous Coward

    well duh

    Do you really need a professor to tell you these games are a scam? I thought everyone knew that.

    As for the doc who spent £2,100 in one session, is he really a doctor, or did he buy his doctorate off eBay? (a steal at £5,000).

    Some people are DUMB.

  23. moonface

    vulnerable rich tourist

    Quite ironic, that a doctors error of judgment is the most costly.

  24. adnim

    And when one does win...

    the value of the prize is usually less than equal to the cost of playing the game. Presuming nothing has changed in the 30 years since I last gave, sorry, threw my money away at one of these scams.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's up Doc

    Doctors are academics. Academics are intelligent. Intelligence doesn't always come with common sense!

  26. Gulfie

    I'd call it an IQ tax...

    ... except for the Prof. A common sense tax?

    I've always assumed (OK, from about age 10) that these things are _impossible_ to win at. You only need to watch for a few minutes and see...

  27. Anonymous Coward

    For the unwise

    I didn't fall for this scam, but I have seen how it's conducted. Basically myself and a friend were walking along the seafront one summer when a guy give us "lucky" tickets and then takes us to a dodgy stall a short walk away in a backstreet surrounded by burly thugs and then we were informed we could play a "free" game to win one of the items on offer (pointing to a display case with pleasure beach tickets, dodgy fags with foreign language health warnings and a playstation) and we're told it's almost impossible to win! We both smelled a scam instantly and walked off, but it wasn't particularly easy to walk away while the thugs surrounding the stall were walking alongside us and shouting abuse at us for not playing. I could understand how vulnerable people would feel threatened into playing. I only wish these guys were getting more than this pathetic sentence.

    1. Danny 14

      thats not the same though

      These stalls are in prominent positions, not on the back streets. They dont have thugs on them, just a few pikey gypo's - sorry travellers - manning them. God help any of these people if they go to tenerife, they'll have about 5 timeshares on the first day.

  28. Paul Gannon


    If you go to Blackpool and play any game to 'win' something. Prepare to be robbed blind. They games are there to make money not give stuff away. The Doctor (not that one) should have known better. True, I have been scammed by the stall holders on the piers etc, for a couple of quid, in my time but not to the tune of £1200. What a Muppet. He must have a bad gambling habit if after the first couple of goes he didn't realise that he wasn't going to win? As with any gambling, there is only one winner, and that's not the player.

    1. Ross 7

      <stands and salutes>

      "The Doctor (not that one) should have known better."

      Quite possibly the best sentence on el Reg *ever* :o)

  29. Anonymous Coward

    The doctor now taking part...

    In a similar game of "skill" he sits on a platforms waiting for the kids to hit the target, plunging him into a tub of water :)

  30. Anonymous Coward

    bullying tactics

    I was caught out in Blackpool by a similar group of people. I'm not an idiot, I know these games are rigged highly in favour of the stall owner. But for a laugh a friend and I decided to give it a go. It was £5, and we thought what the hell. We didn't have change, he said "no problem, I've got change" and took our £20. I held my hand out for the promised change - "we'll sort that out in a minute, take your go first". I insisted he give me my change, he continued to refuse. I told him to forget it and asked for my £20 back. He pointed to a sign - "No refunds". Even though I hadn't played yet. He effectively held my change to ransom at that point. I had my go. Naturally failed. I asked for my change, he wouldn't hand it over. "Just give it another go, go on". The next few minutes are fuzzy in my mind. In the end he claimed we'd spent all £20 and in fact owed him £5. I made a scene. He didn't care. We gave up and walked away.

    I suspect that is the kind of bullying tactics they were talking about.

    As for the doctor - there is a difference between book-smart and common sense. Clearly he lacks the latter. At lease I was only stupid enough to lose £20.

    1. Ross 7


      Whilst I understand that it can get a bit scary when things like that happen, you only need to choose between 2 options:

      1) phone the police on your mobile right there in front of him and report the theft; or

      2) walk a few yards away if you feel ill at ease and then phone the police.

      The guy was relying on the fact that £20 is decent money for him, but not so much you'd start a brawl or call the police. Best to call their bluff. Having the Blues poking around their stall tends to put prospective punters off and they don't want that.

      PS - you weren't stupid. Don;t be blaming yourself. You were just doing what you do in any shop/market situation. You were just too nice really. These ppl are pests. Treat them as such.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    We need that law, then he could have simply been beaten out of town with brooms.

  32. andy gibson

    One down...

    Now all Blackpool needs to do is get rid of the knuckle dragging stag parties and hen party slags puking and shagging everywhere and they're on their way to becoming respectable again.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      All that....

      ".....and they're on their way to becoming respectable again."

      You forgot "and skint". I think you'll find that offensive, puking, lagered up chavs are referred to as "the tourist trade" up there.

  33. Alex C

    more than one way to fleece a doctor

    I imagine bullying would only work so well and up to a point, but realistically he'd have been going to a cash point at some stage there. I'd be astonished if some pikey lovely wasn't giving him come hither eyes to encourage him further and probably a lot more besides.

  34. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    What is this country coming to?

    What is this country coming to? What next?

    Next a nationwide gambling scheme will be proposed, tendered and given to friends of the government officials who will change to law to allow more gullable people to take part. Such as changing the minimum age of gambling down to 16. Could it ever happen?

  35. Tom 38 Silver badge

    I know a number of doctors

    The clue you're all missing here is that he wasn't at work, which implies he was probably shitface drunk.

  36. Adam Williamson 1

    Statistics? Hmm.

    While we're all indulging in a spot of jolly old British pikey-bashing, it seems to me there's some rather dodgy logic going on in the court case here. The story suggests the court decided this was a game of luck, not of skill, because a statistics professor told them someone would need a couple of thousand shots to stand a decent chance of winning.

    Obviously there's a lot of detail missing there, but on the face of it, it looks rather dodgy. Surely who you'd need to call would not be a statistics professor - who'd be excellent at telling you how long it'd take someone just making completely random shots to win - but some sort of international hoopla champion, i.e., someone who can testify as to the _skill_ involved. Given that what's under debate is whether this is a game of skill. Surely the test should be about how well a truly skilled player can reproduce a beneficial result, not how many attempts it would take a blindfolded monkey to do it once.

    I mean, if you ask a statistics professor to figure out how likely it is that 'someone' will make a hole in one, or a half court basket, or hit a home run off Alex Rodriguez, or score a goal on a 35 yard free kick, they'd give you some pretty bloody low percentages there too. Does that mean all those things are entirely a matter of chance, and the NBA, MLB, PGA and Premier League should all be up applying for gambling licenses?

    Something not quite right there. Clearly the morally 'obviously' correct verdict has been reached, but I'm not entirely sure it was done on the right basis...

    1. Anthony 13

      wtf ... wtf ...

      Where is the el reg worst analogy icon? I think you might find people playing those sports are still getting being paid (quite handsomly) without having to sink half court shots, hit field goals etc. etc. Of course that might all change if they are getting the chance to win stuffed dinosaur ... now that's something I'd like to see!

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Statistics? Mhmmm.

      I've been taught by David Lucy, and he specialises in Bayesian methods --- appropriate priors in such modelling could easily take into account matters of skill in very accurate ways. Even if this isn't the case, the design of the pegs is such that the chance of winning was low even with very minor imperfections in throw. Stats is more than just flat probabilities without considering abilities.

      If anything I'd question the idea that you only play a game if you're 99% sure of winning.

  37. mark l 2 Silver badge

    A real hustle

    This doctor needs to start watching the Real Hustle on BBC3, they have covered these fair ground games before and show you how they can be rigged so you can never win but they can demonstrate it and make it look like its easy. Oh and to see the uber hot Jess on there as well. She wouldnt need to pull as scam to part me with my money she just has to ask nicely

  38. Barry Rueger Silver badge

    Just How Widespread?

    Damn! Now I suppose they'll try to tell us that American, Asian, and European casinos, slot machines, roulette tables, poker games, and craps are all rigged so that the house wins!

    Good thing that at least the public lotteries and pull-tabs have odds in my favour!

    (Note lucky troll for Bingo!)

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