How Razzle-Dazzle Takes All Your Money

This game is illegal. Razzle, also known as Razzle-Dazzle, is a carnival or street game scam in which you roll balls into a box to collect points. Spawning in Havana , New York , New Orleans , and curbs and parking lots throughout the US, it’s like a three-card Monte, but more challenging and better disguised as a real game.

This is part of the attraction, and this is why a good crook can keep playing it with idlers, paying a couple of bucks a move until they lose thousands of dollars . Here’s abeautiful demo by mathematician James Grime of Numberphile and magician Brian Brushwood of Scam Nation .

How it supposedly works

The scammer calls you to his booth and shows you his wooden tray with small holes, each marked with numbers from 1 to 6. You can roll balls into the holes, add these numbers, and then check the table to see how many points you get. And if you get ten points, you win a big prize: a switch, or an iPhone, or a TV, or all your money back. Let’s take a look at this graph!

Let’s say you throw balls, and the total is 45. Well: you won 5 points and you are halfway to victory! (The “HP” in this diagram is less clear, but one magic trick seller believes the fraudster is promising to return your money if you win on the next roll.)

It’s a little dizzying, but like most games, when you start. You don’t need to learn any strategy, just play the odds. So you pay a dollar to play the first round. Just to see how quickly the points are awarded. And wow, yeah, you scored a few points at once! You will win this TV for about five bucks!

You keep playing, spending more to earn more. Soon, you are very close to winning.

At some point, you make a roll that does not add points, but adds a new potential prize to the pool. This also doubles the cost of the move. Of course, well, once you win, you get all your money back. So keep playing.

Until you run out of money. No prize. How lucky were you so fast?

To get a feel for the energy of the game, watch the demo, which is slightly brighter than the one above, from the rogue TV show The Real Hustle .

How it actually works

How did you earn points so quickly and then not earn them at all? Because you have never earned those points. The scammer lied and pretended to score the correct points. But your chances of getting those points are very low.

Razzle boards basically work like throwing a bunch of hex dice. (Some versions do use dice.) If you’ve played enough craps or Monopoly, you know that getting really high or low totals is less likely than getting average totals. Your chances of rolling 7 are 1/6, and your chances of rolling 2 are 1/36.

Razzle works the same way, but you roll eight dice. Your chances of getting, say, 28 are roughly 1/12. Your odds of getting an eight are literally less than one in a million. Seriously, you can check it out on this calculator . All the lowest and highest scores are very unlikely, and the average scores are very likely.

Guess what amount gives you points.

This crazy yellow graph hides the odds because it knocks the bottom line out. This is how it will look in order:

It is now easy to see that all points are numbered at the end. And as this graph shows, the numbers at the end are very rare . The most likely point rolls, 17 and 39, have a 1 in 160 chance each. The least probable, 8 and 48, are 1 in 1.6 million. The odds of scoring any points on a roll are 1 in 36, and of course you only get half a point on most of these rolls.

To get enough points, you have to throw hundreds or thousands of times. A fraudster does not need to weigh balls or even furtively place numbers on holes. As long as things on the board are pretty random, you will never hit your sum until you run out of money.

Play for a very long time and you will eventually win. But there is also a 1 in 12 chance of hitting the special number 29, which doubles your prize, but also doubles the cost of the game. Thus, approximately every 12 throws, you start to lose money twice as fast. By the time you catch up, you’ll have spent a lot more than the cost of your TV.

No, no, wait, but I got those points early on!

The scammer told you that you have scored points. He has been playing this game for a long time and has learned to add numbers very quickly. He also learned to fold them incorrectly faster than you notice. And if you notice, you notice that he “accidentally” gave you points you will not earn. So you don’t name it. You hope he makes the same mistake again. And make sure he never makes a mistake in his favor.

But a fraudster does not have to be wrong in his favor. He can honestly tell you when you score points because you almost never score points . You can’t catch him cheating because the only lie he ever has to tell is that you had any chance of winning.

If you’ve been avoiding rolling a 29 for a long time and seem to be easily fooled by its fake amounts, a scammer could fake a 29 so you can double your money faster. But he could also just wait and let the odds take over.

All he has to do is keep you engaged by giving you fake points from time to time.

How cool is that

Something cool about that, right? Cheating and gambling is sexy! Ocean’s Eleven ! American vanity ! Casino Royale !

Razzle games have been around for generations and are run by petty crooks , street cheats , casinos , nightclubs and the mafia . The cops took responsibility for this. Mafia families fought for territory rights . There are Razzle kits available at magic stores, although they are not sure if they actually sell this tool designed specifically for scams. There is a lot of … dizzying blinding in the game.

Like most gambling, it is less glamorous in person. Here’s a report about some poor guy who didn’t let the reporters show his face, so they just pointed the camera at his shitty sneakers:

There isn’t that much wheezing. He just stole money from the guy for sneakers in the parking lot.

A 1981 DOJ report on Razzle-Dazzle said the game could fool “rich, smart brands.” It offers several options for disabling operators:

While the main criminal charge against operator Razzle Dazzle will be gambling, there may be pressure on others, including fraud, false betrayal, theft or theft by deception. Law enforcement officers making related arrests should look for records indicating significant loss of players, as well as other items used by the operator that can be analyzed by the FBI Crime Lab’s Gambling Division.

So if you saw the Razzle-Dazzle model in that magical store, maybe keep your money for yourself.


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