Back in the summer we were in London visiting a friend for the day. We met at London Bridge for an explore of Borough Market, which turned out to be quite marvelous (in particular the Hampshire cider man at the back). The weather was a little off and on, but pleasant enough to make for a fine day. One thing stood out in our wondering - coming across what is often called "the cup game" on the bank of the Thames. None of us had seen this before and frankly were a little intrigued, so we gathered around one of the two gaggles of tourists to take a closer look. One person lost a couple of tenners and I was shocked that anyone would bet even ten pounds on some silly little game (even if the odds looked good - one in three base chance and sometimes 50:50 after the first reveal) - but I suspect this shows more about my upbringing and tradition in the value I attribute to money*.
Next up this woman started to bet, £10, £20, £40... loosing each time and each time being given the option to double or nothing. We soon realized that she was with her daughter and the daughter was getting twitchy. £80 went down - she literally handed him another £40 - my hands went sweaty. She picked a cup, the guy revealed one of the others - she was down to 50:50, then bang. Lost. At this point her daughter started to drag her away. The guy offered again to double or nothing but thankfully the daughter won this round and dragger her mum away. We walked away, stunned, past a second cup game set.
First game with the unlucky mum on the right
50:50 - good odds
some tentative interest on the second mat
As we walked we chatted, and as we chatted we realized it must be a scam. We discussed and worked out how the betting must work: the game runner only ever risks the equivalent of the first bet put down, as from then on in the cupist's money all comes from the better except that initial fraction. So even if he makes a mistake at some stage into the game and looses a bet, his loss is negligible. And once a player is in, all their money is invested and the desire to get that back is strong. So all that is needed is a punter. How to get one of those? Stooges. We walked back along the footpath from having a look at The Shard and were surprised to see the guys still there, still playing. Yet this time there was a large crowd formed:
a large crowd and some punters playing
But this time we were not only aware of the scam, we were familiar with the players. Look again at the man and woman betting in this game - they're the same people from the first games. This time we noticed how these stooges were playing and loosing small bets of ten or twenty pounds in order to entice real players. Thankfully they were not being successful despite their insistent fakery.
Being me I started to join the crowd and loudly start telling people how the whole show is a scam and that the two playing were fakes. I walked behind the cuppist and proclaimed the nature of this game and how they can not loose. One stooge tried to pretend to loose to show that it is a real game. But then in a flash the little carpet was gone, the cups were stacked and the ball disappeared. One guy collected all the ingredients into his rucksack and everyone dispersed to the wall.
what cup game? We're just tourists...
discussing their options
Below are some close ups of the people I could tell were involved. If you see these people in London please do not be tempted to give them any money - you will loose. I would suggest that you call the police, but quite frankly I doubt they will do anything. The best you can do is to inform anyone in the area that it is a scam, get your camera out to take evidence and watch as they disappear like smoke.
shocked lady not very good at acting a mix of expressions
camp smoking man, a bit like a dodgy Mr Bean
which cup, guess a cup, fifty fifty, loose it all
texting woman, standby stooge
who I originally thought was the godfather
the scout and possibly the ring leader
In other news I came across exactly the same game in a park in Budapest recently. Was I walked past yet again there was someone already playing the game and winning as I was invited to play. I immediately told them I new it was fake and got my camera out. As I continued through the park I came across their lookout who frankly scared me and tried to shut me up. When you next see this game make a noise and look out for all the various members of the gang.
* probably a subject for another time.