Shell Game

Shell Game: How It Works

(with explanatory video below) The shell game has existed since at least the 90s, all over the world, but people still lose money over it. Scammers set up on street sidewalks, especially in high tourist areas (Las Vegas, New York, Barcelona, Eastern Europe, etc). The game requires three shells (lids, bottle caps, plastic cups, etc), and a small object, usually a soft round ball, about the size of a pea. It can be played on any flat surface.

Watch the video below to see in action the Shell Game Scam exposed:

The operator of the game (the scammer) begins by placing the pea under one of the shells, then quickly shuffles the shells around. When he is done, he tells the audience to bet under which shell is the little ball. The operator has a couple of partners in the audience, so they will act as tourists, betting on the game.

After a few winning hands from the audience (his partners), it seems pretty easy to spot where the pea is going to be – that’s when real tourists get involved. They start betting little amounts and they win.

Feeling that they could handle more and see themselves winning big, the travelers increase their bets. When they are finally hooked and confident they are winning, victims bet hundreds of dollars – and that’s when they lose.

The scammer waits for this moment to palm the pea and lifts the shell chosen by the tourist, revealing the losing hand.

Sometimes, the game is played with three cards instead of shells. The three cards faced upside down, are two tens and a queen, and the audience is invited to guess which one is the queen. When pulling the scam, the crook is just too fast for the gambler, while somebody else distracts him for a second.


Shell Game: How To Avoid

Don’t think you can win. These crooks are fast and do this a hundred times a day – you’ll never win.

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selma hrynchuk
Selma HrynchukSenior Editor at Scam Detector Media, Selma is a fraud prevention specialist with a wealth of experience in private investigations and collaborations with law enforcement. A captivating public speaker, Selma educates audiences about scams and personal safety. Through her insightful writing, she exposes criminals and shares essential tips for staying secure. Selma is a dedicated guardian against fraud, committed to unmasking deception and promoting integrity.

7 thoughts on “Shell Game”

  1. I also just got scammed in Las Vegas by the hide the soft ball under the cup game. I lost $200 my first bet after watching his side hustle team mates easily win several times in a row( usually between $100-$300 bets at a time. I won $100 back. Then after losing $450, i went to the atm for another $300 worth of betting. I ended up losing it all ($750 in total) and after the fact realized the “crowd” winning was all on his team when they walked back into Ceasars palace to cash in my some of my $100 chips that I bet. If I see them again, I will report them. They are in between ceasars palace and bellagio. They were gone 20 minutes later to even report them so if you see this guy with two black crates boxes and a 3 cup game with people cheering and winning what seems to be very easy money. Stay away and report them. He has an older white female, white male with tattoos, Latino woman, and another older black guy all working on his team with him. Don’t make a $750 mistake like I did!

  2. Just got scammed on a train and lost $100. When you see this just walk away, as it’s not clever to stand around. If possible, alert cops but don’t do it while you’re close to the scene. Crowds of people chanting and cheering will draw your attention to them, however they’re also in on it. These people are dangerous. These people are extremely clever and have all kinds of ways of making you feel like the odds are in your favor. The scammer sat directly across from me, had his accomplice standing over me and another one sitting down just throwing money away so that one would think that they have superior reflexes and can somehow win every time. When I won the first time, it felt great. I thought I could do it again over and over, then all my pocket money was gone just after playing twice. Also beware of people following you if you do ever somehow play and win.

  3. The game has been around since at least the ’90s, you say?

    The game certainly goes back to the Middle Ages, when it is bith referred to and depicted in art, and most likely goes back at least to ancient times.

    So "at least the ’90s" is an understatement, unless you are referring maybe to the ’90s A.D.? Or ’90s B.C. even?

  4. Don’t feel. Bad I lost 400$ and I realized after I walked away that i got scammed cause the 2 times I lost the same crowd person flipped it over to show me where it was, that crowd person was in on it and placing it in there, I went back around the corner to get my money back and they where gone

  5. I just lost $100 doing this today, and I feel like the stupidest person ever. It is friday the 13th today also so… I got really mad after this and it ruined my whole day and probably the whole week/month, I don’t know yet. I will NEVER do these things again so this is really a learning…

  6. I just lost $500.00 they all make it so real. Just pls walk away. The man and women who scammed me will truly pay the ultimate price down the road.

  7. Darius Lloyd

    I just lost $400 doing that.. I don’t understand how they make the ball disappear though?

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