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Shell Game rears its ugly head

The Shell Game is back with a vengeance on CTA trains.

Both my daughter and Tattler reader Chris saw the guys in action last week. And Chris provided this short video:

Here's Chris' description of the guys schtick:

The Shell Game team is back!  I watched in horror as a team of three very sketchy looking individuals defrauded a young man of $45. A man sporting a ratty old suit and a hat that went out of style in 1965 entered from the next car, and walked down to my end of the train.  He carried a large flat card in one hand, and offered to double anyone's money who guesses correctly which of three yellow bottle caps hides a little red ball, after he has, of course, shuffled them. 

There was one very enthusiastic taker, who immediately doubled his $20 to $40.  Never mind that the winner was dressed like the man in the hat and looked like his brother.  One of my fellow passengers, a young man of about 19 or 20, I would say, was looking very interested in this game.  To encourage him, a toothless woman, clothes as well-worn as the shuffler and the first winner, cheered him on: "You can't beat this!  Go for it - double your money."  But the shuffler raised the stakes: "Who can show me forty?  I'll only do it for $40 now." 

The young man reached for his wallet - the rest of the passengers winced.  Out came the forty dollars, and the sleight-of-hand practitioner began to shuffle around the caps.  "Oh, it's that one for sure!" cried the man who "won" the first contest. "Don't listen to him, it's under there!" shouted the toothless woman. "Shut up, no helping!" was the dealer's retort. 

He played annoyed quite well.  The young contestant made his pick, and lost his $40. "Don't give up now," said the first contestant.  "I won $40.  You can win it back."  Succumbing to the gambler's fallacy, our tragic figure put in his last $5, hoping to make it $10.  I hope he enjoyed his $45 ride on the El."

If you see these guys on the train, call 911 and tell the operator what train you're on, in what direction you're moving, and to which station you're headed. Also, call the motorman on the call button if you can.


Why didn't anyone speak up to help out this poor schmoe?

I'd be nice if there were these men/women who roamed the trains and had the authority to stop illegal behavior. Perhaps we could distinguish them with some sort of badge, like a shinny metal star or something.

Ahh a pipe dream.

While I agree that these scammers are despicable, I don't really feel sorry for the "victims." I mean really, if common sense doesn't tell you that something is fishy with a situation like this, then getting burned once will probably cause them to be more alert next time!

Am I the only one who feels that calling 9-1-1 is an extreme response? Notifying the operator seems more appropriate.

And I agree that this problem would be solved by having roaming VISIBLE security on CTA trains and buses.

I saw this exact guy about 3 years ago. He suckered some guy out of $100 dollars. It wasn't even a double your money bet. It was, bet $50, get $50 back. What the sucker playing didn't realize was that IF he did win, all he would get back was the $50 dollars he just put in.

I saw these guys when my mom was visiting. Three black guys and two black women all boarded the train at Sheridan and instantly started in on the scam. It was comical how obvious the whole thing was. The car went from a quiet half-full red line with a crowd of mixed race to a loud sream-fest in the span of one minute. And the train went very slowly so we were all basically hostages of this group for ten minutes. The women were yelling, trying to encourage people. "I got the magic. Ask me, I'll tell you where it is!" Most of the people on the train ignored them. The only people who played were the shills. At one point, my Mom got into it and said, "it's in the middle!" I gave her the cut-throat signal and said not to encourage them. The guy with the board said, "now hold on there young man, don't you tell the lady what to do. She's not a racist." I laughed. They were so obvious that I began thinking maybe they were trying to just cause a ruckus so they could steal people's things. I told my Mom they'd get off at Belmont, which they did indeed. One of the women said, "I'll see you all later. I gotta go to court."

Putting these people through the criminal justice system is a complete waste of time, but I'd still like to see them get arrested just to be inconvenienced. I don't have much sympathy for their victims, but they are still more obnoxious than entertaining.

No Matt you are not the only one! I agree..calling 911 is too extreme and most likely a waste of time. I too don't feel sorry for anyone who lets themselves be duped by this game. Apparently UPS doesn't pay all that well because the main "ringleader" of the game is a UPS employee!

Funny that last saturday I was on the train and they came waddling on (around Grand?), and that I couldn't endure anymore than I wanted to. I wanted to bust them, I truely wanted to. But I didn't.

"Ignorance is Bliss" I yelled as I left and ran back a couple of cars.

But when they got off at Belmont, I came this close to reporting them to the attendant, but i'd figure it'd be worth it if these people would learn their lesson...

tough call, depending on how you see it.

Okay. I hate these guys. The people who give in are stupid, too, but the people who start the game are thieves who like to pretend they're gamesters.

I've been afraid to hit the call button or report the guys - I usually just switch cars if possible and content myself with warning other passengers by shaking my head. Not anymore. Next time I see those guys I'm calling for help from the driver and I'm going to warn the other people. Riding the train is bad enough without that harrassment every day.

Calling 911 is appropriate. The 911 operators are well trained in determining the seriousness of the event. And if there happens to be any officers(that are also available) on or near upcoming platforms they'll be called onto the train. Either call discreetly or move to another car first. Give the operator the line, direction, car number(or description, like 2nd from front) and next stop(s). You'll probably stay on the line until they get off or caught. At worst, they leave, but CPD starts to gets info. for later use.

Your choice - do something or wonder why they keep coming back.

If you're a chicagoan or an official CTA rider, you see this scam all the time and you STILL put your money it... you deserve to lose your money. I think we should do a better job in warning and protecting tourist and non-official CTA riders. They might not know about these scams.

Hey, it's legit! I actually won a hundred bucks from them. They run a clean operation.

Yeah, I second what Sam said. I won $50 dollars last week. They are the real deal.

I have always been sekptical of these blokes, but I decided to give it a shot the other day. Lo and behold! I won a bunch of cash! These guys are the best!

Its great to see Sam, Dewey and Cheatam speak up for this entertainment service. I think's wonderful for us poor CTA riders to have a little fun on the EL. The people who disdain those guys JUST DON'T HAVE THE SKILL.

If you practice, YOU CAN WIN in the shell game.

Well, I gotta go! I have a bunch of emails from my Nigerian business partners to respond to!

Sounds like Sam, Dewey, Cheatam and Howe are the same person. Probably the shell hustler himself or one of his crazy sidekicks.

LadyDay -
The Sam, Dewey, Cheatam, and Howe are a play on words and a reference to the Three Stooges. (Do we cheat 'em? And how!!! - "And how!" was/is vernacular for "of course!" around that era. Not sure how Sam fits into it though.)

I saw these chuckleheads on the Red Line Monday as well. They were trying to scam a few girls. One guy who had an iPod on or something busted them out. Then the ringleader had the audacity to come over to me to try and hook me. I just said, "Don't come over here with that scam! You and your shills really need to leave the car!" A few moments later the ringleader went to the next car through the doors in the middle and his shills moved over there at the next stop.

I truly don't get why anyone would play the game. Where is the common sense?

Isn't 911 for an emergency?

This isn't an emergency. Don't waste the operators' time. They're already overextended.

911 should be used to report a crime in progress that requires police response. That's what this is: A crime in progress. And the only way to stop it is for police to respond.

Not taking sides here, but if you were to call 311, they would end up transferring you to the 911 operators who would then dispatch a squad to the location depending upon the urgency and nature of the complaint.

Here we have a classic example of how misunderstood 911 is in Chicago. Go to a CAPS meeting folks and you will learn that the 911 system is directly tied in with Police dispatch. It's the ONLY way to get CPD to respond if you need them to respond ASAP (to catch criminals). If you think the shell game grifters (who'd probably be more than happy to smack you on the noggin with a brick to get your wallet) are not 'criminal' enough to lock up, fine, just look the other way. But if you do want the police to come, the ONLY way to do that is to call 911. 311 is for potholes, city services, or a car window busted the day before. 911 is for ANY commission of a crime or suspicious activity that requires police response.

These grifters could be drug addicts who end up straightening up. Or they could know something about who killed Joe Blow last October and use it to bargain out of jail time. Smiling and shaking your head at the grifters doesn't do anyone any good except the grifters.

From the city:

"When should I call 311 and when 911?
You can call 311 to find out what Police District and beat you live in, as well as the date, time and location of your next beat meeting. In addition, 311 allows you easy access to non-emergency police services, from filing police reports to talking to police personnel in your district.
Remember, if the incident that you are reporting has occurred and the offender is gone from the scene you should call 311. However, if the incident you are reporting is occurring now, and the presence of a police officer will help resolve it, (writing a parking ticket, quieting loud neighbors, etc.) dial 911."



There's a sucker born every minute. I always look at the guys getting ready to play and ask them "Do you really believe this isn't a scam?" When they go ahead, I say you get what you deserve. Me, when the shuckster asked me if I wanted to be a part of the magic, I told him to get off at the next stop or I'd throw him off.

I saw this guy yesterday on the Brown Line. Then he and his shills got off after a couple stops because no one was biting. I almost hit the emergency button, but didn't. I regret my decision now. I think they should be punished if only for polluting the air space in the cars with their loud and inane babbling.

Eyewitness report --

On Friday, June 23rd at about 2:30PM on the southbound brown line train between Damen and Fullerton, the following took place:

The "shell master" shown in the above video entered the train I was on, with at least two and possibly three shills (accomplices).

After the train was in motion for about a minute, he began his rhyming patter, and the first shill (a white man of about 25) started the action. He produced a wad of bills (from his front pocket, NOT a wallet) and began betting in $50.00 increments. He won, then lost, then won again and stepped away. By the time he was finished the betting had reached $100.00 per game.

At this point a second accomplice (a black man of about 40) started in, also producing large bills from his front pocket, raising the bets to $200.00. In between, bystanders won and lost amounts varying from $50.00 to $200.00. The second shill walked away a "loser" as well.

The third shill -- the other black man shown dealing with the "shell master" in the video -- was on the train but played only one game. I noted that while schills #1 and #2 exited the train at Belmont, the third remained behind along with the "shell master".

The crux of the game is a simple and age-old one. Namely that the game operator has a "sticky thumb" which he uses to switch the ball out WHILE the mark is counting out his money. The operator is purposely clumsy in hiding the ball, allowing the mark to spot it. When the mark thinks he has won and is counting out his "matching money" to claim his winnings, the ball is switched (or perhaps completely palmed) and of course not where it was when the mark believed the game was over. In shock, he allows his money to be kept. At least, that's how it went down on this very lucrative ride for a handful of CTA con-men -- ALL of whom are suspected to be employed by UPS, as noted by another poster.

My notice to those foolish enough to conisder such a proposition is to know that shills win the big pots, and an occasional $20 or $50 giveaway to some lucky rider is nothing when you're a crook collecting $500+ per ride.

CTA -- how about some action on this? Is this the kind of garbage we want our tourists to go home thinking about? A simple bulletin on each car would at least disuade the sharps from thinking they had open range to ply this kind of stuff on our trains.

Beware -- the shell game hasn't changed a bit in 200 years...saw it myself on our own trains.

This morning for the first time ever I heard CTA Guy remind people that soliciting and gambling are prohibited on CTA trains.

Some time last year I was on a train with some guys running a shell game. As I exited I stepped up to the motorman and said "there's a shell game going on in the third car." He said "What?", I repeated myself, and he just shrugged as if he didn't understand what I was saying (if I recall, he did have a heavy accent, so maybe the words I was using were foreign to him). Regardless, it made me less likely to bother trying to report them in the future, since there didn't seem to be any interest in catching them at the time.

Just ask the guy or woman to come with you. Tell them there is a problem. I doubt that anyone knows what a shell game is, even English speakers. Use the words "soliciting" or "gambling". I always thought those games were annoyances, and hope that no one is stupid enough to think that they will win.

Don't know how the UPS connection got made by two earlier posters. If it's true, wouldn't it be easy to just have people from the Chicago UPS branches look at the video above and say "yep, that's Ralph and George"? That'd put a stop to more than just their shell game income! Course, how to arrange that sort of viewing is a different story, I guess....

CongerEel...I've seen him on the train in his UPS uniform that's how I know he works or worked for UPS.

311 will put you through to the appropriate people if you're not sure 911 is the right place to go first.

I reported a nuisance car alarm some months ago by dialing 311, and they put me through to the police "emergency desk." I immediately told them it isn't an emergency, and they said no problem. Apparently they can handle non-emergency stuff when an emergency isn't going on. I assume a real emergency call would have pre-empted mine. But they knew I had dialed 311 and wasn't overreacting to something.

Just dial 311 and say you'd like to report illegal gambling in progress on a CTA L train. They'll connect you to the right people to handle the situation.

I think 311 is one of the best things about this city. You can call that number for absolutely anything, and they'll help you talk with the right people.

Scott...the problem with calling 311 is that you sit on hold for half an eternity before you are connected. By that time the guys are long gone.

I'm not for calling 911 either. I say let people learn the hard way if they are really that stupid. But that's JMO :-)

i mean, even in the clip...the guy in the cubs jersey bets having seen only half of the game.

and the guy running it has a white sox hat on. i mean, you know he's a crook with that..=)

no, seriously, he's shuffling the board with *ONE HAND*. he had it half shuffled before the first retard shill even approached him. i guess the cubs/white sox dichotomy fooled everyone? jesus christ...if you fall for this, WTF is wrong with you?

oh, and also...when does the pay-out occur? that is the retard game to end all others...i thought chicago people were supposed to be smart..

My friend got so sucked into this evil game that he not only lost $100 but went on to lose another $100 trying to win it back. If anyone from Vegas is reading this blog, please offer my friend a free trip to a legit casino. . .he will make you rich too.

The problem is this:

If you speak up to other passengers about what's going on, you WILL get physically hurt by the "crew" that comes with the lead. It has happened to me. I got shoved into a door as they were escaping through the other side. I just laughed it off and felt awesome because I "helped" but I probably got off easy. I'm sure if it hadn't been such a full car that worse would have happened.

Imagine hitting the call button while Big Hick Looking Dude glares at you from the opposite side of the car. You won't do it. And if you do, by the time the operator (or a cop - ha) gets back to your car at the next stop, the people have already escaped.

What needs to happen is one of two things (or both):

1) There needs to be an emergency call button that can be pressed where a response is not required. A signal would be sent to the operator with a tracking ID, telling the operator which car triggered the call. A security guard/cop/secondary operator would then go back to the specific car while the train continues in motion.

2) When's the last time you ever REALLY saw a substancial police presence on the trains? Chicago has a "Transit Detail", where are they? Oh yeah, following buses.

First time I ever saw this scam was on a local bus in Oakland, CA back in the '80s. Very much the same game, and too many suckers.

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