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Statistics prof nails Blackpool hoopla scam

Golden Mile game 'impossible to win'

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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 bullying "vulnerable" tourists into parting with cash for the chance to win "stuffed toys and bottles of champagne".

Blackpool magistrates’ court heard that one unnamed doctor lost a whopping £1,200 in a single session. Victoria Cartmell, prosecuting, told the court: “Most of the victims were visitors and were young, vulnerable or elderly. They complained they were kept at the stall to try and get money back they had lost."

The court saw video surveillance footage of a trading standards sting involving two teenage girls, which showed stall staff "bullying the girls, aged 14 and 15, to keep playing". The pair ended up £70 out of pocket but were handed “consolation prizes” of a poster and a small stuffed toy.

In September 2008, the stall was raided, and the "blocks, hoops and several empty bottles of champagne were seized".

Williams claimed his hoopla set-up was a "game of skill", and therefore exempt from a license required by the Gambling Act 2005. However, tests by Lancaster University statistics lecturer Dr David Lucy showed it would take a player over 2,622 attempts to “stand a 99 per cent probability of success”.

The Telegraph explains: "The blocks over which players were supposed to cast the hoops were tilted away from the thrower, reducing the chance of success, and in some cases were wider than the hoops themselves."

Dr Lucy said: “The geometry was such that a player would need to throw the hoop at such a high trajectory to be able to win at all and obviously this went far beyond any reasonable skill level.”

Williams, 53, admitted "unlawfully allowing premises on the Promenade to be used for gambling and permitting a child to gamble". He was yesterday "jailed for 14 weeks, suspended for one year, ordered to complete 270 hours of community service and pay £2,000 in court costs".

Darren Casey, 36, also pleaded guilty to "allowing a child to gamble", and was handed "135 hours of community service" and ordered to cough £575 in costs.

Presiding magistrate Julie Blackwell told the pair: "We think this sort of behaviour tarnishes the [town's] reputation and actively discourages tourists coming to Blackpool."

Council trading officer Shaun McKinney concluded: “This was a very bad thing for tourism in the resort. They might look like harmless fun but this case proves that even a simple game of hoopla hides a background of criminality." ®

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