UNFAIR CONTESTS AND GAMES
Many games and contests have faults in them that make them unfair. Here are some of the problems, sorted by how they are
Rules for Making Sports Fair
- Unfair difference in probability of winning:
- A tournament using a tree diagram is unfair if ANY places other than first place are awarded. An example is the NCAA
basketball playoff, where second place is awarded partly by luck of the draw as by ability:
- Other teams starting in the winner's half of the tree can not take second place.
- Other teams starting in the winner's quarter of the tree can not take any place.
- With three or four places, each place winner must come from a different quarter of the tree.
- The only fair tournament system is a round-robin system, where each team plays all of the other teams.
Round-robin systems are usually not used because of the huge number of games required. For example, the 64-team NCAA
tournament would require 2016 games. The faulty NCAA tree tournament has only 64 games.
- A smaller system can be used if the number of places awarded is low. This is done by having regional
round-robin tournaments, and then sending the n best teams (where n is the number of awarded places) from the regional to
the final. With Eight 8-team regionals, a total of 500 games are needed for the NCAA to be able to award 3 places
- Use my
Fair Sports Calculator to find out how many games are needed for a fair
- Contests where you win on your birthday if your name is drawn are usually operated in an unfair manner.
- Birthday contests with drawings on workdays are unfair if Saturday is drawn mixed with Friday, and Sunday is drawn
mixed with Monday.
- Each day should be drawn separately. February 29 should be drawn separately too, unless the contest lasts
a multiple of 4 years, where it should be drawn only when it occurs.
- If prizes are given out according to seasonal events, some people are never eligible for the prizes they want, because
their birthdays are in the wrong part of the year. As an example, one radio station gave away tickets to events at a
local university auditorium during the school year, but tickets to amusement parks during the summer when the auditorium
is closed. People wanting the other prize are not eligible.
- For a birthday contest to be fair, the same prize must be given for exactly one calendar year.
Otherwise, some people have absolutely no chance of winning that prize. If February 29 is drawn only once every 4 years,
then the same prize should be given for exactly 4 years.
- Probably the best kind of prize is a gift certificate that is good for over a year. That way, the winner
can choose a prize that is available in some other season.
- Unfair change in the probability of winning due to purchase:
- Contests requiring those who do not purchase to use a 3 x 5 card instead of the contest form are rigged.
- The 3 x 5 card has a smaller chance of being drawn in the random drawing than the larger entry form.
- The same entry form must be used whether or not purchases are made.
- Contests where a non-purchasing entry is mailed to a different address are extremely suspect.
- One would wonder what the probability of winning for a non-purchase entry really is. I suspect that it is not the
same. It would be advantageous to the company to draw a certain number of entries from the pool of purchasers and a
smaller number from the non-purchasers. One company draws one entry from the non-purchasers for each winning number
that is not claimed.
- All contest entries must be mailed to the same address, and the envelopes must not be opened until
after the drawing.
- Contests using an envelope where a purchase stamp is visible through an opening are quite suspect.
- None of the envelopes should be opened, nor should the contents be visible to the contest holder, until
after the drawing occurs.
- Computers can easily be programmed to favor entry numbers from entrants who have purchased in the past. A fair program
is also easily substituted wqhen government is invewstigating.
- It's also just as easy to substitute another program when inspectors are around.
- Computers must not be used to generate random numbers for the draw. The draw must be done in the form
of a lottery, after the entries are sent in.
- Unfair change in probability due to regional origin:
- Asking a question where special knowledge of one region of the world is required.
- Questions must be balanced, so all contestants have an equal chance of answering.
- Not counting an answer identical to the correct one, except for a variation in regional dialect, is unfair.
- Regional dialects must be taken into account when evaluating answers. So must alternate names for
- Contests where something is given a name picked from entries have a bias toward names in greater use in the region
where the judges live.
- Judges must come from different areas and have different backgrounds, so what one judge is ignorant of,
another judge is familiar with.
- Unfair change in probability due to economic status, available utilities, or choice of utility service:
- Telephone contests where the nth caller wins favor certain types of telephone equipment and services.
- Here are the various types, from best to worst chance of winning:
- Multiple phone lines, computer dialer
- Multiple phone lines, automatic redial
- Computer dialer, single line
- Automatic redial, single line
- Automatic redial, cellular phone
- Touch tone, multiple phone line, manual dial
- Touch tone, single line, manual dial
- Cellular phone, manual dial
- Rotary dial
- A telephone exchange which is not on the same company as the contest number, because the handshaking protocol must
finish before the call is put through
- Certain antiquated telephone exchanges which take several seconds to put a call through
- Telephone contests where the first n callers win are even more biased, for the same reason.
- The design of a telephone contest must be carefully considered. It must be designed so that people with
setups designed to win prizes don't have a higher probability of winning.
- A system using caller-ID should be used to remove the duplicate calls, so each caller can call only once.
- Some telephone contests are held at times when people who work are busy, or are driving to or from work, unfairly favoring
those who do not work.
- The same contest should be offered several times a day.
- Internet contests are biased against certain service providers.
- Contests based on speed of entry are biased against certain types of service.
- Some services have firewalls, which slow down emails and form submissions.
- This slowdown can also prevent the user from finding out about the contest until after the time submissions are due.
- Even worse, some services have manual approval systems for the release of emails and/or forms. An attendant checks each
- Some contests expect the user to be at the computer and looking at emails to be able to respond immediately.
- It is not a good idea to base the contest on the speed of entry.
- Some service providers advertently or inadvertently discriminate against other service providers.
- Some service providers totally block certain email addresses and websites, often due to phishing spam from other sites.
This spam has phaked return addresses portrayed to be from other addresses, which are then blocked by the service.
- Contest sponsors should not use service providers that don't check to see if the return address is
legitimate before blocking the site.
- Some services use codes that cause some browsers to malfunction.
- Some contests are coded with HTML codes that are deprecated or browser-specific.
- Some of the browser-specific codes cause the first item in each dropdown list to be selected (no matter which item
the user selects) when used with other browsers.
- Contest pages must be compatible with as many browsers as possible.
- Some contests are based on a telephone or Internet subscriber changing to a different company. People who already
subscribe are ineligible.
- Unfair portrayals of false odds:
- When dice or playing card hands are placed on lottery entry cards, the probabilities of dice or playing cards do not
apply. The number of entry cards printed with each combination determines the probability. Unfortunately, this can be
tailored to the desires of those giving the contest.
- If somebody has just won on an instant win lottery ticket, the next few tickets in the roll are probably not
winners. They usually space the winning tickets far enough apart that a winner buying more tickets with the winnings
will not win again.
- If one person somehow obtained every contest entry form for one of the large publishing house sweepstakes, and mailed
all of the entries in, the postage would cost more than the prizes are worth.
- There are some games that are inherently unfair. Major overhauls in the rules would be needed to make them
- All casino games: The probabilities of all casino games are arranged so the house has the advantage.
- Monopoly: The rental properties do not have the same probabilities of being landed on. The
ones closest to Free Parking have higher probabilities, with Illinois Avenue having the highest probability, and Park Place
having the lowest. Jail and the cards alter the paths of the players' tokens. Also, the first player has a slight
- Chess: The player going first (white always moves first) always has an advantage.
- Alternating starting colors is done in a tournament.
- Pinball: TV shows often show two players playing different pinball machines standing side by side. This
could never be fair, even if there were two copies of the same model there. Each machine has its own small differences.
Comparing the scores on two different models is absurd, since each has its own scoring properties.
- Some machines can leave the playfield in different states at the end of a ball. An example is a machine that locks
balls and releases them later. Two players playing this machine in the same multiplayer game do not have equal
- Alternating complete games on the same machine (or on several different machines all players play) is the
only fair way to have a pinball tournament. But the scores on different machines must be adjusted, since each machine has
a different ease of making a given score.
- Croquet: Several attempts to make it fair have been tried. All but one fails:
- There are too many variations in the rules already.
- The standard game favors the last player to start, because there are balls to be hit for extra shots.
- Making each player "dead" on all balls until his ball goes through the first three wickets (including the pair at the
start) favors the first player to start.
- Making each player "dead" on all balls that have not gone through the same number of wickets still favored the last
player to start.
- Making each player "dead" on all balls for his first turn will work better than anything else will.
- Auto Racing:
There are several rules that make auto racing more unfair by trying to make it fair.
- The rule that closes the pits when the yellow light comes on penalizes those who are already heading to the pits when
the light comes on. Several cars have run out of fuel because they couldn't pit. And a car that was spreading oil on the
track was also forced to go around another time, increasing the hazard.
- Eliminate the rule. Make the pit entrance lane long enough that any car wishing to pit can enter it
easily. Put the pits on the side of the track away from the finish line. And put turn signals on the cars.
- The engine horsepower and other restrictions making all of the cars nearly alike are so strict that most engine and
chassis makers don't have any models that can compete. These stupid rules are contrary to the reason auto racing was
invented. The original idea was to see who could build the best cars, not who is the best driver.
- Get rid of these egalitarian rules. They have totally ruined auto racing.
- There are some games which are inherently fair, but have inconsistent rules:
- Football: There are a few places where football is inconsistent.
- Why is it that a touchdown is instantly scored when the ball is in the end zone in player possession, but that the
wind can undo a field goal by blowing the ball backwards through the uprights?
- Why not score a field goal the instant the ball penetrates a space between the uprights and above the
- Basketball: Basketball gets its inconsistencies through its attempts to please egalitarians:
- I realize that the jump ball wasn't fair, but the alternating possession arrow that replaced it is ridiculous.
- Why not have the referee bowl the ball at the tied-up players. Or why not flip a coin? It should be such
that they don't know in advance who gets the ball.
- The shot clock is ridiculous too. It removes some of the most exciting plays.
- Baseball: Baseball is strange enough. But this doesn't make sense:
- The stands are often located in such a place that fans can interfere with fly balls that are still in play.
- Why not place a gap between the actual out-of-bounds fence and the stands?
- Elections have very different probabilities than people think.
- All elections using the Plurality Voting System (Vote for only one) are unfair if more than two candidates run.
- Adding more candidates on one side REDUCES the chance of that side winning an election using the Plurality Voting
- Suppose the electorate in a district is equally split between liberals and conservatives, and that the candidates
include nine conservative candidates, two liberal candidates, and one wacko (promising a banana in every pot). Most people
would think each candidate has an equal chance. But in reality, each liberal has 4.5 times as much chance of winning as each
conservative has. And there is a good chance the wacko could win. There is weakness in numbers in the Plurality Voting
- The Approval, Condorcet, and Ranking systems also have their biases.
- Only the Independent Voting System is totally free of bias. It
lets each voter make his decision on each candidate in total isolation from the other candidates. But it can't eliminate
- Unfortunately, candidates also have the power to change the probabilities of any election system by lying.
- Laws disqualifying a candidate found to have been lying (in his campaign or in the duties of an office)
from holding any office can eliminate lying. The problem is getting politicians to pass such a law.
- RULES FOR MAKING SPORTS FAIR
- BAD SCIENCE
- RECOGNIZING BAD SCIENCE
- RECOGNIZING BAD REASONING
- BAD UFO SCIENCE
- BAD MATH
- BAD STATISTICS