Croquet Hustling on the Rise

by Wallace Beery · 05/31/2017

Recent Reports

With the 2017 summer well upon us, many of the big annual events are taking place or are about to in the next couple of weeks. Our staff and writers are always looking for a good story to cover and have been very fortunate this year with a number of great leads. Along with those however, have come some other rumblings, perhaps a bit darker in nature than a family get together or fund raisers; the spectacle of gambling on the croquet court. While we are not in a position to name individuals or identify pockets of activity, we believe it is our duty to report in this alarming trend with the intent of creating awareness and therefore protection against those who would take advantage of the honest fun of a game of croquet.

Looser handing over the money. Photo by Wallace Beery

Croquet hustling is the deceptive act of disguising one’s skill in the game with the intent of luring someone of probably lesser skill into gambling on the outcome of a game or a particular shot with the hustler, as a form of confidence trick. It is most commonly associated with, and originated in, pool halls, but also can be carried out with other one-on-one sports like golf and tennis.

Many grifters team up with a “stakehorse” — a person who may assist in the hustling off the court in exchange for a substantial portion of all winnings. They may also provide the money for the hustler to bet with. It is not uncommon to see women in this capacity; typically well dressed, engaging demeanor while subtlety gathering information about the “mark” that can be used later to distract or simply rattle their game. Another form of hustling often engaged in by the same hustlers who use a skill-disguising technique is challenging “marks” to bet on trick shots that seem near-impossible but at which the hustler is exceptionally skilled.

Not so easy when you loose.

Do not think for one minute that these grifters, hustlers and stakehorses, are easy to spot. Yes, they could be a well-dressed young to middle aged couple that seem a bit out of place in the crowd but show a keen interest in an ongoing game of croquet. But just as easy they can be an awkward, nerdy looking teenager, or a bumbling, overweight old flimflam man working with accomplices from a completely different generation.
ONE thing that even the worst croquet hustlers do not do is engage in “sharking”, the act of distracting, disheartening, enraging or even threatening their opponents, to throw them off during the game. This gentlemen code is considered holy and kept by all croquet brethren regardless of their intentions.

Watch out for these Croquet hustling techniques:

Croquet hustlers use deception and misdirection in order to win cash from inexperienced players or skilled players inexperienced with the world of hustling. A skilled hustler:

• Will usually play with a low-quality mallet provided by the host, or an unadorned but high-quality personal mallet that looks like one, known as a “sneaky pete” (or, with the inside knowledge of a local competitive league play, may play with a flashy-looking but evidently low-end personal mallet, to give the impression that the hustler is a beginning league player).

• Will typically play a game or two for “fun” or for low bets a beer or equivalent amount of cash, for example in order to check out the opponent and give the impression that money can easily be won, often losing on purpose known as “sandbagging” or “dumping” – with the intent of winning a much larger bet later against a predictably overconfident opponent.

• Will score some difficult and impressive shots or make surprisingly secure safe shots, ones crucial for winning, while missing many simple ones, thus making early victories appear to be sheer luck. The classic Shakespearian theatrics include the stakehorse off the court audible “Ohhs and Ahas” almost-making of shots that inexperienced players may think of as crucial mistakes, but which really give away very little advantage.

• May pretend to be intoxicated, unintelligent, or otherwise impaired (that is, until it is time to run the wickets or make a game-winning shot), the old Arnold Palmer in the whiskey sour glass trick.

• When betting on trick shots, may intentionally miss the first or several times and lose a small amount, then raise the bet, double down, to an amount well beyond the loss and succeed at the well-practiced feat.

Hustlers celebrating their sucess.

Many of these ploys can easily be mistaken for the honest faults of a less-than-exceptional player, the grass, setup of the wickets. So let’s not assume every mishap is a planned deception. The courts are less than perfect typically with long grass, an occasional dip, hole or tree root in the way. But it is this engendered doubt and uncertainty that allows hustling to succeed, with the “faults” being dropped when a significant amount of money is at stake. If you see any suspicious activity, call 1-800-555-1212 immediately. Operators are available 24-7 to assist you. Remember, crime and croquet both begin with “C”, so keep an eye out.