Game of Cults: Betting on Fail-Proof Wins

The ultimate bet

It’s been some time, and you may be wondering whatever happened to old Mr. McCallister.

McCallister would continue to seek Weil out and bother him about when they could again get a “sure thing” tip.

Weil would keep pushing him off, telling him that the brother-in-law was no longer on the gold wire.

But a few months later, they let him know it was time for the big score. Weil’s brother-in-law was back on the gold wire, and they could intercept the results again—but this would likely be the last time.

Weil would commit a large sum, as would the brother-in-law, to show their commitment to the bet, and they’d give McCallister cash to bet with his money.

So McCallister went all in on the bet. He committed close to a quarter of a million dollars in today’s money.

The plan was the same. The runner would wait for the ball to be dropped, then run it to McCallister to read the slips and place the bet.

When the boy ran to McCallister, he took the rubber ball and pulled out a slip of paper that had Sunshine and the number 3 on the slip.

“What do you think that means?” asked McCallister.

“Maybe the odds?” Weil suggested. “I don’t know, but they will post soon. You better get our bets placed.”

When McCallister looked at the odds on the horse, they weren’t 3:1. They were 10:1. He was about to win 2.5 million dollars.

He quickly placed the bet.

At the window, the teller said the bet was too big; they wouldn’t take it.

McCallister asked what the limit was, at which point the boss came over and, just before the flash, reluctantly agreed to take the whole bet.

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The wire flashed, and the race was off.

When the race finally was called, the horse came in third.

Weil and McCallister were in shock. How could it have failed?

Again, when they met the brother-in-law, he was jubilant. “Did the bookie have the cash to pay off the bet?”

“What do you mean? Sunshine came in third.”

“Yes, and Kelly’s Pride placed, and Merriment won. That was the trifecta, a fifty-to-one payoff.”

“How was I to know that?” replied McCallister, confused and angry.

“Give me the ball.”

McCallister handed over the ball, and the brother-in-law preceded to pull out two more slips with the names of the two other horses, with 2 and 1 written next to them.

At this point, an argument ensued between the partners as to whose fault this was. There was no communication about betting a trifecta to which the brother-in-law replied how McCallister could be so stupid to not look for everything in the ball.

The brother-in-law stormed out, and Weil was left with McCallister.

“Let him be,” Weil said. “He’ll cool off, and we’ll get it right the next time.

“This isn’t as bad as you think. Now that we know we can win a trifecta, all we need to do is get some money together and take them for an even bigger score.

“You just can’t get my brother-in-law so upset that he won’t work with you. I’ll pay the $5,000 to the New York operator this time, and we can split my brother-in-law’s loss to get him to do it again.”

That next time would never happen.

In today’s dollars, Weil had spent around $16,500 to put on this production and just bilked the mark out of $247,500.


What Weil was practicing is what the Russians call reflexive control. Get the subject to change their view of reality so that they make self-defeating decisions without ever knowing it.

In gamification, it’s a similar proposition to get the player to adopt the game world as their reality. Then, the game rules will drive their behavior.

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In the con, greed—and thinking he deserved something for nothing—drove McCallister’s decision to make the bet.

Similarly, if you want to build a reader brand, bet on human behavior. Get your readers to see your books as the gateway to a world that meets their unmet desires.

The desire could be as simple as taking them away from the day-to-day with the past-time of reading, but it’s more likely that they are looking to have a deeper experience.

That’s the strategic concept. But getting the result YOU seek requires creating the processes that get them to give you attention and trust so that buying your book isn’t just their idea but their desire.

Next week, we will explore how to build the tiny habits that move a reader down a path. Not because you begged or baited them, but because your reader thinks it is their idea and they are motivated to act.

One more thing…

Think back.

Think back to what steps you took to get here, reading these words now.

It was a long road.

Did I ever beg you to sign up?

If you are a paid reader, what got you to see these newsletters as more valuable than that money?

Go back and recollect your journey. Identify the moments you found joy, discovery, or relief, and consider how that changed your view of the content and your interest.

Think how you can then integrate some of those same moments into your marketing to hook prospects and get them to self-indoctrinate.

Read: How to Build an Email System That Triggers Desired Reader Behavior