Questioning tournament payouts


I’m looking for some big picture perspective from those who have run medium/large unlimited entry tournaments with regard to how the entry fees are managed. More specifically, tournaments that run as part of a multi-day show where players are also required to pay an admission fee to enter the building. I know there must be a few of you around here!

I’ve always had a problem with these types of events where the payout structure isn’t clearly defined, creating a grey area between the number of entries and the payouts. Most recently, I took issue with a tournament like this where the event description regarding prizes was:

“All players have to be present to receive their prize. Awards for each tournament will be given out shortly after each tournament. Price are based on 200 entries in the Tournament.”

Yes, that’s a straight copy/paste and I don’t know what the last sentence means either, considering it was a one ticket per game Herb format. Then the official rules Google document gave this even more vague description:

“Prize pool is based on tournament entries”

That’s it. No dollar amounts, no guaranteed prize pool amount, no percentages.

So as a player going into this type of tournament, what is reasonable to expect? I simply expect that the admission to the show will fund the show and the tournament entries will pay out as prizes after tournament expenses are subtracted (trophies, software, TD payment, etc). Maybe I’m off in my expectations since I’ve never been in charge of an event like this, but it seems wrong for the money from one side to cross into the other, but if it must, I’d at least expect some transparency about the allotment of funds. Then I could make an informed decision about whether or not I want to participate.

Regarding pre-announced payouts, is it necessary for an unlimited entry event to list a payout structure in advance of the event? I think so. I can’t think of any reason that an established event wouldn’t be able to give a clear description of payouts unless they had something to hide or were just plain lazy. At this particular event, the TDs were completely in the dark about payouts until playoffs day when the show organizer handed them an amount of money that was far below the estimated amount taken in, resulting in payouts that they were actually embarrassed to give to players who had traveled from out of state and finished in the top 16. The scorekeeping software made it clear after the fact that the number of entries played should have resulted in a much larger prize pool than was paid out. I realize none of us are playing tournaments to get rich or pay the bills, but at what point do you just laugh when you finish well and the prize money is so low that it’s funny? At what point do you question where all the money went? At that point it’s too late to change anything, so oh well, I guess! That’s pinball?

With so many events happening now, it’s very easy to spot the ones that are operating responsibly and support them, so that’s a good thing! It’s just a shame that there are some offenders of basic transparency who continue to operate with sketchy management without being called out. I’ve made a conscious effort not to name the tournament in question because I’m honestly looking more for general feedback than shaming anyone in particular. However, I can’t help but wonder if it would be helpful to have a “tournament ethics black list” so players know what they’re getting into before traveling to an event, and in the end maybe it would help those events step up their game and do things the right way. I could also see that getting ugly and counterproductive though.

Anyway, this was longer than expected, but I’ve been harboring these feelings for a while and felt like this would be the proper place to have an open discourse. Please discuss and share your thoughts.


When you say that prize disclosure should be a requirement, are you implying that it should be an IFPA requirement?

Anyhow, I absolutely agree that this kind of info should be given, but I doubt the IFPA wants to take on requiring/enforcing it. On the plus side, this kind of opacity and/or sketchy payout is the exception in the pinball world.

Yet, on the other hand, there’s another large show-based tourney coming up that isn’t the one you’re talking about that also has a sketchy recent track record for payouts. I tried to get the TD to state what the payouts would be based on X, Y, or Z attendance (and base those numbers on prior years), but I got this response: “If you’re looking for a lucrative payday, look elsewhere. This tournament is all about fun.”


No. These concerns are completely separate from any IFPA involvement.

This is the classic defense mechanism from a shady organizer who is trying to flip the script and make you look like a jerk for asking!


Yup, exactly. And if it weren’t for the shady history, I’d be OK giving this tourney the benefit of the doubt.


I’ve never made it far enough in one of these tournaments to actually wonder/care how the prize pool is divided up. But this sucks to hear that some of these tournaments cannot provide a detailed breakdown of how the entry fees will be paid out.

If you want to pay the crew a handsome wage, I totally understand that, just be upfront with everyone so they know what they are getting into. If the admin costs and whatnot are going to take away 75% of the prize pool, so be it. Just tell people.

I cannot believe that response that Steve got. Woof.


I have no horse in the race except that I’ve been to a few tournaments that this person helped run and have never had a problem. I don’t want Pinside to spill over here, however that is definitely not the response you got in the thread. IMHO Your “quote” is a self-serving misrepresentation. The prize pool is obviously variable for a non-registered event. He told you the number of spots paid out, what his direct costs were for last year, expected direct costs this year, and the prize pool from last year. I don’t know what else he was going to tell you? Maybe there were hi-jinx last year that you didn’t address, but telling him you need to know this, that, this or you wouldn’t participate on a public forum got a friendlier response than I would have expected


My quote was my takeaway from the response I got.

I’m glad to hear something positive about this TD; I have a couple friends who will not play in his events because of their experiences with a lack of payout and/or transparency.

What I wanted from the TD was what I asked for: Estimated payouts based on participation levels of X and Y. If participation is below the number from the estimates, I’d know to expect less. If it’s above, I’d expect more.


There are some large (Non MI. PA.) events that are pretty secretive on payouts that are well attended annual events. Be nice if prize money from the non-main tourney(s) stayed with those events instead of bolstering the Main prize fund.


Undisclosed-multiple-thousand-dollars-in-entries evaporating with no transparency has been an issue in events I’ve participated in in the past. It takes a lot of the fun out of things.


Tournaments should post the prizes and/or payout structure before the event takes place - weather it is a fixed payout or a percentage split up of entry fees.

I also appreciate it that when there is a percentage split, that organizers mention if there are other costs or rakes off the top. (like - 100% payout after trophy and space rental costs)

I understand some events need to cover costs or need a profit/run a business, just prefer that players know what they are getting into and can then make informed decisions.

Its like when RMPS used to (still does?) have a herb event and the payouts were low and fixed. At least they were upfront that the funds generated by qualifying were not all going back into prizes. It made it easier to weigh the quality of the tournament and its cost versus other options on a full tournament calendar.


Having full transparency in prize payout is more difficult than it might appear, but it’s important. I’ve been on both sides of this, attending events where there was an advertised expectation of increased prize payouts and finding it very lacking (notably a long-ago Texas Pinball Fest, but others), and running an event where I spent a good amount of time and effort to make the intake and outflow of money transparent, but still ended up falsely accused of “taking” a significant amount from the pot (CA Extreme).

This event last year advertised $20,000 in cash and prizes for tournaments and delivered far less than 50% of that.

As an organizer, what efforts would you want events to go through to ensure they are being transparent, in ways which the event can be rewarded for its effort and players can know who’s doing it right? And in what ways can players know what else is happening?

It feels like some of the conversation in this thread is among people who wink-wink know what events and organizers they’re talking about, while most of us have no idea what is referenced.


Some good questions.
I would like to see events make public before an event takes place:

  • All payouts, and how and when they will be paid.
    (check, cash etc… and immediately or later…)

  • If Fixed payout, list $ amount for each paying position and event.
    Example: $100 1st, $75 2nd, $50 3rd…)

  • If variable percentage payout, list what creates the prize pool, and how that pool is split up.
    Example: All money from qualifying entries goes to prize pool, payout: 1st = 30%,2nd = 18%, 3rd = 12%, 4th = 8%, 5th to 8th each = 4%, 9th to 16th each = 2%)

  • If entry money generates a variable prize pool, but not all the $ goes to the prize pool, note that. The more detail the better.
    Example: "All money from qualifying entries goes to prize pool, minus tournament expenses (Space rental, trophies etc…)“
    "60% of money from qualifying entries goes to prize pool, 40% goes to the pinball show"
    "First $1000 of money from qualifying entries goes to prize pool, the rest to my pocket.”


Agreed on any sort of breakdown as listed above.

I’d be curious to see someone actually put this in print and see how it affects participation. I think many of us have played in events where this was the perceived situation, though it’s hard to track with certainty when only one person knows the cash totals.

Something I’d love to see for a flexible prize pool would be a big sign with a running total throughout the event. I see this all the time at baseball games where they run 50/50 raffles and the current total is always prominently displayed all over the park so you know what you’re playing for. Maybe it wouldn’t have to be as “live” at a tournament, but could be manually updated at $100 thresholds so players and passers-by could see how much cash is on the line.

Agreed, and though I can make some informed guesses, I really don’t know who is being referenced in some of the posts either. If anyone would like to message me for more specific info about the show in question, that’s fine, but I’ve decided not to publicly toss any names out there.


This isn’t true anymore. As the TD last year for RMPS, I insisted on 100% payout. And that’s what happened.


Sure, I’ll be explicit then, I was trying to keep it general. It does take the fun out of it but you’re right that people should be aware of what to watch out for.

The time that really got under my skin was TPF 2015, TD Marcus Trevino/Xerico Pinball, pinside moderator and Texas SCS representative. I’ve had plenty of good interactions with Marcus, he’s always been a pleasant guy but the large events he runs generally have a lot of problems.

5,663 entries were recorded at a cost of $2.50-$3 each. Minimum entry to fully participate in all banks was $150 per player. Herb format over two days so most players that fully participated played 90-110 entries. Top prize per bank was a fixed $300, published ahead of time with no illusions that it might increase with additional entries, but none of the volunteers besides the TD knew where to find this information. One Stern pro was bought for the tourney and re-sold to a show attendee by the TD. One Stern pro was bought for the tourney and raffled off to TPF attendees who purchased raffle tickets. Several dozen trophies were awarded in addition to the cash prizes.

I don’t have the actual numbers and have no idea what agreement there might have been with the festival organizers regarding the raffled game, but this adds up to somewhere north of $22,000 taken in entries and tournament games sold or raffled off. For a 100 person tournament with a $300 top prize ($1500 across all banks).

I personally stopped participating in this event early on the first day when I realized that the tournament quality was terrible - rampant cheating, over-complicated multi-day format to increase WPPR and require more entries, and tournament tracking software that didn’t work. I didn’t realize just how bad the payouts were until later.

Marcus is no longer running the TPF tournaments and the current set of TDs are volunteers (I am not one of them, but they’re good people). All entries now go directly towards the prize pool and trophies.The quality of the tournaments has increased dramatically in the last two years and all of my complaints from 2015 have been addressed completely- the TPF Wizards tourney has been fantastic and gone off without a hitch since.

Stuff like this really takes the fun out of things. I don’t mind people taking a cut, but be up front about it, keep it a reasonable amount (absolutely not more than the sum of all prizes awarded to participants), and run a half-decent tournament.


Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad that you – and many many others that expressed the same – have enjoyed the changes that TPF made to the tourneys. A big reason why I volunteered to become a TD for TPF tourneys in 2016 was because I, too, saw things that I wanted changed for a tournament and show that I care about.


Regarding the above post by @stevevt, I believe this is in reference to PinFest, taking place in Allentown, PA on May 5 & 6. If I am mistaken, please let me know. Jay Robinson is the tournament director, and (full disclosure) I am assisting Jay with setup and execution of the event.

I am linking to the Pinside thread here so individuals who are interested can have a look at the questions and answers that have been given regarding the tournament, structure, costs, and payouts:

Our primary goal of the event is to generate a fun and interesting contest for people who are attending PinFest with a relatively low cost of entry to participate. That statement is certainly not meant as a switcharoo or diversion from disclosure around structure and prizes, it is just to draw a comparison that the PinFest tournament pales in comparison to the prize pool that exists for larger events like PAPA and Pinburgh. If there are further unanswered questions that will help people decide whether they make the trip to PinFest or not, please do let us know and we’re happy to attempt to answer them!

I would also be interested to understand anyone’s views on examples of lack of transparency or lack of a payout in past events. I’ve been participating in PinCrossing and PinFest tournaments for about two years now, and we specifically make it a point that all entry fees go back to payouts with the exception of covering the cost of prizes/venue.

I know that @bkerins raised a series of good questions on what people are looking for in general and I don’t want to derail that conversation, so I am happy to engage in an offline or PM conversation with anyone about PinFest specifically.


Looks like it was mentioned in that thread that top four for each tournament gets paid. Any idea if there are specific percentages that they will get?

How are the prize pools for each tournament determined? Separate pool for each one or is all money considered the same pool? If it’s all the same pool, how much of the pool does each different tournament get?

Thanks for putting in the work to run these tournaments. Thanksless job for sure.


Locally, we publish payouts beforehand and it has always been great. People know exactly what they’re competing for. We do everything with a 100% payout structure, keeping nothing for the TD or venue. The only thing that varies is how we decide to split up the payout and how deep down the standings we choose to pay.

Whether you do a 100% payout, partial payout, or a flat rate payout, I think it’s very important to be transparent with every dollar that goes in and back out. I don’t think it’s bad if certain events keep some entry money to cover costs and time investment, but players should know how much is dedicated for that. I really don’t like it when things aren’t clearly disclosed.


Some tournaments advertise 100% payout–but have coin drop for the games, or a venue entry fee. This is unobjectionable, but it’s something to be aware of.

Transparency is hard :confused: