Questioning tournament payouts


There’s also the issue of cross-tournament subsidies. Very few events have a separate prize pool for Classics / “B” division / Novices / Women; most use fixed dollar prizes for these extra categories and back them out of the total pool of funds to get what’s available for the payout in “A”. Any time this method is used, one or more events will end up contributing funds to the others. It’s much easier for the TDs to do it this way, which is why it’s common, but players participating in an event with multiple divisions should be aware that they may be putting some of their money towards other divisions’ prizes, or benefitting from other players contributing to their division(s). Note that many TDs make an effort to have the fixed payouts track reasonably closely with the entry money generated; for instance, when we switched to separate pools at INDISC, Classics changed relatively little, but people appreciated the improved clarity. Some TDs will also reserve the right to raise the fixed payouts if the total number of entries supports it.


Thanks for weighing in, Corey. I appreciate it.

At least part of me being vague and not mentioning Pinfest by name is because any knowledge I have about the last few years is secondhand rather than my own experience.

I’ll just quote myself rather than asking this question a third time.

Related questions here:

  1. How much do you pay the venue?
  2. Were any monitors or other major equipment purchased for these events that came out of the prize pool?
  3. How much tournament entry money did you take in in 2015?
  4. What were the payouts in 2015?

The last two years, this event drew 102 and 87 players. From my perspective, paying out 4 places (4% and 5% of players placing in the money, respectively) is too few. 10% to 25% is much more usual. [I’d love to hear from others here and see if I’m just way off base with this assertion.] My point is more that this kind of info should make it to your tournament poster and wherever you advertise the event, and especially when it’s atypical in some way.


I can’t speak to the rest of it, but paying out 4 places isn’t that uncommon, with the change coming to pay 16 or 24 places really only coming within the last few years by way of the Northwest Pinball Championship.

PAPA, Pinball Expo, Texas, and many others were paying only top 4 as recently as a few years ago. Heck, Expo switched around 2007 from paying top 1 to top 4. I’m never surprised to see an event paying top 4, and I would expect that information to be on a website but not a poster.


Cool. Thanks for the insight.

Another mitigating factor here is that the Pinfest show entry includes a couple (?) free tournament entries, so the payout percentage could be higher when measured against the number of players who participated fully.

I’d suggest that the poster should contain a link to the full rules, format, and payout info, especially if a Google search for the tournament name won’t necessarily find it.

Somewhat related: I was in the semifinals of a ~20 player tournament a few years ago and only at that point did any of the players learn that only first place was going to be paid out. Now that’s an extreme example of both limited place payout and limited disclosure. [For the curious, I got second place in the heads-up finals but had agreed to a pot split with the winner before we started.]


at my (our) events in MI i always specify payout structure upfront. I also pay out exactly, i dont round down . so first place, for example would be $1023 bucks if the percentage falls as so, not $1000.



There’s no reason why this can’t be made public knowledge before the event.

Not necessarily a full penny by penny breakdown, but I would expect all advertising for the event to have a minimum of “Cash prizes for the top x amount of players” or something similar.

Then on it’s website, or FB page or similar a more detailed breakdown of the payout such as[quote=“cayle, post:12, topic:2687”]
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%)

It should also be clear what money is being taken from the prize pool, whether that be for venue hire, trophies, fuel payments to donors, advertising, food for volunteers, charitable donations, organisers payment for time, etc.

If for no other reason than to protect the organiser from accusations of lining their own pockets.

There isn’t really this issue in the UK, as the vast majority of tournaments - even the larger ones - don’t award prize money. The way the entry fees are allocated in the tournaments I run is usually along the lines of: money taken out for trophies, the remainder is split 50% to the host, for his time and effort in hosting with the other 50% being donated to the charity of my choosing. I don’t a big deal about me donating to charity, but anyone who asks (and I’ve been asked once in the last 3 years) will be told and can see the receipt for the donation.


Is there a large backlash at this point that says people who run tournaments shouldn’t be doing so for profit?

Example, 36 entires available into tournament, payout based on full entry at $20 per player, you’ve collected $720. Payout $100 for 1st, $75 for 2nd, $50 for 3rd, and $25 for 4th. About 5 hours for qualifying before double elimination bracketing starts, so I think you’re getting $20 worth of play, that’s for sure.

But, the total payout is $250. So, TD gets to keep $470. Over the last several years I’ve been watching from the sidelines and not running or help run tournaments it seems like the new player base coming in expects 100% payout, as if profit were a dirty word. I don’t think that the TD acting as a private individual business for the purposes of the tournament needs to break down his expenses at all. You know upfront that $720 is going into the tournament, and $250 is coming out. Do you care what the $470 is going to? Is it going to upkeep of the games? Is it going to buy materials to make trophies? Is it going to clean the bathroom(s) during/after the event which are sure to be disgusting? Is it going to buy a really nice dinner for the TD?

It doesn’t matter to me what the overflow goes to. You knew upfront what the cost to play was, and what the potential prizes were. Now, outright fraud where the prize was supposed to be XXX and turned out to be much less, that’s a different story. But I’ll reiterate that there is a growing population of players (new and old) that feel profit is a dirty word. Happens with collectors, as well (until the ones that complain the loudest about prices go to sell their stuff, then it’s OK)


Is the TD also playing in the tournament?


No large backlash.

But, there are enough good tournaments to choose from that all else equal, many players will skip the events that take a large rake.


Here is how I think of things. If the TD is running the event, they are and operator who provides the machines, and has employees helping run the tournament. Great! State you payout and profit.

If the TD is getting collectors to donate their machines, having volunteers do the administration, tech and rulings then i would start to take issue with them taking profit. Sure, I could assume everything was upfront with the volunteers, or they are getting compensated fairly, but it gets ugly quickly. When profit is involved, i expect things like local labour laws, taxes, etc to be correctly handled.


In my opinion it’s highly dependent on where the rake goes. Many of the places around Denmark are “club like” locations, so the rake actively goes towards keeping these places going. That kind of rake I’ll gladly support


Not at all from me. What I think most are saying is this rake from the TDs is not communicated in some instances. So it’s an unknown of how much of the pool goes back to the players.

If a TD said beforehand, whatever we get in entry money, 75% goes to me for my services, the rest will be split up 60%, 25%,10%,5%. To the top four, I’m totally cool with that. Knowing this upfront is the most important thing for me.


Is the TD also playing in the tournament?

What difference would that make to the profit motivation? They’ll just have to play harder if they want the extra prize $$$ to be part of the profit too?


I give back 100% of the prizepool on tourneys that I run, but I don’t announce % payouts in advance…because I don’t know how many people will attend.

If 50 people show up, paying the Top 16 is probably too much. If 100 show up, then paying the Top 16 is fine.

I suppose I could publish the potential breakdowns based on different attendance brackets, but no one has ever complained. Perhaps it’s less relevant when people know that 100% is being returned?

Edit: RMPS last year was an exception. We did announce breakdowns ahead of time. But, less people played than I had hoped, and about a 1/3 got paid.


I think it helps the credibility of the tournament to have fixed payouts, the trouble is that the TD’s are on the hook for these guaranteed payouts as well. Yes, you could always lower them after but then you are criticized afterwards for not giving the prizes you stated you would. Our group has created a non-profit society for our league and Expo, so at least me as TD can’t go and run away with the profits of the league, this stabilizes the event and ensure the longevity of it, as well people really rally behind it as they know that we are truly doing this for the love of the hobby and not out to gauge our friends to help us pay for our next Hawaiian vacation (not that I think this happens in other events).

I can tell you for our event the 2017 Edmonton Pinball and Arcade Expo we give out over $7,000 in cash and prizing and I sweat bullets every year hoping that people attend the event, we use a HERB format so you really don’t know what you take in until that Saturday when both events are done. We base our payouts each year on the previous year and times it by two. We use sponsorship and expo ticket sales to help subsides the losses we have with this format as it actually never breaks even, not even close. We are always giving more prizing then taking in but we want to attract players from all of Western Canada, hoipefully someday the US to the event and find other ways to make up for our losses.

We were able to run a small profit last year we held the event, and we have over 150 people already pre-registered for the tournament (110 last year) so crossing my fingers that it will be a success again. My suggestion to TD’s out there if you are doing this to profit then you won’t be doing for long as people will see through it and decide to go somewhere else. You may get away with it for a year or two but there is no way the pinball community will support an event where you pocket a few thousand dollars each time you hold a big event. At the same time the community has to cut some slack to TD’s as it is a risky venture and not everyone can just pull $30K out of their pocket to run an Expo like our group can and hope get paid back, lol… Event have to be break even or slightly profitable in order to keep running them…


I’ve also always paid out 100% after trophy costs because I don’t run events to make money and don’t mind volunteering my time.

I use this grid so it’s fairly balanced based on the turnout. I like to see about 1/4 of the players get some money, so the payouts are spread out rather than too top heavy. Not saying this would be correct balance for all tournaments, but it has worked well for mine where the entry fee is a flat $10.

Nothing against TDs receiving payment for their efforts, or even the location taking a rake, but like others have said, I just think it should be clearly communicated so players aren’t left wondering after the fact.


A percentage system is fair as long as the total pool is posted, many of the tournaments this doesn’t happen so you are relying on the reputation of the TD. Like I say in my experience most TD’s are really fair about this and have 100% or close to 100% payouts.


I can let you know what I won in Pinfest 2016’s main division if you want. I did not think it was an unreasonable amount for the size of the tournament. I believe top 8 were paid.

What I did find surprising was the Flippers OBX circuit event last year which advertised 30% of entries paid for first. I assumed this was minus some costs for trophies and stuff but no, it was 30% of the entry fee PLUS a 3 foot tall trophy PLUS a pinball machine. I mean, I appreciate it but geez!


You’re doing a great thing for the pinball community, but what you’ve described does not sound fun. I’m not sure it’s healthy for pinball to guarantee prize pools that may not be self-supporting.

I agree with the premise that large prize pools increase the celebrity of pinball, but I’m not sure that “guaranteed” needs to be a part of it. I’ve heard of a past event that guaranteed $1000 for first, and then paid second place $100. That’s not good for pinball.

Look at the WSOP, they don’t guarantee anything. Players who are drawn solely by large prize pools are savvy enough to look at what happened the previous year for clues. As soon as the event is over, the media coverage is “So-and-so wins $127,320”.


Ha, its all fun. We run a tight budget and everything works out. By guaranteeing our prize money in tournaments in our Expo it allows people to travel to our event freely knowing what they have a chance of winning. It is really risk-reward, if we guarantee prize money then people show up, we never over extend ourselves, we partner with corporate businesses pinball and non-pinball, negotiate good facilities and have a passionate volunteer base that truly loves the hobby. In return, people come to our events, they play in our tournaments, they drink our booze, they eat at the facility, buy items at our silent auctions and purchase some merchandise and reinvest back into the show. I believe especially in bigger events that organizers need to do more things like this to create other revenue streams if we ever want to seriously grow competition pinball. My team is just doing our part to create an Expo where people can be exposed to the hobby and at the same time get a taste for what a real well run pinball tournament is like. I love what they do at Replay and we are just trying to replicate that experience on a much, much smaller scale in our Expo.