Tarot readings really do work — for the reader.

The Confession

AFTER the July REALL meeting, my dirty little secret is out. Yes, I admit that I used to do Tarot readings back in my college days. OK, I still do Tarot readings, but I do them for the noblest of reasons: to meet women. After all, eight out of 10 people who consult psychics are women.

It all started back in my college days, when, about once a month, my friends and I would “pull a Tarot Scam”. At that time, I had developed my own style of Tarot readings. I was doing cold readings, but (at the time) I didn’t know what the term cold reading meant.

The Players

It took at least three people to “pull a Tarot Scam”, and each person had a specific job to perform in the course of the evening. My job was obvious enough — I did the Tarot readings. I made sure that I dressed semi-exotically for the occasion, usually wearing a brightly coloured bandanna or black overcoat. I dressed differently enough to stand out from the crowd. The high visibility made it easy for potential clients to identify me, as word of mouth would spread that “a big guy with a beard and bandanna is doing Tarot readings over in the corner.”

Tom was the second player in our little Tarot scam. Tom is basically a nice guy, which is the only thing that keeps him from becoming a damn good con man. Tom can talk just about anyone into doing anything. Tom was our barker.

We also needed a third body to be our shill. The shill didn’t need any special skills, except for the ability to look and act normal, and to keep a straight face. Joe was our shill.

The Setup

The Tarot Scam was always performed at a local drinking establishment, which are plentiful on a college campus. We arrived at the bar around 9pm so we could grab a good table.

A good table is a necessity to pull the scam. A good table needs to be visible from the majority of the bar, but actually be located in a corner or away from the main flow of traffic through the bar. In addition, the table has to be located in a relatively quiet part of the bar. People need to know that you are doing readings, but the table needs to be removed from the rest of the bar so that people are willing to have their cards read.

Pulling The Scam

The three of us would get a round of drinks, and wait. Once the bar had a good crowd, we would start the scam, and it would go something like this:

Tom leaves the table, goes to the bathroom, makes a circuit or two around the bar and otherwise kills some time. I wait for Tom to get some distance away from us, and then I do a reading for Joe. Joe verbally agrees with my reading, regardless of what I say, and comments about how accurate it is. At this point, people in our section of the bar notice that I am doing a Tarot reading, and it piques their interest.

Tom comes back, takes notice of Joe’s reading (which is almost finished at this time), and, in a voice that carries nicely across a crowded room, would state: “Oh, you’re having your cards read. Does that actually work? Is he actually telling your future?” At which point Joe agrees that the reading was very accurate, but he doesn’t want to talk about it.

I know it sounds kind of lame so far, but a Tarot scam is beautiful when its done right. At this point in time, people around us are aware that I am doing a Tarot reading, and somebody is getting ready to come over and ask me to read the cards for them.

Tom wanders off and buys another beer, and just happens to mention to the bartender and the crowd waiting to be served, in a voice that carries nicely across a crowded room, that some big guy with a beard and bandanna is doing Tarot readings over in the corner.

With Tom gone, I finish Joe’s reading. Joe then asks “How much do I owe you for the reading?”

“I don’t charge money, don’t worry about it. I am just glad to have helped you out.”

“But come on, you read my cards, let me do something for you.”

I sigh. “Okay, I’m empty, how about buying me a beer?” Joe leaves to buy me a beer.

When Joe gets up to get a beer, someone nearby asks to have their cards read. Tom has also been keeping an eye on the action, just in case no one asks for a reading. If that happens, he talks someone into coming over to have their cards read.

I start to do the next reading when Joe comes back from the bar. Joe gives me a beer, and thanks me for reading his cards. All this is conspicuously done in front of the mark, er, excuse me, the client. The beer for a reading sets the precedent, and the current client assumes that he will buy me a beer as payment for the reading.

While I’m reading the cards for the client, Joe and Tom go to the other side of the room (or upstairs or downstairs) and, in voices that carry nicely across a crowded room, talk about the really accurate Tarot reading that has just been performed. You know the reading by some big guy with a beard and bandanna sitting over in the corner.

I finish reading the cards for the next person, and they feel obligated to me, but I won’t take money, so they go up to the bar to buy me a drink. While they are gone, the next client comes over to have their cards read, and by the time they are done shuffling, the previous client returns from the bar with a beer, and thanks me again for the reading.

The readings continue throughout the night, following the same pattern as above. But since I am talking during the readings, I’m only drinking one beer for every three that the clients buy me. Throughout the evening, Tom and Joe stop back at the table, say hi, and prevent the drinks from accumulating by grabbing drinks from the table before they head off and make another circuit.

By the end of the night, the three of us each have had six or seven beers. We only bought two rounds, the remainder having been bought by clients. In addition, I also have the names and phone numbers of a couple of clients who didn’t have their cards read that night, but want them read sometime in the next couple of days. Some clients want a private reading, and remember, eight of ten people who consult psychics are women.

The Moral

Every time the three of us pulled a Tarot Scam, clients ended up buying us $50 worth of beer, and I got to flirt with beautiful women. Not bad for a night’s work. We had a good time, and no harm was done. So what?

The three of us are basically nice, decent guys. What if we weren’t so nice? What could we have gotten away with? We looked at pulling a tarot scam as our night’s entertainment and as a way to get free drinks when we were short on cash. Even when we treated the scam as recreation, we had a plan, a routine, and didn’t leave anything to chance. We each had our little part to play in the scam. Tom was always around to rope in the next client if business got slow. Joe got the whole ball rolling and set the pattern for payment. None of our clients had any idea how much effort was spent making sure that they would come to the table and have their cards read.

What would happen if I started reading cards for money? If my friends and I went to great lengths just for free beer, who knows what we would do for money? Reading the Tarot is the easy part, everything else is hard.

One thing is for sure, our clients would never know what we would do to take their money away from them. And if three basically nice guys had a Tarot scam that they would pull for free beer, what do professional Tarot readers do to make money?

Reprinted by permission from the Rational Examination Association of Lincoln Land website (www.reall.org). REALL is a skeptical organisation based in central Illinois.

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