The Walkabout Joker Draw: Is It Worth Playing Yet?

Posted on by Gavinmac


Excitement is building once again for Friday’s Walkabout Joker Draw. The promotion is now in its 39th consecutive week without a winner. The jackpot is up to a healthy $7,433. That’s a lot of money. It would cover the rent for more than four years for an English teacher’s dingy, torture chamber-looking apartment.

As most Phnom Penh barflies know, the Walkabout Joker Draw begins with 53 playing cards placed face down on a board that is locked and mounted under glass in the Walkabout Bar. One of those 53 cards is a Joker. The bar puts up an initial $500 jackpot amount during Week One.

Starting with the Friday of Week One, the bar sells numbered drawing tickets for $1 each and places the ticket stubs in a drum. At about 9 p.m., a single ticket is pulled from the drum and the number of the ticket is called out.

If your ticket number is called, you win . . . well, nothing yet. As the holder of the called ticket, you are given the opportunity to turn over one of the face down cards from the board. If you turn over the Joker, you win the posted jackpot. Hooray! If you turn over any other card, you lose.

If the holder of the called ticket turns over any card other than the Joker, that losing card is placed face up in the display case for all to see, and the case is locked up again. The game then continues to Week Two the following Friday with a new drawing and only 52 face down cards. If nobody wins, it continues to Week Three with only 51 face down cards remaining. And so on.

The bar keeps 50% of all the ticket sales proceeds to “cover expenses,” and the remaining 50% of the proceeds is placed back into the ever-increasing jackpot for the following week. Play continues from week to week, with the jackpot increasing each week, and the number of remaining face down cards decreasing, until some lucky bastard pulls the joker and wins the jackpot.

Sometimes the game ends after just a few weeks, with someone turning over the Joker when the jackpots are quite small (under $1,000). But from January 2009 through January 2010, there was an epic run where the Walkabout Joker Draw ran for the full 53 consecutive weeks, with the Joker being the last (53rd) card turned over. The jackpot that was ultimately paid out was $24,586.

Whenever someone wins a Joker Draw jackpot, a new deck is cracked open, 53 new cards are placed face down under the glass, and the game begins again with a new “Week One” drawing and a new $500 jackpot offered by the bar. The Walkabout also promises a $500 “party” for everyone in the bar whenever somebody wins the jackpot. The $500 party is of no consequence to the bettor, except that it removes the peer pressure of spending some of your winnings buying drinks for all of your new freeloading best friends.

Notably, the Walkabout used to start Week One with a $1,000 jackpot donated by the house, but with no guaranteed party. It was expected that if you won a huge jackpot, you would throw some money around for drinks. Then in March 2005, a chubby Welshman won $8,100 and didn’t buy anyone a single drink. The balloon chasers were outraged, and the mandatory $500 party was born.

How to Calculate Your Expected Return on a $1 Ticket

In determining whether and when to play the Walkabout Joker Draw, there are three variables that a smart gambler will consider: (a) the number of tickets that will be in the drum, (b) the number of face down cards left on the board, and (c) the amount of the jackpot. If you know or can estimate these three variables, you can quickly calculate whether the game is worth playing that week.

The number of tickets in the drum determines the odds of having your ticket called. The number of face down cards left on the board determines your odds of turning over the Joker if you have the called ticket.

So, to determine your overall odds of winning the jackpot with a single ticket purchased, you simply multiply the number of tickets in the drum by the number of face down cards left on the board. If there are two hundred tickets in the drum and ten face down cards on the board, your odds of winning the jackpot will be (1 in 200) x (1 in 10) = a 1 in 2,000 chance of winning the jackpot. Got it?

Once you determine your chance of winning, it’s easy to determine how smart a bet it is. Look at the total amount of the jackpot. Is the dollar amount of the jackpot more than or less than your odds of winning with a $1 ticket? If the jackpot amount is a lot less than your odds of winning the jackpot with a $1 ticket, this is a sucker’s bet.

Most casino games of chance have an expected return of about 95 cents to 99 cents for each dollar played. If you see a sign that says “97% payback on slots,” that means that the expected return for every $1 played is 97 cents. The “house edge” will be 3%. There are some really poor-value casino games that have expected returns of under 95 cents on each dollar wagered. Double zero roulette, for example, has a “house edge” of 5.36%, or an expected return to the bettor of 94.74 cents for every dollar wagered. Not very good. Roulette, particularly double zero roulette, is kind of a sucker’s game.

Ideally, you want to place wagers that have an expected return of close to 100%, or, better yet, more than 100%. If a $1 wager has an expected return of more than $1, that means the odds are in your favor and that, statistically speaking, wagering should be a profitable venture in the long run.

This Friday’s Drawing: The Calculations

Let’s look at this Friday’s upcoming Walkabout drawing. We know that there are 15 face down cards remaining. We know that the posted jackpot is $7,433. The only variable that we don’t “know” is how many tickets will be in the drum Friday night. Even if you go to the Walkabout Friday night, it will be really hard to count the exact number of tiny paper tickets placed in that big drum. Especially if you’re drunk and busy trying to chat up a deaf mute prostitute.

Although we don’t know for sure how many tickets will be purchased and placed in the drum, we can reasonably estimate how many there will be. Only 15 of the original 53 cards remain face down, which means that 38 cards have been turned over. That’s one card per week during the prior thirty eight weeks. We are now in Week Thirty Nine.

Recall that during Week One, the initial jackpot offered by the bar was $500. So, over the next 38 weeks, the jackpot has increased by $6,933 from the initial $500 to the current jackpot of $7,433. Since the bar puts half of the ticket proceeds into the jackpot each week, we know that the bar has sold $6,933 x 2 tickets over 38 weeks = 13,866 tickets sold. This means that the bar has sold an average of 365 tickets per week.

So, should we estimate that there will be 365 tickets in the drum this Friday? Fuck no. Walkabout patrons are not as brain dead as their disheveled, Zombie-like appearances would suggest. They don’t buy the same number of tickets each week. They are smart enough to buy an awful lot more Joker Draw tickets when the jackpot is high than they do in the early weeks of the game when the jackpot is quite low. The bar has sold an average of 365 tickets per week, but there will be far more than 365 tickets sold this week.

How many tickets will be sold this week? I estimate 975 tickets. Here’s why I say that. Two weeks ago, the jackpot was $6,675. Last week it was $7,022 (a $347 increase from the prior week). The $347 increase in the jackpot last week meant that 694 tickets were sold two weeks ago, because the weekly jackpot increase is always 50% of the prior week‘s ticket sales.

The jackpot is now at $7,433 (a $411 increase from last week). That means that 822 tickets were sold last week.

We know that patrons buy progressively more tickets each week as the jackpot increases. So we can reasonably predict that after selling 694 tickets two weeks ago and 822 tickets last week, the Walkabout will sell somewhere between 950 and 1000 tickets this Friday. That’s why I estimate 975. If there are 975 tickets in the drum this week, the odds of having your single $1 ticket called will be 1 in 975.

If your ticket number is called, the odds of you then turning over the Joker will be 1 in 15. This means that the overall odds of winning the jackpot with a single ticket (i.e., having your ticket called AND picking the right card) Friday night will be about 1 in 975 x 1 in 15 = about a 1 in 14,625 chance of winning the jackpot. Slightly better than your odds of being shot in the ass while drunkenly walking home from St. 51 that same night.

So, Friday night, for the price of $1, the Walkabout will be offering you about a 1 in 14,625 chance to win $7,433. That’s not a very good wager. The “expected return” on that wager is only 50.8 cents, because the jackpot of $7,433 is only 50.8% of the 1 in 14,625 odds of winning.

Imagine if I offered you the opportunity to wager $1 on a coin flip. Heads, I keep your dollar. Tails, I give you back your dollar plus my 51 cents. Would you take that bet? I hope not.

But wait, shrewd observers will point out that the Walkabout is offering not only the $7,433 jackpot, but also other lesser prizes for turning over Aces and Kings. How do these prizes affect your expected return on a single $1 ticket?

Forum readers report that two of the current 38 face up cards are Aces, meaning two of the fifteen remaining face down cards are Aces. Turning over an Ace wins a motorbike, which we will value at $800. Because there are two face down Aces remaining, your chances of winning a motorbike will be 2 in 14,625. This actually adds 11 cents to the 50.8 cent expected return of your $1 wager. (2/14,625 x 800 = .11). Not bad.

One of the face downs cards is a King. Turning over a King wins a 26” flat screen TV, which we will value at $200. The 1 in 14,625 chance of winning this $200 prize adds an additional 1.4 cents to your expected return on a $1 wager. So, factoring in the prizes for Aces and Kings, your overall expected return on a $1 ticket Friday night will be about 50.8 cents + 11 cents + 1.4 cents = about 63 cents. The Walkabout’s overall “house edge” will be roughly 37%, compared to a 1% – 5% house edge on most casino games.

What to Do if You are a Degenerate Gambler

Even if you like to gamble, I cannot recommend that you wager on any game of chance where the expected return on each dollar wagered is only 63 cents. That’s a true sucker’s bet. For that reason, I cannot recommend that you enter the Walkabout Joker Draw this Friday night.

But let’s say you are a degenerate gambler, you have $1 in your pocket, and you are itching turn that into at least $7,433 so that you can pay off your student loans or something. What should you do? You would be better off going to a casino that offers the relatively crappy game of “double zero” roulette. Put your $1 on a single number. Watch the wheel spin. If your number hits, you will be paid 35 to 1, and you will now have $36 sitting on your number. Let it all ride on the same number again. If it hits again, you will now have $1,296.

Next, move your $1,296 pile of chips to “red.” Only douchebags bet on black. Watch the wheel spin three more times and let your bet ride on red each time. If it comes up red three times in a row, you will now have $10,368, which is 40% more than the $7,433 Joker Draw jackpot.

Now, the odds of walking up to a casino’s roulette table with $1 and turning it into $10,368 by hitting a single number twice and then red three times in a row are not great. To be precise, those odds are 1/38 x 1/38 x 18/38 x 18/38 x 18/38 = 1 in 13,605. Yet these odds are still better than the estimated 1 in 14,625 odds of a $1 ticket winning the Walkabout Joker Draw Friday night, and the $10,368 roulette payoff is 40% higher than the $7,433 Joker Draw jackpot.

So skip the silly drawing this week and just take your dollar to a local casino instead. Casinos. More money, better odds, classier hookers.

Is There Another Way to Play the Joker Draw this Week, Aside from Buying a $1 Ticket?

Please note that I’m not saying that you should never enter the Walkabout Joker Draw. If you wait until there are five or fewer cards remaining, it can be a very smart wager. Two years ago, when the Joker Draw entered Week Fifty, the game actually had a positive expected return. The jackpot was over $17,000, the bar was selling 4,000 tickets per week, and only 4 cards remained. The $17,000+ jackpot amount exceed the 1 in 16,000 estimated chance of winning, and entering the drawing actually had a positive expected outcome during Week Fifty through Week Fifty Three of the promotion.

This week is only Week Thirty Nine, and with fifteen face down cards on the board, the drawing is not worth entering. But there is one way that a sharp gambler could cash in on the Walkabout jackpot this Friday night.

Here’s what you should do. Go to an ATM Friday night and take out $500. Go over to the Walkabout. Don’t buy a ticket. Just work the crowd. Talk to the hookers. Let them know that you’re interested in immediately buying the “called ticket” off the person whose ticket number is called.

Whoever has their ticket number called will be given the opportunity to go up to the board and turn over a card. This opportunity gives them a 1 in 15 chance of winning the $7,433 jackpot, plus a 2 in 15 chance of winning an $800 motorbike, plus a 1 in 15 chance of winning a $200 TV. That means that simply owning the called ticket will be “worth” about $615.52 (1/15 x $7,433) + (2/15 x $800) + (1/15 x $200) = $615.52.

When the winning ticket number is called out, look for the person who is excitedly jumping up and down. That’s your mark. With any luck, it will be an impoverished hooker or an English teacher. English teachers make great marks for this venture, because they are poor and, unlike hookers, quite bad at math.

Calmly walk up to your excited mark, confirm that he or she is holding the right ticket, take $300 out of your pocket, and offer your mark $300 on the spot for that ticket. Like a Howie Mandel “Deal or No Deal” thing.

Would a Walkabout skank turn down a guaranteed $300 just to take a 1 in 15 shot at turning over a Joker worth $7,433? Would an English teacher? If they do, offer $400 for the ticket. Then $500.

If you can buy that called ticket from a hooker or English teacher for $300, you will have made an incredible deal. Sure, even with the called ticket in your hand, it’s still unlikely that you’ll win the jackpot or a motorbike. You’ll probably win nothing at all and end up just blowing $300. But the 1 in 15 chance of winning $7,433, plus the chance of winning other prizes, makes it well worth the $300 – $500 risk. The expected return for each of the 300 dollars you spend for the “called ticket” will be $2.08, compared to the 63 cent expected return for each of the 975 dollars spent by all the suckers who bought regular tickets.

Now here’s the best part. Imagine that you make the shrewd decision to buy the called ticket from that hooker for $300 – $500, so that you can take your shot at the jackpot. You then hand “your” called ticket in to Walkabout management. With the whole bar watching, you walk up to the board, you randomly pick out a face down card, and you just happen to get very lucky and pick the Joker. Everyone in the bar would admire you and say “Wow, that guy was clever, he properly assessed the odds, he used his financial superiority to purchase the called ticket from that impoverished hooker for less than its true value, and then he got really lucky to pick the Joker and win the jackpot.” Right?

No fucking way. Everyone in the bar would think the game was rigged and that you must have offered $300 – $500 for the called ticket because you knew all along where the joker was. Pandemonium would ensue. Other ticket holders would demand their money back. You would probably get punched. The angry hooker and her friends would claim that she is entitled to the whole jackpot. The bar might refuse to pay you. The freeloaders would clamor for their $500 free beer party. It would be a fantastic scene. Do it.

Some final advice

1. Like I said two years ago, you should never play the Joker Draw during the early weeks of the promotion, but you should always play the Joker Draw if it gets down to the last few cards. Hold most of your money for the last three weeks, when the expected returns really skyrocket. If the game goes down to the last two weeks, wager every dollar you can on Joker Draw tickets, even money you can’t afford to lose.

2. If you do enter the drawing and your ticket number is called, don’t yell “I won!” and immediately thrust your ticket in the air in the overcrowded bar. Someone could grab it from your hand, and you could end up at the bottom of a nasty scrum like the one for Barry Bonds’ 756th home run ball. Look at your ticket, take a deep breath, act like you lost, and calmly seek out the Walkabout manager and show him the ticket. That’s it. Be cool.

3. If your ticket is called and you turn over the Joker, make appropriate arrangements with the Walkabout manager to collect the money later, and then get the hell out of there. For safety reasons, they don’t hand you thousands of dollars on the spot with the entire town watching. Keep your head down and get out of the bar as soon as possible with as few motodops seeing your face as possible.

4. If you win a big jackpot, there’s no obligation to buy drinks for anyone, but you should tip the Walkabout staff generously. I don’t mean the corrupt security guards, I mean the poor girls who sling drinks to sex tourists and clean their cum-stained bedrooms. Winning over $7,000 and not dropping a few hundred bucks on the establishment’s impoverished staff is exceptionally bad form.

5. If no one wins the jackpot for the next few weeks, and the jackpot gets over $10,000, don’t bring any Walkabout girls back to your room while the posted jackpot is that high. Those skanks will steal whatever isn’t nailed down in order to buy Joker Draw tickets.



This is a revised, updated, and totally improved version of an article that some idiot with too much time on his hands originally posted in the discussion forums back in December 2009

This entry was posted in Commentary, Events, Expat Life, Phnom Penh, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Walkabout Joker Draw: Is It Worth Playing Yet?

  1. mannacambodia says:

    Nice Gav
    Its not all that bad.
    Im on Saigon now and will specially come back in time for the joker draw. Its the nicest evening of the week.

  2. Williagra says:

    Very impressive. But what I’m really interested to know is the odds of contracting a STD from a Walkabout taxigirl?

  3. Peter Hogan says:

    What are the mathematical odds of this running to 53 weeks again? I’m curious.

    Also, is true that the winners get the exact money the punters pay for their tickets? In other words, if the Joker went off this week, the winner would get over $7000 in low denomination, scrunched up and slightly foxed notes presumably in a large suitcase.

  4. gavinmac says:

    When a drawing starts anew (in Week One), the odds of it running all 53 weeks are 1 in 53. Slightly less than a 2% chance. It will happen about once every 27 years.

    The current game has already gone through 38 weeks, so but the chances of it going all the way to Week 53 from here are still only 1 in 15 (less than a 7% chance).

  5. Shizzle says:

    A truly excellent analysis.

    As much as I abhor the Walkabout, I would enter the place (or at least hover around outside) for a chance to witness the madness that might unfold after the “Deal or No Deal” / found-joker scenario.

    Best revision since the ’09 version: The removal of the ‘advice dog’ in favor of the ‘money girl’. Fap, fap, fap.

  6. Cambod says:

    Good stuff, Gav! Unfortunately, my math(s) skills aren’t up to par with a hooker’s, so not sure what it all means….

  7. Pingback: Walkabout Joker Draw Odds for Friday, February 24, 2012 |

  8. Rich says:

    Thanks Gav.

    I won that draw after taking your advice. There were five cards left, I picked the first one, top left hand corner – JOKER!

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