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Wanna Bet?
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 11/30/2015

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The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Corrections staff serve as role models. Though offenders do not necessarily want to admit it or may not even realize it on an obvious level, they look to us to do the right thing. It is also vocational fact that many offenders will point out when we do the wrong thing.

Per civil service rules and policy directives, gambling is prohibited among staff. However, “Wanna bet?” is a classroom exercise that uses the idea of gambling in order to introduce concepts of manipulation. We can learn a bit of psychology by applying a wager to a team-oriented icebreaker.

This is how works:

Very discreetly, give a roll of clear tape to a preselected person. For the icebreaker to work well, the facilitator must tell the selected person of the plan in advance. No other team is to know that the selected team will be given an undeclared advantage. If any other party knows of this, the exercise will likely not work.

Divide the class into teams of four.

Give each team a deck of 52 playing cards. If your budget does not allow, a local casino may donate as many deck as you need.

Announce that there will be a competition in the spirit of teamwork. Teams will compete to build a house of cards. You may allot 10 minutes to do so. The team that builds the tallest structure wins. If the house of cards falls, teams have an opportunity to rebuild as long as they do so without going over the time limit.

Remember the team that was specially selected to have tape. The tape will be used to build a secure structure that will not fall.

One of the team members on the specially selected team with the tape says something like, “Let's make this interesting. I bet you we can build higher.” Of course, this line and the timing was fed in advance by the facilitator.

The facilitator permits this and keeps an eye on the dynamics of the room. Competition is increased with just more than pride in one's team on the line. How the bet develops will, of course, depend on a variety of factors.

But it is important that there is an incentive to build taller card houses than other teams.

With the unfair and unseen disadvantage of clear tape, one team should have a steady structure and should easily win the bet.

If the cheating team played well, they would have blocked off any spies with auxiliary team members. The other team would not have known that they had the advantage of tape. And that is part of the rooms that the facilitator must implore to the selected team members that they must sell. The tape advantage should go undetected until it is revealed at the end.

When all is said and done, the facilitator will announce that one team was purposely given an unfair advantage. This was done for very valid reason. This was to illustrate that there really is not a sure thing to bet upon. The facilitator can ask a series of questions: Did something seem not quite right? Did anyone honestly suspect that there was tape in the room? If not, was there anything in retrospect that indicated that the team may have been cheating? Did any of this seem out of character? When the truth was announced, did you feel manipulated? How did inter-team dynamics change when the bet was proposed?


This scripted misdirection is an effective way to guide a group into a module about manipulation.

Naturally, if the facilitator is leading a particularly playful group, comments about the bet will resurface. If the group knows each other well enough, there will certainly be some rough verbal camaraderie. Therefore, the instructor must be on his or her toes and direct the group well. This means either guiding the group away from any argument or finding lessons within the ribbing.

Also, it is not out of the question for a group to later play a prank on the facilitator. It is simply a matter professional pride and playful revenge. If you pulled one over on a whole group, they may try to pull one over on you.

So this icebreaker may not be for the less than playful instructor. However, if you are one who does not mind some scrapes and bruises on the ego and if you don't mind a little playing a classroom, “Wanna bet?” may be the perfect icebreaker to set the stage for module on manipulation of staff.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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