Down the Coin Pusher Rabbit Hole


By Adam Turteltaub

I’ve been spending way too much time on YouTube lately. Their algorithm’s ability to show me ever more videos on a topic is too powerful for me to resist, and a quick trip to the site to watch one video inevitably turns into an hours-long film festival.

Of course, in addition to videos you expect, YouTube also pushes out videos you don’t, and that led me to a strange corner of the video web, racked with allegations of fraud, and filled with discussions of ethics: the land of the coin pusher games.

If you haven’t been to an arcade lately, let me explain what these games are. Behind the glass there is a play field filled with quarters or tokens, and a kind of giant sweeper thing is at the rear moving back and forth repeatedly. You drop your quarter or token in the top and watch it land on the playfield. You then hope the sweeper pushes it into the existing pile of coins in such a way that the coins in front fall off of a ledge and into the catch bin. You either win these coins or are awarded tickets for redemption of prizes.

Somehow an entire industry has developed of people making videos showing these games being played. I saw videos with well north of 100,000 views. Even more remarkable than the viewership is the alleged sordid underside of the coin pusher game video business.

I got a taste of it when I saw the headline for a video that claimed one of these games had a $100,000 buy in. Huh? And then soon it led me to another one claiming a game with a $100,000,000 buy in! Huh? Huh? Huh?

I was a more than a bit skeptical since that seemed like a particularly crazy amount. Also, I noticed it was the same machine and the same poker chips inside, and the same guy had a bunch of videos claiming all sorts of crazy buy ins and insane profits. Basically, he claimed to have wagered and won so much money that Jeff Bezos would be envious.

Still, it was mesmerizing to watch, especially when the gigantic towers of coins and chips finally fell over the edge, and the untold “millions” in payouts began.

And that led me to wonder if this was legit. I quickly found an article about the alleged – I don’t know what is and isn’t true and don’t really want to spend yet more time on YouTube finding out – underside of these videos. There’s something of a battle going on between those who profess their videos are 100% legit and those who claim giant jackpots. Along with it is a discussion of ethics, turning on whether people are making these allegedly high payout videos just to provide a bit of harmless, fantasy entertainment or if they were created to get people to send them money to pay off alleged gambling debts. I don’t know if those debts are real or not. Again, I’ve watched too many YouTube videos already and don’t want to see more.

For those of us working in ethics and compliance it’s all a good example of the fact that there’s no such thing as a safe, innocent little business, even when it’s just making arcade game videos. Sooner or later uncomfortable questions start creeping in about what is and isn’t the right thing to do, and whether everything is on the up and up. It’s also a good example of how just one little thing – a coin or a token – can lead to a sudden, dramatic change of fortune.

Either way, we need to remain vigilant and encourage others not to fall over the edge.