A shill is an associate of a person selling goods or services who pretends no association to the seller and assumes the air of an enthusiastic customer. The intention of the shill is, using crowd psychology, to encourage other potential customers unaware of the set-up to purchase said goods or services. Shills are often employed by confidence artists.
The word “shill” is probably related to “shillaber”, a word of obscure early-20th century origin with the same meaning.
Shills are illegal in many circumstances and in many jurisdictions because of the frequently fraudulent and damaging character of their actions. However, if a shill does not place uninformed parties at a risk of loss, but merely generates “buzz,” the shill’s actions may be legal. For example, a person planted in an audience to laugh and applaud when appropriate, see “claque”, or to participate in on-stage activities as a “random member of the audience”, is a type of legal shill.
Shills in gambling
The illegal and legal gambling industries often use shills to make winning at games appear more likely than it actually is. For example, illegal three card monte peddlers are notorious employers of shills. These shills also often aid in cheating; they will disrupt the game if the mark is likely to win.
In a legal casino, however, a shill is sometimes a gambler who plays using the casino’s money in order to keep games (e.g. especially poker) going when there are not enough players. (This is different from a proposition player who is paid a salary by the casino for the same purpose, but bets with their own money.)
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