Geneva, SWITZERLAND—A group of international economic researchers released the findings of a three-year study on Tuesday, claiming that the traditional – but illegal – use of the “Free Parking prize” in Parker Brothers’ “Monopoly” board game hopelessly destabilizes the game, allowing players to win by chance rather than skill.
“‘Monopoly’ already contains a built-in factor of chance, in the form of the ‘Chance’ cards,” said Dr. Chakra Satyanaryana, the lead researcher at the International Institute of Economics. “Receiving hundreds, even thousands of dollars simply for landing on the ‘Free Parking’ space is tantamount to winning the lottery. It must be noted that in the time Monopoly is meant to represent – 1930s America – there were no state-sponsored lotteries. Aside from that, what are the odds that one of, at most, eight people are going to hit it big in the lottery? The odds are astronomical.”
The “Free Parking prize” doesn’t merely rob “Monopoly” of its verisimilitude to Depression-era real estate brokerage, according to the study. It can also mean the difference between defeat and victory in a game intended to be won through the careful management of hotels and rent collection. “I once played a game where the jackpot got as high as $3,000,” said Dr. George Mazzilli, another researcher who worked on the study. “My opponent had just landed on Broadway a few turns ago and was about to take his final trip down what I like to call ‘Mazzilli Lane,’ which is when I own all the red and yellow squares, complete with hotels. But then what happens? He lands on ‘Free Parking’ and suddenly he’s richer than me. How is that fair? When was the last time someone gave you thousands of dollars for parking in an empty spot?”
The tradition began in the mid-1950s when the apparent worthlessness of the “Free Parking” space finally took its toll on players. Frustrated by such a glaring flaw in an otherwise well-made game, players began putting money collected from fines (such as the “Luxury Tax”) into the middle of the board, and awarding the money when a player landed on the ‘Free Parking’ space.
Even using the money from taxes and fines can cause problems. “How many times have you looked over and found the bank completely empty?” Mazzilli pointed out. “It’s all in the middle of the board.” As to the origins of the tradition, Mazzilli has his own theory. “I think it was started by bad Monopoly players, plain and simple.”
Over the years, Parker Brothers (now owned by the Hasbro toy company) has tried to dissuade players from using the illegal rule. In the game manual under the “Free Parking” space, it reads, “A player landing on this space doers not receive any money, property or reward of any kind. This is just a ‘free’ resting space.” But despite this strong wording, the use of the ‘Free Parking prize’ persists in games across the world.
Dr. Satyanarayana worries that the unofficial rule may have far-reaching consequences. “In this time of worldwide economic crisis, the ‘Free Parking prize’ can only serve to create bitterness by giving players unrealistic expectations of their life,” Satyanaryana said. “Some poor jerk parks in a free parking spot and doesn’t get a thousand bucks. Next thing you know, he’s up in a belltower with a Winchester .30-30.”
The study included a recommendation that the “Free Parking prize” be immediately banned. When it was pointed out that the rule was illegal in the first place, the researchers quickly reconvened, then announced that the rule should be banned unofficially as well. The United Nations swiftly moved to send peacekeeping forces to Monopoly games throughout the world.