Green’s Dictionary of Slang

shill n.2

1. (also shillaber, shiller, shilliber, shilliver) any form of criminal who poses as a member of the public to lure victims, usu. into confidence tricks.

[US]Indiana (PA) Weekly Messenger 14 Mar. 1/5: The room is always small, with an office at one end where the swindled purchaser pays for what he buys, and so situated as to protect the shillaber in his sham purchase or the victim from the gaze of the crowd, for it is not prudent to have two ‘guys’ at a time at the cashier’s desk.
[US]Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl. 75: shilliver, shilliber [...] Current among criminals who employ ‘Stalls,’ ‘boosters,’ or aides. A supernumerary; a secondary; an epithet applied to apprentice crooks.
[US]O.O. McIntyre New York Day by Day 30 July [synd. col.] The ‘shillaber’ tells the actor of a poker player who likes to make big bets but is an awful sucker.
[US]J. Black You Can’t Win (2000) 151: His ‘cappers,’ ‘boosters,’ and ‘shills’ fought with the yokels for a chance to get something for nothing and always beat them to the pieces of soap containing the money.
[US] ‘Jargon of the Und.’ in DN V 462: Shillaber, The barker at a circus or carnival.
[US]K. Nicholson Barker 150: Shill – A decoy for the townspeople.
[US]C.G. Givens ‘Chatter of Guns’ in Sat. Eve. Post 13 April; list extracted in AS VI:2 (1930) 134: shiller, n. Confidence man.
[US]D. Clemmer Prison Community (1940) 330/2: booster, n. [...] a steerer, a shillaber. [Ibid.] 335/2: shill, n. A steerer or ‘come along man’ for a show or a racket.
[US]Ersine Und. and Prison Sl. 66: shill, shiller, n. One who brings trade to a gambling or con game and who cons the marks into playing.
[US]G. & S. Lorimer Stag Line 147: The shill can take over—can’t you, Mosey?
[US]R. Chandler ‘Trouble Is My Business’ in Spanish Blood (1946) 175: She’s a shill for a gambler and she’s got her hooks into a rich man’s pup.
[US]J.F. Bardin Deadly Pecheron in Bardin Omnibus (1976) 79: Wives of entrepreneurs, lady shills – all of these were considered ‘artists’; as well as their counterparts [...] who operated the ‘sucker’ games.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 191/2: Shillaber. [...] Shiller. (Southern variant) See Shill, n.
[US]C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 325: Shill, An accomplice of a carnival swindler or thief.
[US]Kramer & Karr Teen-Age Gangs 167: Next time let me know when you plan to use me as a shill.
[US]‘Toney Betts’ Across the Board 98: The commissions they got as shills they blew on betting.
[US](con. 1950) E. Frankel Band of Brothers 66: Went to work as a shill for an auction house.
[US]Mad mag. Apr. 30: My mother ran off with a carnival shill in 1946.
[US]C. Himes Rage in Harlem (1969) 53: They’re using a shill... to bring in the suckers blindfolded.
[US]N. Algren ‘The Last Carousel’ in Texas Stories (1995) 139: Doggy Hooper, the shill in the paint-stained cap.
[UK]D. Powis Signs of Crime 200: Shill A decoy, particularly in fraud or the three-card trick, who lures or encourages a victim.
[US]S. King Dead Zone (1980) 178: You think this fellow Dussault was [...] a shill?
[US](con. 1940s–60s) H. Huncke ‘Bill Burroughs’ in Eve. Sun Turned Crimson (1998) 152: They informed me they were making the hole together as partners, with Bill learning to act as a shill and cover-up man for Phil.
[US]L. Stringer Grand Central Winter (1999) 233: A few peep-show shills look on with vague interest.
[Aus]G. Seal Lingo 50: Contacts with the USA have given us shill, a con-man’s collaborator; stool-pigeon, an informer [...] and probably heat, meaning pressure from the authorities.
[US]M. Salovesh in Comments on Etymology Feb. 16: (I knew I was supposed to give those prizes back to the guys who gave them to me, without being obvious about it.) They used my wins as bait for their victims. I couldn’t have told you what a ‘shill’ was back then, but I played the role without understanding the implications.
[US](con. 1973) C. Stella Johnny Porno 240: Nick didn’t appreciate being a stand-in for Albano or a shill for the police.

2. (US Und.) an apprentice criminal.

see sense 1.

3. (gambling) a house player in a casino.

[US]‘Paul Cain’ ‘Black’ in Omnibus (2006) 223: Lowry won a lot of jack in one of ben’s crap game [...] and Ben wanted him to kick back with it - said everybody that worked for him was automatically a shill and couldn’t play for keeps.
[US]B. Dai Opium Addiction in Chicago 125: He used to ‘hang around’ the gambling ‘joints,’ and one of his last jobs was to play the ‘shill’.
[US]N. Algren Man with the Golden Arm 100: Schwiefka’s shills [...] killed the hours before the suckers’ hours with call-rummy.
[US]M. Spillane Long Wait (1954) 20: The gambling rooms were paying high for bouncers, croupiers, dealers, shills and whatnot.
[US](con. 1920s) ‘Harry Grey’ Hoods (1953) 180: ‘About twenty-five are shills,’ [...] ‘The rest are pure, unadulterated suckers.’.
[Aus]‘Geoffrey Tolhurst’ Flat 4 King’s Cross (1966) 51: [B]ut I must never bet myself, and I must never suggest on what a patron might bet, in case he lost and people thought I was acting as a ‘shill’ for the house.
[US]D. Jenkins Semi-Tough 94: Not bad lookers for Vegas shills.

4. a promotion or, used fig., anyone who advocates something enthusiastically; thus also a promotion.

[US]D. Runyon ‘Cemetery Bait’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 517: The steward of the diner weighs in with a strong shill for this fish.
[US]I. Shulman Good Deeds Must Be Punished 114: You need a shill. [...] A business promoter.
[US]T. Berger Reinhart in Love (1963) 131: ‘Praise God and not the Devil,’ shouted one of the Maker’s male shills.
[US](con. 1949) J.G. Dunne True Confessions (1979) 237: Protectors of the Poor. It would take Ruben Aguilar to come up with a name like that [...] What shill.
[US]C. Hiaasen Tourist Season (1987) 364: An object lesson for all those bootlicking shills and hustlers.
[US]N. Tosches Where Dead Voices Gather (ms.) 271: Izzy had once worked for Harry Von Tilzer as a lowly boomer, a shill paid to applaud and enthuse wildly at the performance of any song published by the house of Von Tilzer.

5. a member of the three-card monte team who appears to be another innocent gambler and who lures players into the game.

[US]D. Maurer Big Con 6: One of his accomplices (a shill) bet a dollar and picked out the queen.
[US]N.Y. Times 15 Dec. SM16: Shill: a confidence man’s assistant.
[US]A.K. Shulman On the Stroll 107: He’d been a shill and a lookout in other mens’ games, but now he wanted to move up into his own game.
[US]P. Beatty Tuff 156: Charles and Smush would be the supporting players, shills whose duties were purposely to obscure the mark’s view of the table, arousing his curiosity.

6. a confidence trick.

[US]L. Heinemann Paco’s Story (1987) 4: And the geeks and freaks [...] hear the dipstick yokels soaking up a shill like that.

7. a spokesperson – the implication is of mendacity – for an institution.

[US]B. Hamper Rivethead (1992) 30: I hadn’t even worked a day yet for General Motors and already I didn’t trust these shills.
[US]Simon & Burns ‘Combat Jack’ Generation Kill ep. 4 [TV script] This fucking shill of god [i.e. a chaplain], he can’t cover his sector.

In phrases

shill through (v.) [abbr. shillaber, one who publicizes a circus, carnival etc.]

(US Und.) to get in to an entertainment free.

[US]P. & T. Casey Gay-cat 304: Shill Through—to go free, as into a circus.