Real-world contests are often "unfair" in the sense that outperforming all rivals may not be enough to be the winner, because some contestants are favored by the allocation rule, while others are handicapped. Examples of such contests can be inter alia found in the area of litigation and procurement.This paper analyzes discriminatory contests (which are strategically equivalent to all-pay auctions) with a handicap for one of the participants. We first characterize the equilibriumstrategies, provide closed form solutions, and illustrate the additional strategic issues arising through this asymmetry. We then analyze the issue of the optimal degree of unfairness. From a social point of view, the following trade-off arises: The disadvantage of unfair contests is that the prize may be awarded to an inferior contestant. On the other hand, under the assumption that the effort exerted by contestants to increase their chancesof winning the prize is wasteful from a social point of view, one advantage of an unfair contest is that it leads to lower effort incentives. We characterize situations in which it is optimal for an authority to either stipulate a fair contest, an interior degree of unfairness or even an infinitely unfair contest where the prize is directly awarded to one of the ontestants.
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