Ah, the call of the stuffed kitsch. How it lures you in. Step right up folks!

This is the time of year boardwalk games and carnival barkers are in their full glory. We know we’re laying down five or ten dollars trying to win a prize that no doubt costs two. But it’s part of Jersey’s summer charm so we go with the flow. It’s not the prize, it’s the irony and atmosphere of it all. It’s the experience.

Still, you know deep down these games are harder to win than it seems they should be. You’ve heard sometimes they’re rigged against you.

Let me stop right there and point out not every game is a scam and not every boardwalk barker is disreputable. It’s just that it happens. Every year the Department of Consumer Affairs sends out inspectors to boardwalks, carnivals and amusement parks to make sure the games are on the up and up.

That doesn’t mean the game owners aren’t allowed to make it improbable to win. It means they can’t make it outright impossible.

A great example of this is inside many arcades. The claw machine. You’ve played it. The one where the claw seems impossibly weak to actually grasp the prize or will grasp it but lose it halfway to the winner’s chute.

There’s a reason you’re noticing that.

Turns out some of these claw machines are far more high tech than you realize. Did you know these machines can be programmed by the owner of the arcade to alternate pincer strength; how much grasp that claw has? You can make it have a weak grip 19 out of 20 times for example. But if someone plays long enough they may score a prize with the 20th grip.

That’s just an example. The arcade owner can adjust the ratio however they want. Another thing that can be programmed is the dropping skill; how many times out of how many times the claw will get weak and drop the prize once it has it. This makes the player feel they’re getting closer and tempts them to play longer.

These machines can even be programmed to what profit margin they want to maintain. It can all be perfectly legal as long as you ultimately have a chance to win a prize. But it turns the claw game into more of a gambling machine, doesn’t it?

Want more examples?

Bill L. Howard wrote the book ‘Carnival Fraud 101’. He points out not every game is rigged, and even when they use tricks to make it much harder to win it still doesn’t mean it’s illegal per se. But he offers some great examples.

Seven boardwalk games and how they can be stacked against you

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski. Any opinions expressed are Jeff Deminski's own.

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