Carnival Rip-Off

What you must understand is that a Carnival is a profit-making operation for the operators of this entertainment event. It is not an event that is staged so you have a good chance to win prizes for your family or friends. A successful veteran Carney Operator told me that it is like Las Vegas, the odds are in favor of the house, at a rate of 80 to 90 percent. So your chances of winning that big stuffed animal are slim to none.

Here are some of the games that give you very little chance to win. First the “basketball through” game. The big signs say that the basketball is “regulation size” the fine print if you can find it, says the hoop rims are NOT. And some booths don’t have disclaimer signs at all. So kids who are used to making hoops in the driveway are totally surprised when they can’t make any at this game. They normally spend a lot of money to try and make a hoop that they do regularly at their homes. Even Shack would have problems making these hoops. What the players do not understand is that the ball that they have in their hand is a normal basketball size, but the hoop is “smaller” than regulation size, so it is extremely difficult to get the basketball to go through the hoop. The ball will go through the hoop, but you need to have an angle on it from about seven to eight feet high. Many times the operator will walk up the stairs beside the hoop and show you that the basketball drops right through. But since the hoop is smaller the ball has to drop through from above not at an angle from below.

It’s a trick to make them money, and this Carnival game of “skill” makes the operators big money. The sad part is that so many little kids who have the skill to make a “regulation shot” are bled for dollars as they are ripped off. I watched this happen to two young people about 12 years of age. They had just so much money to spend on a good time at the LA County Fair, but they were caught up in trying to win the basketball game. One youngster spent $20 and could not understand why he could make them at home and not ONE at this game. I watched and after the young man had spent $20 and the operator was suggesting they pool all their money to win a stuffed animal, I stepped in. I explained to the young man that the hoop rim was not regulation size and that was why he could not make the shot. He was totally surprised, and asked for his money back. The operator said “no way.”

I identified myself to the operator and told him he had cheated the boys and he must give them their money back. He told me it was none of my business, and he would not give them their money back. I told him I would put this story on my show and expose this rip off and he would be lucky to have a job by the time I finished telling the world how he was ripping off kids. He thought about it for a moment, I said I will get the cops now and make it a big deal! He gave the boys back their money. The two boys were shocked. Then one youngster turned to me and said, “thank you mister for getting our money back, we didn’t know about this game.” That simple “thank you” made my day. By the way I did report it to the LA County Fair officials and they did nothing.

Remember all of the alleged “games of skill” are not skill but almost impossible games to win. Like pitch the penny or small ball into a dish and win a prize. You can pitch for hours and not win. Now after you have spent so much money they will give you a small prize just to keep you happy. You spend $15 and they will give you a $1 prize. But you say the man in the booth shows you how to pitch the balls or pennies and he always gets them in the dishes. Here is how it works. It is all in the angle of the pitch. It is like skipping a rock across a pond. Where you have to stand it is almost impossible to get the angle to make the penny land in the “prize” dishes. The operator is standing inside closer and at a different angle so he can make the balls come to rest in a dish. They tell the person playing the game they must stand up and pitch, that is to make sure they do not get the low angle. I saw one family win some nice stuffed animals because they let their small child who was about 3-feet tall do the pitching. His low angle-pitch put the balls in the plates each time. After the kid won five times the operator stopped the game and said the child was too young to play. What he really meant was the kid was winning almost all the time.

At the shooting booths many a police officer, who is an expert on the police shooting range will try to impress his wife or his friend with his great shooting. But the officer could not hit the target to win. Why? It is simple; the operators change the sites on the rifle. It has happen.

The milk bottle through “skill” game is also almost impossible to win. First the bottles are weighted and it all depends on the angle that the ball is thrown. The operator inside the booth knows that angle, but the person standing outside the booth is already at the wrong angle.

But wait a minute, I see people carrying large stuffed animals that they have won. Do they have a special “Angel” to help with the “Angle”? You think they have won the large stuffed animals. The Carnival operators know that you must think there is a chance to win or you will not play.  So they have people carrying the large stuffed animals around the gaming area to make you think that even small kids can win. Here is an example of what happen on the Orange County Fair. There was a woman who had two small children walking with her and one baby in a stroller, and she had an extremely large stuffed bear she was carrying. I asked her how she won the bear, and she said, “Oh I didn’t win it a nice young man who works for the Carnival told me I could have it if I would carry it with me and the kids while I was at the Carnival.  This is a true story.  By the way she was resting with her kids by one of those basketball through games.  What did it look like, well here is a woman with three kids and she could win the basketball through so why couldn’t a group of teenage boys win big.  It is all in the perception.

On the rides that have height requirements there are good reasons for them.  Many smaller kids can slip out of restraints. At one of the Southern California Parks a 300 lb. woman who was a guest on one of the rides slipped out of the restraint and was killed.  They still are not sure how this happed.  I have seen many ride operators say, “you are just an inch or so too short, but you can ride anyway.”  Don’t put your child’s life in the judgment of a person who was hired part time by the Carnival.

I asked a major Carnival operator how a family should approach a family outing at a Carnival.  He said there are two types.  On Carnival is a prepaid show that gets a guaranteed profit, and the games are really games of skill and many people win stuff animals.  Many churches or other organizations sponsor these Carnivals.  Many times they will charge a fee at the entrance.  Then there are the Carnivals that make the profit on the games.  This veteran Carney said take them at face value like Las Vegas, the odds are in the favor of the house and you are not going to win big, or at all at most of the games.  He said it is the fun of trying but don’t expect to win. Just have fun.  I just wish someone had told me that when I was a kid and spent my paper route money trying to win at one of those fixed games.

Bottom line; there is no truth in consumerism at most carnivals.  It is totally cheaper to buy a stuffed animal and take it with you and secretly present it to the person you want to impress. If the carnival wants to pretend the games are on the up and up, then you can pretend you won the stuffed animal.  Ride the rides and have fun!