Learning About Those Games, the Hard Way...


by Bruce Walstad


Back in the late 70’s (I was a young patrolman then) my chief came to me and said I was being assigned to check out the games at a carnival that was setting up in town.  He explained in their previous visits there had been many complaints about people losing some serious money on the games.  The chief knew I was a part-time performing magician and said, “You know all about that sleight of hand stuff, so look at those games”.  I had no clue what I was getting into.  I had read in a few books about carnival games like the Razzle, Over the Rail and the Scissor’s Bucket but that was the extent of my knowledge.


 My first encounter with the carnies was most interesting and enlightening for me….  It probably took them a few seconds to realize I knew little to nothing.  They were very friendly to me and went around and explained how each game worked and what you had to do to win.  I fell for most of what they were telling me. However, I did recognize the Razzle set up and a couple of the games were out and out gambling.  I shut those down, but allowed them to open a Bushel joint, the Coke Roll and a couple others.  At that moment I became our department’s carnival game “expert”.


As time passed I would stop at every carnival I saw and look over the games and watch them in action.  I read everything I could and befriended a few carnies and found a couple other cops who had been inspecting games and learned a great deal, but never enough.  Actually I still have several friends in the carnival business.


As the years passed, other local departments were calling me to help them with inspections.  Jeez, the games I saw at times.... 


I remember one time a guy had a basketball joint and he could not sink a basket himself.  He finally got up on a ladder and had to force the ball through the hoop (it was so bent) and told me, see it can be done.  We said no to that.  He went and got a car jack and opened it and inch or so.  We allowed him to open after the adjustment.


One time I was watching a Spot the Spot joint and caught the guy with two set of different size disks.  He had the smaller set hidden when I did the inspection.  I watched him demo it perfectly for people, but when they went to play, he would turn around to get a cigarette and switch the stack of disks.  It was a really smooth move. 


We checked out a duck pond one time and surprise, there were no large or extra-large marked ducks.  But then, they magically appeared.   He had on a ledge inside the tunnel and when he bumped the tunnel really hard, they fell in the water.  That one made me laugh. 


I had the most fun with the bushel guys.  Not one time, could they win the game, following their own rules.  Talk about an alibi joint, they had more reasons why they could not do it. 


The Coke Roll guys were funny too.  They would go on and on trying to convince us this was a good game. They could rarely ever win themselves during the inspection process.  We never allowed that game. 


Every so often we would find a Razzle set up.  Usually they would switch out a legit game for a Razzle after the inspections and the carnival was open. Oddly, it was most often other carnies who would tell us about it.


One time I had a guy one time trying to convince me that the three pin bowling was a legit game.  I got tired of watching him trying to win.  He was quite upset when we would not allow him to open and then wanted to set up his bottle up joint.  It was the version with the little platform and fork.  The player had to do it 10 times according to his rules sign.  I actually spotted where he had his bottles marked with the heavy side.  We did not allow that either. He finally set up a balloon game.


I came across some sort of cork gun game once, where you had to knock down small wooden rectangular targets.  During the inspection process, the guy could not shoot down one.  We got tired of watching the corks bounce off the targets.


The Milk Bottles were always a problem.   We would often let them open (if the bottles were not too weighted), but would close them down pretty quickly as soon as we saw them offsetting the bottles.  I actually came across a set with a 9 pound bottle, a 6 pound and a 1 pound bottle.  I think I would have trouble knocking that set down with my 9MM.


Saw a Swinger Game once.  That guy must have thought I was an idiot.  I saw him offset the pin every time he set it.   He explained to me that he did that every time for each player.  He worked overtime trying to convince me that game was legit.  He gave up and put in another game.



Few Carnival Games of Chance Give Player

an Honest Winning Break


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