by Bruce Walstad


Over the years I witnessed some interesting moments between the police and carnies.  One in particular stands out.  The chief of a local police department called me and told me a familiar story, about how the last time this particular carnival was in his town; he had a number of complaints about people loosing large amounts of money on games.  He asked me come with him to inspect the games. 


We arrived at the carnival and were cordially met by the owner.  The chief told him about all the complaints he had received about people loosing rather large sums of money playing his games.  The owner gave the standard answer; those were independently owned games, not his.  He went on and on about how he got rid of those guys and now all his games are fair.


If I recall, he had about 10 games.  The first one he took it to was a Bushel Joint.  The operator explained the game and demonstrated it from inside.  I asked him to demo it from the player’s position.  He said sure.  He tossed one ball in one of the baskets and then climbed over the counter and demonstrated how easy it was to win, tossing two more balls in the same basket.    I asked him if he always left a ball in each basket for each player.  He did not answer.  I asked him to demonstrate the game again, without a ball already in the basket. He said he could.  Well, needless to say he could not.  He did get it in once, with a rim shot, but his rules sign specifically said “No Rim Shots”.  The chief told the owner, no on this game.  I remember the look that owner game the game operator. 


Next he showed us a Three Pin Bowling Set up.  The operator explained the game and demonstrated it, but during his set up of the pins, I saw him nudge one of the outside pins in.  I asked him why he did that.  He pretended he did not know what I was talking about.  I asked him to demo it without nudging any of the pins, but only pulling the middle pin straight back.  After few unsuccessful tries, he suggested that he would change the game and the object would be for the player to roll the ball between the two outside pins. The chief told him no and we went on to the next game. 


As we were walking away from that game, the owner had called over another carnie and spoke to him privately.  That guy walked away and went down the midway and was talking with the other game operators. 


The rest of the games were OK, for the most part.  If I recall there were a couple Balloon Joints, a Basketball Game or two and a few others.  I remember, we had them rewrite the rules on a game, as they made no sense. The chief also made them add what the trade up formula was for a couple games. 


But then we came upon the Bull Dozers, Coin Falls or whatever you want to call them.  The trailer had about 20 machines in it.  There was lots of paper money and small prizes laying on top of the quarters on the playing surface.  The chief knew about this type of game and at once told the owner, no.  This is gambling.  Then it got interesting.  The owner said he would remove the quarters and paper money and replace them with tokens.  The chief asked him, well how do the players get tokens?  The owner replied, you have to buy them for .25 each.  The chief asked, what do the players do with the tokens the win?  The owner said they redeem them for prizes.  But, he had no prizes in the trailer but said he would come up some.  The chief said no, explaining there is no skill involved and the way the game works, it is considered a slot machine according to state law.  The owner told him something about legal decisions saying this game was skill, not gambling.  His argument fell on deaf ears.   Then the owner said, he was going to open the game himself, let the chief arrest him and when they got to court his lawyers would prove this is a game of skill and that he would them sue the police department.  The chief said go ahead, but I suspect this trial will take months to happen and that trailer of yours will be held in evidence until then.  I do remember that the chief and owner were just about nose to nose during this disagreement. The owner was not a happy man.  The chief was not a happy man.  Then the owner then started ripping off the vinyl banners on the trailer, yelling and swearing and said he would never come back to this town.  The chief told him, I hope you are a man of your word about that…




Few Carnival Games of Chance Give Player

an Honest Winning Break


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