If you've played one of the many arcade claw games located on Blackpool's Golden Mile, the thought will have crossed your mind that ‘these games are totally rigged.'
On a typical visit to the arcade, my kids will spend £50 of my hard-earned cash to win a soft toy with the value of £2 on those damn claw contraptions. The only thing these grabby machines are capable of holding with any determination is my wallet.
I've spent a frightening amount of money on these machines over the years. I've endured the tears and tantrums as the ‘claw of doom' inextricably dropped the teddy bear my daughter had been trying to win for thirty minutes just before it was about to fall in the prize chute.
I decided it was high time to find out if Blackpool's arcade claw games rigged. What I uncovered might surprise you.
WHAT DOES RIGGED MEAN?
Firstly, we'll need to define what ‘rigged' means. To most people, it means an unfair advantage or a game fixed in a dishonest way. For example, imagine you're playing the fairground game Coconut Shy, you'd expect a strong, accurate throw to knock a coconut from its perch. If you later discovered that the coconuts were nailed down, many people would consider that a ‘rigged' game.
Surprisingly, I found many of the claw games in Blackpool, and other seaside resorts around the country operate like a ‘rigged coconut shy'. What's more shocking is these machines are totally legal. So how do the arcade operators get away with this? Well, it took a fair amount of digging to find the answer but eventually, I found it.
My research led me to the UK Gambling Commission website and a fascinating document titled ‘Classification of crane machines‘. It was upon reading this that I finally understood why I'd lost so much money – claw games are essentially slot machines! The UK Gambling Commission classify certain types of claw machines as ‘D gaming machines' in other words – a game of chance, not skill.
What does that mean, you might ask? Well, here's the interesting bit.
SKILL OR CHANCE?
In the UK arcade operators can offer two different types of game. A skill-based game or a game of chance. In Britain, a game of chance is considered gambling, whereas skill games are not. Betting on the spin of a roulette wheel is gambling. However, paying for the chance to win a prize on a Coconut Shy game is not gambling as the game is based on the skill of the player – assuming the coconuts aren't nailed down of course!
The UK Gambling Commission classify Crane/Claw games as ‘Non-Complex Category D‘ in their guidelines. The guidelines for CAT D machines specify the following “Whether the player wins is not dependant entirely on skill but is determined, in whole or in part, by timing or other compensating devices”. A compensating device is a term used by the Gambling Commission to describe a game which has a controlled payout rate.
People understand that when they play a slot machine, the chance of winning is entirely random. Claw machines operate on the same fundamentals as the slot, although most people assume the claw game is based on player skill. One cause of this misunderstanding is the existence of claw games which do work on a skill-based system. Yep, that's right, some claw games are 100% skill-based, but the majority of the machines which offer decent prizes are not.
HOW THEY STOP YOU WINNING
At this point, you might be wondering a claw machine stops you from winning? Well, it has a simple trick to prevent you from walking away with too many soft toys. The grabbing power of the claw is controlled until the machine determines it's time to payout. It doesn't matter how accurately you move the claw, it will not grab with enough force to successfully deliver a toy to the payout chute.
I think you'll agree with me when I say that this is slightly sneaky on the part of the game manufacturers and operators. Especially when you consider these claw machines primarily appeal to younger children.
HOW TO SPOT ‘RIGGED' GAMES
What if I told you there's an easy way to identify the skill-based games and those which aren't? It could save you a lot of money! The trick is to look on the claw machines cabinet. You're looking for a little sticker with the letter ‘D' on it. If you see it, the claw game is NOT skill-based, and you could be wasting your time and money pumping pound coins into this type of machine. If you play on a grabby machine with a ‘D' sticker, your chance of success will be random.
Nevertheless, players can tilt the odds of winning in their favour using a few tips from professional claw players – yes, that's a thing! YouTube has videos from Pro Claw players, which can help you win, even when the machine doesn't want to payout. Check out the tips below.