Why Yes, Those Claw Machines Are Rigged, Says Arcade Operator

An arcade owner from somewhere in central California popped into Reddit late last night to confirm, in exacting detail, what everyone has long suspected: those goddamn claw machines do deliberately have a tissue-thin grip, even when you think you have it lined up directly over that plush toy and can't possibly miss picking it up.

The machines have variable PSI strength settings for the claws, wrote TheDJTec. It's designed so that they "pay out" (give you a toy) only as often as state regulations require.

I had no idea that there were state regulations concerning this kind of an amusement, but there are. The odds in California require a prize dispensed on one in every 12 tries. In Nevada (and in many other states) the odds are 1 in 15.

When the machine decides it's time to pay out, the strength of its grip changes, said TheDJTec. "My claw during 11/12 tries will apply 4-6 PSI, or just enough to shuffle it or barely pick it up," he said. "During the 1/12 tries the claw will apply 9-11 PSI, sometimes picking it up and dropping, some successful." He said that toys typically require 10 PSI to grasp. He goes into deeper detail about how the odds change (and are capped) if the thing fails to pay out on payout-strength grips.

Here's the best part (to me anyway): "We pay between $.25 and $.50 a pop per toy," he said. That means at best you're paying 25 cents for a 1 in 12 chance to double your money. In other instances, you're just getting a toy worth your quarter (unless you're paying 50 cents or more per play). And bulk orders can drive the unit price down to 20 cents.

The Reddit response? Gratitude, mostly, followed by sharing all the tricks they developed to rip off these kind of amusement/redemption machines. My favorite was the kid who figured out how to plunder the coin-pushers.

It made me think back to this guy, who I met in 2004 in Denver, who apparently made his living off one of these amusements—Drill-o-Matic. It required physical skill, but if the game was deliberately fudging the execution just to hold to a payout ratio, then it makes his feat even more impressive. Then again, he did tell me that his family grocery store had owned a machine just like it, which I suppose gave him a lot of time to figure out how to exploit it.

Anyway, this is a great AmA, and TheDJTec has loads more to share, including how much his arcade pays for the really big prizes—like PS3s and Xbox 360s. It ain't much.

IAmA Arcade Owner and Operator, Claw Machine Fanatic and Im here to help! AMA [Reddit]