Why Is It So Hard to Win a Claw Crane Machine?

Author: CC

Mar. 15, 2023



Tags: Sports & Entertainment

At some point or another you've probably played one of these claw machines, hoping to score the plush toy of your dreams. But despite your skill at perfectly positioning the claw over the prize and activating it, you've found that the pincers just don't grab tightly enough to pick up a stuffed animal.


It's not your imagination. Those claw machines are rigged. But they're rigged in a surprisingly clever way — and not the way most people suspect.




The claw is programmed to grab tightly only part of the time


Some people think the claw machine is so hard to win because the stuffed animals are packed so tightly together. But the bigger reason is more insidious than that: the claw machine is programmed to have a strong grip only part of the time.


This isn't a closely kept secret. It's publicly available information.


The machine's owner can fine-tune the strength of the claw beforehand so that it only has a strong grip a fraction of the time that people play.


The owner can manually adjust the "dropping skill," as well. That means that on a given number of tries, the claw will drop a prize that it's grabbed before it delivers it to you.


The machines also allow the owner to select a desired level of profit and then automatically adjust the claw strength to make sure that players are only winning a limited number of times.


States do regulate claw machines — but they typically focus on prize size


States regulate slot machines to make sure they're not rigged too unfairly against players. But they rarely do the same thing for claw machines.


Instead, state regulations typically focus on keeping the value of the prizes in claw machines relatively low. Lawmakers seem to think that larger prizes would make claw machines more akin to gambling, whereas smaller prizes keep them safe for kids.


By contrast, there are fewer regulations on how strong the claw should be. If machine operators want to make the claw wildly unfair against the players, there's little stopping them — in most cases, the only check is the machine's reputation.


Even though it's rigged, people are still tempted by the claw


If the claw is so badly rigged, then why do people keep playing this game? Starting in 1951, the machines were regulated as gambling devices, but in 1974, those regulations were relaxed. A claw boom began. Today, they're ubiquitous in grocery stores, malls, and anywhere else with lots of foot traffic.


One possibility for their enduring popularity today: social media has made it easy for people to record their victories playing claw machines, and each victorious post or video about a successful claw machine attempt only serves as a commercial for the games. (By contrast, few people broadcast their claw failures.) That might give the impression that the game is way more winnable than it actually is.


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