claw vending machine

"As it turns out, the claws can be set at lesser grip strengths to make sure you drop the prizes."

Here’s a simple one-question test to determine whether you’re a realist or a dreamer: What do you believe when it comes to arcade games that offer gaudy prizes in return for a quarter or a buck?

If you think they’re games of skill and that you’ve got this, you’re a dreamer. If you think they’re rigged, you’re a realist — and absolutely right on the money.

I offer as proof the $1 million legal settlement reached recently between Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and a New Jersey game manufacturer by the name of the Betson Coin-Op Distributing Company.

Betson manufactures a fancy version of the old arcade claw game known as the Key Master Prize Redemption Machine, which at one point could be found in locations statewide.

The machine offered cool prizes like Sony PlayStations and iPads. All the player had to do was invest a dollar to use a joystick and a mechanical arm to guide a key into one of three locks.

The catch, according to the AG?

The Key Masters had been fitted with an “auto-percentaging system” similar to casino slot machines. That allowed the operator to guarantee a certain number of players before anyone won an expensive prize.

Some Key Master games were rigged to lose 2,200 times before a winner popped up, according to the settlement.

That’s illegal under Arizona law. Just as it’s illegal to rig those claw crane games you find at the mall or your local kid-friendly pizza joint.

What, you thought those were pure games of skill? Dreamer. As it turns out, the claws can be set at lesser grip strengths to make sure you drop the prizes.

The operator can control how closely the claw’s talons come together or they can set the claw to gradually weaken, which gives your kid the heartbreaking moment of almost carrying that teddy bear to paydirt only to see it fall at the last second.

Rigging crane games constitutes a Class 1 misdemeanor in Arizona, given that such chicanery violates statute 13-3312, which forbids “altering or maintaining a crane game so that the claw is physically unable to grasp exposed prizes.”

That’s our legal code, always protecting us from being swindled by life’s bad guys. Meanwhile legalizing the lottery, which, I would submit, is a tax on dreamers who really suck at math.

At press time, the Powerball jackpot was up to $350 million. Your odds of winning that prize? About one in 292 million.

The Key Master gave players one-in-2,200 odds of winning an iPad, which retails for more than 300 bucks. Your odds of winning 100 bucks picking three numbers plus the Powerball? About one in 14,494.

I get that the Powerball posts its odds publicly so players understand the game is a long shot, whereas the Key Master and rigged claw games don’t advertise that you you’re being cheated.

Still, all these games share a common modus operandi. Like all cons, they play on dreamers’ tendency to seek as much as possible in reward in return for as little as possible in effort and investment.

Personally, on the rare occasions I’ve purchased lottery tickets, I’ve chalked it up as an entertainment expense.

Realists don’t play Powerball as an investment. We buy the tickets for the 30 seconds of thrills we get checking the numbers — on the off, off chance.

The same goes for claw games. Realists don’t play for the prize. We play for the 30 seconds of excitement generated by pursuing the prize.

I always assumed those games were rigged. Knowing for sure? That might be justice, but it also takes all the fun out of it.