Are Fairground Games Classed As Gambling? Are They Rigged?

fair ground packed with gamesFair grounds can prove to be wonderful forms of entertainment for many people. Not only do they incorporate fun and entertaining rides, such as haunted houses and mini rollercoasters for kids, but they also feature certain fair ground games, too. Such games have become synonymous with fairs, including options like hook-a-duck, throw the ball into the bucket, coconut shies and more. These can be huge draws for many people, and fair grounds continue to include such into their offerings to ensure that people continue visiting them.

However, can these be considered as forms of gambling or are they general games, especially considering children under the age of 18 can play them? Many of them don’t really have cash prizes for you to win when you play them, so it’s not really expected that they can fall under the classification of gambling. Instead, you pay a fee to play them, and if you win, you usually get to choose some plastic toy for a child or, as is often the case, a large teddy bear or goldfish in a bag.

That being said, they are still games, and they need to be controlled by someone, who ensures that these fair ground games aren’t rigged? In fact, can they actually be considered as something that’s not rigged. After all, there have been numerous instances where players have tried getting three balls into a bucket to win a prize or so on, and they haven’t been able to do it because the ball bounces straight out. Can a particular strategy be used for these fair ground games so as to improve your chances? We’re going to be taking a look at all of these circumstances and seeing what the situation actually is. After all, people can end up losing lots of money on such games, so is there any sort of responsible gaming policy in place to protect customers?

Are Fair Ground Games Fair or Rigged?

fair ground hook a duckIt’s not uncommon in the gambling world to check into the status of fair gaming. After all, you’re gambling your own money and expecting some sort of pay-out in these circumstances. A legitimate casino or sportsbook needs to ensure that it is adhering to fair gambling regulations. However, a fair ground doesn’t really fall into that same category. Is there anyone controlling the fairness of the games or are they completely rigged so that you don’t win anything?

Well, back in 2013, an undercover team visited one of the UK’s largest theme parks to try and answer this question. Thorpe Park in Surrey was accused of rigging their fair ground type games, with discoveries of various underhand tactics that prevented visitors from winning prizes on their stalls. The team from the BBC investigation group went undercover at the theme park, with two of them securing jobs at the stalls, found a slew of evidence that games were being manipulated so as to ensure players had less chance of winning.

Displayed on the television series Your Money, Their Tricks, the undercover team found that employees actively distracted players as they threw balls at a target, used wax on a game’s surface in a bid to increase friction and thereby make it harder to knock blocks off, and altered the position of baskets while balls were being thrown at them. Not only that, but it showed stallholders demonstrating a game with one type of ball but providing a customer an alternative to throw.

fair ground game prizesThe games at Thorpe Park at the time were provided and managed by HB Leisure, which holds what is described as a “strategic partnership” with Merlin Entertainments, which owns the park. A manager of HB Leisure was caught on camera denying any accusations of cheating, but did say that staff were increasing the difficulty level of the games on offer. There were even occasions where he encouraged his employees to boost the chances of players winning in the mornings so as to encourage others to play later on in the same day.

HB Leisure itself went on record as saying that it was retraining its staff and outrightly denied that any of its games were rigged or manipulated. It backed this statement up by saying it had given out more than 100,000 prizes within Thorpe Park in its 2012 season, with 80% of those being obtained by players in the afternoons. It did, however, say that games were made easier at quieter times, which it labelled as “promotional periods” for its customers.

Obviously this does not mean fair ground games are rigged but it does show if the intention is there they can be corrupted, even in places like Thorpe Park, where you would expect higher scrutiny.  There are many independent fairs and pop-up fairs out there that pride themselves on running an honest industry but at the same time there are always those looking to make a quick buck too, especially if they can pack away and not be seen again.

Fair ground games are obviously weighted in favour of the operator, just like bookies run margins on odds and casinos have a house edge to ensure they win. That said customers should expect a fair chance of winning at least.  The main point is that these games are for fun and you should only ever stake low amounts on them.

Which Games Are Generally 'Rigged' More Than Others?

fair ground game shooting game

While it’s possible to fix any fair ground game in one way or another, some are more likely to be manipulated than others. In fact, seven games have been marked as being much riskier to play due to the level that they have been rigged at before. These are as follows:

The Milk Bottle Pyramid

The general idea behind this fair ground game is to throw balls or bean bags at a pyramid of bottles to try and knock them all over. Do this and you’ll win a prize. However, in reality, it’s not as easy as one might think. The bottom bottles can be filled with lead, making them as heavy as 10 pounds each. Therefore, throwing soft balls at them can be an effort in futility. Additionally, the bottles may be stacked up against a backdrop curtain, which helps to prevent them from falling down.

The Ring Toss

Simply throw one or more rings over a cone to win a prize, is the idea behind this game. However, often times, the rings are barely a hair wider than the neck of the target. These are also made of hard plastic to increase the level of bounce they have. If the employee demonstrates that this can be done, it could be suspected that they are using larger rings of a different material.

The Basketball Shoot

You’ve probably seen the basketball hoops that you need to throw balls through to win a prize. The carnival rims may be a lot smaller than a normal basketball hoop, though. Furthermore, they could be a lot more oval-shaped than round. Keep in mind that balls may also be over-inflated, in a bid to make them a lot bouncier.


This is a favourite fair ground game of younger players, with the goal being to retrieve a plastic duck from a pond with a fishing pole. Nearly everyone is a winner with this one though, right? Well, maybe. The ruse behind Hook-a-Duck is to try and get you to keep playing for the better prize. However, on the bottom of each duck is an indicator of the prize category, with 99% of these being marked as a cheap prize.

The Balloon Dart Throw

The balloons in these games are likely to be underinflated so as to deflect even the best-thrown carnival darts. Keep in mind that those darts are also likely to be a lot lighter than the ones bought in a store. Tips may also be dulled down or snapped off altogether.

Shoot the Star

In this game, you’re given an air gun and you need to try and shoot a pattern around a paper-mounted star so that it falls free. However, the ammo that you’re provided for this is usually smaller than what can be found in normal BB guns. Plus, the rifle’s sights may have been tampered with and air pressure reduced, meaning that many shots simply bounce off of the paper you’re aiming at.

Tubs of Fun

The goal with this one is to throw soft balls into a large tub. Plastic buckets are used in these games though, ensuring that extra bounce is experienced. From inside the booth, the carnival employee tosses a soft ball into the tub, and from his vantage point, it remains inside the tub. He then gives you a second soft ball for a practice throw, which stays in the tub, too. However, once you hand over your money to play, he removes the soft balls and hands them to you. Without the first soft ball – which worked as a deadening ball for the second one thrown (your demo try) – your first ball bounces out.

Improve Your Success Rate on Fair Ground Games

fair ground shooting gameWith so many of the fair ground games having the potential to be rigged or manipulated in some way or another, how is it possible to play them and earn some rate of success? Well, in the first instance, you should always go into gameplay with the mindset that the games are rigged. If a game looks super easy to win, you should assume that it has been manipulated in one way or another.

However, you can remain on your guard against fair ground games of this nature by watching others play before you put your own money down. See one or two other customers play them and see if you can spot the moment when the employee utilises alternative equipment or enacts some suspicious behaviour. Also, watch to see what sort of strategy has worked for successful players and try to use such yourself.

Don’t assume that you understand how the game itself works, either. Be sure to ask questions on how everything operates and what the rules are surrounding a game. Furthermore, just because Shoot the Star at one fair ground has a set of rules, doesn’t mean that the same game elsewhere has the same set of rules. Before you put your money down, ask the relevant questions.

fair ground game catch a fishAsk to use the same equipment that the fair ground employee is using and stand in the same position as them when playing. It’s not uncommon for staff members to demonstrate how easy the games are to win. When you step up to the counter, request to stand in the same place that they are and to use the same balls/darts/sponges etc. If the employee denies you the chance to do so and huffs and puffs about it, then it’s likely to be a sign that the game is rigged.

One final thing to remember with these games is that you need to have fun. Treat them in a similar way to gambling, and don’t pay money into a game that you can’t afford to spend. Some people take carnival games way too seriously and can enter into a rage if they don’t win. If you lose, you lose. This is the same with any sort of game you play. Most of the prizes on offer with fair ground games aren’t even worth the small fee you pay to play, so treat it as entertainment rather than a life or death situation.

Strategies for Fair Ground Games

fair ground game attendant

We have a set of five different strategies and tips that you can put into use when playing fair ground games. These won’t definitively ensure that you win when playing these games but will give you a bit more of a higher chance of being successful.

The Milk Can

The Milk Can game requires you to throw a ball into a milk can from a specific distance. Doing so allows you to win a prize. This is a classic fair ground game, but the milk cans aren’t ordinary ones. Usually, fair grounds will utilise a concave piece of steel wielded to the rim of the can, making the hole smaller than the norm. A good strategy to use in this game is to give the ball a bit of a backspin and hit the back of the can’s rim. Throw the ball softly and with little arc.

Rope Ladder

You’ll need to climb to the top of a rope ladder that is liable to twist and turn and send you to the floor swiftly, if you want to win this. It looks like such a simple game to access, but both ends of the ladder are suspended over pivoting pulleys. A great route to take with this game is to make your centre of gravity as wide as possible. Don’t try climbing the ladder flat out, but spread your legs and arms wider.

High Striker

Strong men are famous for hitting high strikers with a huge hammer and making the bell ring. However, strength has little to do with winning the High Striker game. The key is actually technique for this game. You need to hit the pad directly in the centre with some sort of strength, so swing the mallet just as you would when splitting wood, for example. Be sure that the face of the mallet hits the pad squarely, too.

Shoot the Star

Be sure that you check the size of the star with this game before playing. According to the FBI (yes, that FBI!), the game can be won if the diameter of the star is less than 1 ½ inches. Your chances increase as the star gets smaller. Check the type of paper in use as well, and be sure to make adjustments to suit the gun you’ve been handed to shoot.

Tubs of Fun/Flukey Ball

Flukey ball requires you to bounce a ball off a slanted board and into a basket below, while tubs of fun require you to throw balls into a bucket from a distance. You simply need to understand that you’re using the correct balls (the same as the carnival employee during demonstration) and view the basket to ensure it’s actually a doable game. Ask if you can lean as well, because often, carnival employees will allow it.