Arcade Operator: Yes, Those Claw Machines Are Rigged

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 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 favourite 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]


    Are these machines regulated the same way in Australia? I know pokie machines payout 20c off every dollar played.

      Actually pokies in Australia pay out about 85 cents for every dollar you gamble (set by law I think).

        That's right there are set quite high, between 80% to 95% return depending on the game and denomination (5c has best odds). But bare in mind this is over a 12 month period so a machine could just sit for 10 months & just pay enough to keep people interested then all of a sudden drop all of its built up return quota at once, hence some huge jackpots and its random so no way to predict, rig jack them.

          According to the what I learned in my RSG (Responsible Service of Gambling - QLD) a Pokie machine pays out 85% of the money put into it over the life of the machine (3 Years I believe) this doesn't mean if you put in $100 your guaranteed to get $85 back. Your still gambling here, but somewhere along the way $100 in does equal $85 out

          The other important thing to note is if the Machines are linked, and the prize pool is drawn from a bank of 5 machines, than it's 85% of all 5 not 85% on each. So Machine 1 may be the "lucky" machine where most of the money goes but Machine 2 and 3 actually dispense most of the winnings. The law of averages prevents this of course, but it is possible.

          Honestly I'd rather drop my money into an arcade machine with no possible hope of getting it back because I enjoy the experience more. Pokie Machines are the most boring video games I have ever played. Oh and of that 15% left over the Goverment takes 8%, the Machine Manufactuer takes 1-3% and the Club gets 6% - 4%.

          80% Patrons
          8% Goverment
          2% Manufactuers
          5% Clubs

          If Pokies are a billion dollar industry than is it any wonder the Goverment doesn't really want to shut it down.

            Pretty much exactly what I wanted to write! I just wanted to add though that after working with these things for seven years, i learned that the "life" of the machine (in Sydney anyway) was never reached in most clubs. The games were almost always changed out within 12 months. When this happens the units memory is cleared and the machine is basically new or factory reset. so it is often the case that this 85% payout is not given a chance to occur.

      Not quite...

      The strength of the claw is actually under the discretion of the owner. It won't "change" after a certain amount of go's. I saw someone mention this before.

      Rule of thumb is if the machine can't get a perfect grip on one "good" catch move on.

    the only time ive ever won at those things, is if the toys are stacked high and you use the claw to knock it sideways down the chute, instead of attempting to pick it up.

    You know, in Japan they rig these in YOUR favour. They put the toys on the edge of the tube that all you really need to do is to knock it in!

      Yup! I even remember a friend saying that she wanted a particular toy, and they just put it on the edge of the chute so all she had to do was knock it down.
      Then there was the time I managed to get a giant goomba and giant coin block from a 3-try go, with still one try left. Saw a machine that had giant giant mushrooms, but my suitcase DEFINITELY didnt have the space for all 3 >_<"

        I've been to Japan twice now, and this is EXACTLY why I actually LIKED their arcades. I got pretty good at knocking down the toys I wanted, it got to the point where I didn't even bother asking for the setups anymore. I'd often find the same figures in shops around Akihabara for often three or four times what I paid playing the game. So much fun!

    I saw this happen in Japan on our honeymoon. The guy set it up for us... But the claw was faulty and didnt release so it brought it back up.... So he set it up again. Sooo many toys in one brown bag.

      This is why I don't get rigging the machines against the player. You and your wife had fun, won a suitcase full of toys that I'm assuming cost about as much as a turn and everyone walked away happy. It's not like you won the million dollar jackpot eight times in a row and sent the house broke.
      If I was running an arcade I'd see rigging this to pay out almost every time as a way of tricking people into buying stuffed toys from vending machines. You'll have to buy a few more toys but you'll bring the money back in simply by showing the skeptics that it's not a scam.

    I put $2 into an Angry Bird machine last week while my other half was in dusk. I didn't think I would win anything, just trying to kill time. First go I grabbed it, although I think my dog was more excited about the Angry Birds toy than I was.

    Again, why even read Kotaku anymore when they just rehash stuff from Reddit?

      Some people don't read Reddit. If you do that's fine YOU go read Reddit.

        I personally avoid reddit like the plague. And while most of the stuff Kotaku posts from reddit I could care less about, there are some little bits of info that are an interesting read.

          Can i ask why you avoid it "like the plague"?

            "avoid it like the plague" => "I would avoid it like it was the plague"


          "I could care less about"

          I **couldn't** care less.

            actually "I could care less about" is perfectly fine too, it implies that whatever amount of f*@#$ he gives, there is always a smaller number. =D

            I'd argue that he could care less, since he could not read any reddit article, nor any kotaku article, nor be a gamer at all.

    My childhood is now ruined...

      Prancing in the feilds with a mutant horn? Kewl.

    The thing is, if you saw one of those shitty toys in a shop for a dollar you'd walk past it without bothering but for some reason, put a shitty toy under a claw, behind glass, people are like "OMG MUST HAVE!!!"

    I thought this was common knowledge?

    My favourite was winning an Iron Man toy from one of these machines on my first try.

    Nah. Rigged or not skill can beat these machines. My brother can beat these machines 80% of the time - not me though, I dont bother to begin with!

    Didn't everyone already know this..?

      It is common knowledge. It is not a secret. In fact it is extremely well documented. WTF Kotaku ?

      That the claw won't always grip tight, and you have a low chance of winning? sure.

      That the odds of winning change, and are predetermined before you pay your money? no.

        No. It is in the manuals. There are many faqs online regarding the presets

          Why would you state that??? FFS there is an episode of brainiacs regarding THIS VERY THING. this is not new knowledge.

    Somehow managed to pick up two toys at once in a claw machine, and it was the greatest moment of my life.... and no one was around to see it. :(

    Several years ago my (old) friend and I ditched our other (non) friends and went to the arcade in Melbourne. We Jokingly played the Claw Machine, expecting it to cheat us out. On my second try I managed to grab a huge Baby Tasmanian Devil plushie, freaking out my friend. He wasted all his tokens trying to beat me. Then said he'll be right back. He soon came back with 50 bucks worth of tokens, and lost them all.

    Old news is old news =P

    Was fairly sure someone already mentioned this ages ago. But It's true that the games can be rigged. Case in point there was a claw machine at my local Market/Coles area before. No one ever played it so i messed around... got a toy just about every go because of the claw strength.

    A few months later they restocked the toys and put in more "expensive" wins like watches and stuff. Couldn't win anything anymore after that change. Machine couldn't even lift one light plushie that was completely caught =P

    I also managed to get 2 toys out of the machine on the first go. It was pretty awesome. But then I had to walk through the inner city with a plushie in each arm...

    This just in; Poker machines thought to be rigged to make you lose money whilst thinking you stand a strong chance of winning!

    This has been common knowledge for years.

    They're also programmed to let you win X number of times to keep you hopeful.

    In fact, a common way to win is to watch others and see how frequent wins are (say 1/20 times), then you can predict when the next win is planned to be.

      yes, this is old news. It's also pretty common knowledge on how to quickly modify the claw machines to up the odds of winning (obviously make sure the owners arent watching).

    Yep I have to agree with the other posters about the Japanese ones, they are great and I often get a swag of goodies!

    This is why I typically won't play claw games outside of Japan. I got pretty good at them for a while, but most machines (particularly any to be found outside of an actual arcade, i.e. in shopping centres or cinemas) had a ludicrously poor psi so even if you get the drop perfect every time it would take 10-15 goes to get anywhere. It's annoying, it's not a game then, it's just another form of gambling.

    I prefer to spend my money in the proper arcades where if you don't win it's because you didn't judge the distance right, not because the machine is overwhelming rigged against you.

    +Interesting that he only mentions pulse machines

    What about proper claw machines that use springs? They actually require skill

    And then there are games like stacker that are design to pay out when a machine has made a certain amount of money - ie if there is a $200 prize in there and the arcade operates on 1:4 ratio, then the machne has to make $800 before it even thinks about letting you win

    I could write more, but you get the idea

    At the dinner table tonight, I mentioned this and everyone looked at me like I was freaking weird. Yet I love this stuff! Go kotaku

    Speaking of pokies, a few years ago a mate and I were playing some pokies that seemed to pay well. To the point where after winning a few bucks in the spin we then gambled that, where you choose the color of a card. Basically a 50/50 chance to double or nothing.
    We hit black 10-15 times in a row on the same gamble and it was right each time. Walked away with a decent payout :-)
    Never happened again :-(

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