Those of you who have ever traveled to the Jersey shore have no doubt at some point played one of those “games of skill” where you had to pop a balloon with a dart, make a basket, hold a softball in a bushel basket, or get one Beach ball that landed in a colored hole resulting in a grand prize like a stuffed panda.
Of course I’m with myself, because when my wife and I took our three kids to Wildwood for our annual week-long summer vacation, the macho in me came to the fore to show my kids that I could beat these scammers at their own game could .
For one glory moment in 1979, I did just that, winning coveted record albums for our two teenage sons. In fact, the younger of the two, 13-year-old Mike, still muses that his father’s skills were what made him choose Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town album, which marked him as a lifetime Fan of made “the boss.”
However, aside from that unlikely day, I’ve spent big bucks, as have thousands of other chumps trying to brave the near-impossible odds. I remember watching heartbroken teenage girls whose dates promised them a big stuffed teddy bear, but instead found only frustration and a thinner wallet for their troubles.
I remember all of this because earlier this month a Boardwalk gaming operator in Wildwood was banned from operating amusement gaming for the next 10 years and fined $15,500 after being accused of overinflating basketballs, resulting in rigged games.
The attorney general’s office said Christine Strothers’ use of these balls caused them to bounce erratically when hitting the rim or back wall of the basket, which is smaller than a regular basket.
During an unannounced spot check of Boardwalk games last year by the Legalized Gaming Control Commission, agents found several basketballs inflated to nearly three times the recommended pounds per square inch of air.
Strothers is also accused of putting out tempting prizes that couldn’t be won. How well I remember this trick, especially the yellow duck race where the top three finishers won prizes. The top prize was pretty decent, but the other two were maybe worth a dime, if anything.
“Investigators are always looking for a safe and fair experience for anyone playing an amusement game on the boardwalk,” said Cari Fais, associate director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. “Amusement operators who don’t follow the rules spoil everyone’s fun and will be held accountable.”
Last year, investigators conducted nearly 7,000 inspections, resulting in about $35,000 in fines and violations.
To avoid spending $50 or more to win a stuffed purple Godzilla, give these Boardwalk games a wide berth:
• The aforementioned basketball game. You say you were a genius in high school and made three-pointer games look easy, well, don’t expect the same result at the waterfront showman games. The line for a three-point shot in high school is about 20 feet from the basket, and the basket is 10 feet high. At a carnival game you’re probably standing about 24 feet from an 11 foot high basket and, oh yeah, don’t forget the smaller opening to shoot at.
• The Softball Toss – what can be easier than tossing a ball into a bushel basket just yards in front of you. Well, if you’ve spent as many dollars as I have trying to convince myself that “I have this,” you know that this is far from a piece of cake; It’s really difficult because the basket is angled and springy.
• Dart the Balloon – It makes me chuckle to see darts experts smashing their opponents in Coaltown pubs believing they can handle this game easily. The darts are blunt and the balloons are under-inflated, so even if the dart hits the balloon, it is unlikely to burst.
• The milk bottle game is one of the cheating standards. Completely knock the milk bottles off the rack to win the grand prize. The milk bottles are a lot heavier than they seem, so it requires a harder throw, which mostly affects your accuracy.
“Anyone who plays an amusement game in New Jersey deserves a fair chance to win an award,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “The Jersey Shore is one of the biggest draws for families looking for fun and relaxation, and we make sure these families aren’t cheated of their hard-earned cash.”
Anyone who believes an amusement game violates the Amusement Game Licensing Act can call 1-800-242-5846, he said.
By Bruce Frassinelli | [email protected]
The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or Times News LLC.