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Updated: Thursday, 17 Feb 2011, 10:32 PM CST
Published : Wednesday, 16 Feb 2011, 4:39 PM CST
(WALA) - If you've ever visited a carnival or a county fair you've probably been enticed to play a game, trying to win a doll for your sweetheart.
However, detectives say most of the games are designed to never be won, and some of these con games can be found at gas stations along I-65 during tourist seasons.
So as Mardi Gras is set to kick-off in the Port City, FOX10 News wants to equip you with knowledge you need to avoid being ripped off.
In November, FOX10 News aired a story on a man who said he was a victim of a con game that was set up at a gas station in Tillman's Corner. He described that as he was pumping gas, a woman gave him a free ticket.
"'I got a free ticket here. You got a ticket, you don't have to spend any money, just take this ticket and when you come out, go to this trailer here, to the booth, and you may win a prize,'" said the man, recalling what the woman told him.
He then began playing a game where he would earn points to win a stuffed animal or an X-Box. But after shelling out $50, he realized he was duped.
"Hey, this is a scam! I'll never get 100 points. I'll keep shelling out money 'til I run out of money," he exclaimed.
FOX10 News investigated, and found the business. The owners ran away from our cameras, and after our further digging, the Prichard police chief became involved and kicked them out of the area.
But we never knew exactly what the game was, until retired police detective Bruce Walstad read our story online.
"As soon as I started reading it, I knew it was this game here- 'The Razzle' or 'The Count Game,'" Walstad said.
Walstad is a renowned expert on carnival games. He's even been featured on Oprah.
"I've been investigating carnival games for probably 30 years," Walstad said.
He said these games are commonly found at county fairs and carnivals. He's also heard they set up at gas stations along I-65 during tourist seasons. Walstad said the businessmen know how to con you out of your money.
The retired police detective warns everybody to stay away from these games, so we're going to teach you how they work.
The "Razzle Game" is common, but it has many variations.
"I have old catalogs from gambling houses that show this game in existence at least 100 years ago. That's how old this game is," said Walstad.
It usually starts the same way: a woman will entice a person with a 'free play card.'
The carnival worker will then roll eight balls onto a game board with numbers. After the player rolls, the worker will pick up the balls and count quickly. Walstad said the worker normally makes up a total amount.
"You have no idea what's going on at this point and he says, 'Okay, you have 20 points.' And you go '20 points for what?' And he goes, 'If you get 100 points, you win this beautiful TV or DVD player, some fabulous prize," Walstad said.
The carnival worker will have a game board that looks similar to this .
There are rows of numbers with different point totals underneath. After each roll, the carnival worker will tell the player whether they rolled an amount that will earn them points, or if they have been penalized and have to double their payments.
"The object of the game is to get 100 points," Walstad reiterated.
The way the game is played varies. It can be played with balls, randomly drawn cards, or even with dice, but the concept is the same.
Walstad said the carnival worker will purposely come up with totals to allow the player to slowly gain points.
"But now all of a sudden, you lose, you get a losing number. Which time he says to you, 'If you want to continue to play and keep those 20 points, you have to double your wager.' Say this game started at a dollar, now it goes to two dollars," he said.
If players wise up and begin to leave, Walstad said the carnival worker will try to entice them to stay.
"[The carnival worker will say] 'I'll give you your money back, plus you get the big prize.' So now you're still thinking that's a good deal," Walstad explained.
But the creators of this game were smart. Walstad said it's mathematically impossible to earn 100 points. He said the odds of winning the game in one roll are 21,533,787,583 to 1.
For more information on the odds of winning this game, click here .
"To legitimately win this game, legitimately win, it takes the average person 6,011 turns," said Walstad.
Walstad said it's theft by deception so don't fall into the trap.
"My best advice about trying to outsmart these guys-don't play," said Walstad.
But there are a whole slew of carnival games that don't involve numbers but could take a huge chunk out of your wallet. Walstad demonstrated a game involving a baseball and a basket.
"You can put your kids through college with this, no problem whatsoever," said Walstad.
The goal is to bounce the ball off a board and have it fall through a small hole into the basket. Do it a couple of times in a row and you win! Easy enough, right?
Every time FOX10 News reporter John Rogers attempted it, he always lost at the winning shot. Whenever
he was throwing to win, the ball would ricochet right off the board, making him lose.
The investigator said it's hollow behind the board the baseball hits.
Walstad said under the casing of the device is a mechanism similar to a teeter totter. As the ball hits the board and falls into the hole, it causes the teeter totter to move back and forth. If the teeter totter is pressing against the board, the ball will bounce off and not fall into the hole. Walstad said if the carnival worker knows how the teeter totter is positioned, he will make sure that you don't win.
There are plenty of other con games, like the famous milk bottle game. In this game, players must knock down three milk bottles with a ball.
But Walstad said one bottle weighs one pound, and the other two are loaded with lead.
The second bottle weighs nine pounds and the third weighs 13 pounds. The three are arranged so it's unbelievably difficult for the player to knock them down.
And then there's the hoopla block game. In this game, players have to throw a ring onto a wooden block to win a prize.
The surface of the block is cleverly designed to be larger than the ring, so it'll be a waste of money to get it to fit.
These schemes are wide ranging but all share this in common: they're nearly impossible to win.
"The police don't even have time to look at this stuff anymore. Most police departments are understaffed, they're laying off officers, the last thing they have time to do is in reality, go out to a carnival and look at the games. That's why it's so widespread," Walstad said.
So keep an eye out for red flags .
Here are more methods of how these games are manipulated by carnival workers.
Think about how you're using your money. Because more often that not, if a deal seems too good to be true, it is.
You can also find extended video clips of some of the games we discussed in the box to the upper left.