Can State Fair games be won? Officials play to find out

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If you’re on a mission for a giant stuffed animal or other prize from the Iowa State Fair Midway, rest assured — state officials have made sure the games are possible to win, even if sometimes they feel impossible.

A team including members of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals and fair officials made their way through the Midway on Thursday, the Fair’s opening day, to inspect the 36 carnival games. Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Laura Myers also attended, in case any arrests needed to be made — such as if a game organizer got upset and unruly during the inspection.

Thankfully, her services weren’t needed. Beyond a few small pocket knives and plastic toy guns the game attendant subsequently removed from a prize case, the inspectors found everything up to code.

Along with making sure games were winnable, inspectors checked to make sure licenses and game rules were clearly displayed and pricing rules met — games must cost no more than $3 for a single play. If there are irregularities — such as oval-shaped basketball hoops that make it harder to sink a basket — those must also be advertised on the game’s signage.

James Romer, vice president of the fair board of directors, has been participating in the inspections for 12 years. Violations are rare, but they do happen.

“We want to ensure the public has a chance of actually winning the games,” he said. “It’s important.”

Some games certainly offered a better chance at winning than others.

Dan Horner, DIA program auditor for social and charitable gambling, brought his son Benjamin, 9, along on the inspection. The younger Horner easily won many of the games, such as one in which balloons were popped by darts. Other games, including a game involving throwing a football through tires, stumped the entire team. At those games, game attendants had to demonstrate how the game could be won, usually involving knowing just how to twist the wrist or just the right angle needed for a tossed ball to reach its target.

Only one game, a challenge involving getting rings to land around the neck of bottles, could not be won by the attendants. But they could show the rings easily fit on the bottles, so the inspectors let the game pass.

“We couldn’t get this,” said Dan Horner. “But it’s definitely winnable.”

The ring toss is one game that has gotten in trouble in the past — a few years ago, inspectors found rings were too small to make it around the bottle neck. When told to replace them with bigger rings, the game organizer complied — but also brought out bigger bottles, noticed by inspectors when they returned later.

That game owner was ejected from the fair.

The Iowa State Fair runs through Aug. 17.

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