How Claw Machines Work (And How They Are Rigged) — Learn How to Win


If you’ve spent any time in a bowling alley or an arcade (or countless hours like some of us), you know all about the dreaded claw machine. People pump their hard-earned money into them day in and day out, but how many have you actually seen win a prize from one?

You’ve probably seen someone almost get a huge stuffed animal or something similar to the promised land and then loses it at the last minute though. So what gives?

Claw machines are an exercise in frustration, and, if you didn’t already realize it, they’re RIGGED.

But this is nothing new. In fact, this claw of temptation goes all the way back to the 1930s during the height of Depression when down-on-their-luck people were enticed by the prospect of winning something, anything. The machines were marketed as very profitable for business owners, so they became very popular.

In the 1950s, the government got wise to the scam, and claw machines were classified as gambling devices. However, in 1974, regulations relaxed once more. That’s when claw machines started to boom in a big way, which explains why today we can see them all over the place — in malls, arcades, bowling alleys, movie theaters, etc.

Photo Credit: Unsplash, Melvina Mak

Claw machines are marketed as a “Skill Game”, but really nothing could be further from the truth. The machine calculates when to send full strength to the claw to allow it to pick up a prize so profits are maximized. And that range of strength is randomized so players can’t predict on which attempt the claw will be the strongest. FUN, RIGHT??

The machines are also programmed to make you think you “almost” won so you’ll keep feeding it money. The joystick makes you think you’re in command and that your destiny is in your hands, but guess what? It ain’t. It’s all controlled by a higher power, and your “skill” has little or nothing to do with it.

Like I said, rigged.

States regulate claw machines, but these laws are mostly focused on prize size, not how strong or weak the claw is that a person maneuvers, so it doesn’t look like there will be any improvements made anytime soon.

However, as frustrating as these machines can be for most people, one man seems to have figured it all out. Chen Zhitong is an IT worker in China who’s won BIG from various claw machines. He started playing them in 2015, and in a year-and-a-half took home over 15,000 prizes.

He says, “My biggest enjoyment is to crack the code of each machine by first observing the others playing, then trying out by myself.”

Sometimes he even sells the toys he’s won back to owners so they can refill their machines. He also gives some away to family and charities. Chen is so successful that some claw machine owners have taken a dislike to him, and tell him to leave and go play elsewhere. One of the perks of being a master, I suppose.

So what’s Chen’s secret? It’s actually pretty simple: the claw machine guru says that in order to be successful, you always have to choose the machine with the most amount of toys. So avoid the receptacles that are getting low on stuffed animals and other goodies, and instead start pumping your money into machines where the toys are piled high.

That said, the next time you see one of these machines, play at your own risk – because you know you’re likely to come out on the losing end of the deal. The odds are (and forever will be) against you in this game.

Good luuuuuuuuuck!