Japan’s first-ever crane game fraud investigation claims arcades used secret setting so prizes could only be won in employee demonstrations.

As anyone who’s ever blown through a thousand yen trying to win a stuffed animal or extra-large box of Pocky at a Japanese arcade can tell you, crane games are hard. Making things even more frustrating is that they should be so easy, since all you have to do is position the crane in the right spot and hit the button. So why are they so difficult? It’s almost like they’re rigged!

And according to the police, they actually were at one arcade chain.

On December 23, officers from the Osaka Police Department arrested Takeshi Ohira, the 33-year-old owner of the ironically named Amusement Trust chain of arcades, which has locations in Osaka and Kyoto. Also arrested were five Trust employees, men and women ranging in age from 25 to 36.

The suspects stand accused of altering the settings on their crane games to make it impossible for the player to win. Various models of machines were involved in the alleged scam, including one where the player has to manipulate a pair of scissors to cut a string holding up the prize, as shown in the video below from ANN News.

The authorities claim that as players continued to lose, Trust employees would stand next to them, encouraging them to keep playing with comments like “It’d be a waste if you quit now,” correctly assuming that when out having fun at an arcade, many people aren’t thinking about sunk cost fallacies. Even worse, when players started to get really discouraged, Trust employees would helpfully offer to demonstrate effective techniques, switching places at the machine with the customer for one play. When employees opened up the locked internal control panel to give themselves a free credit in order to demonstrate, they’d also change the setting to that they could win, and after showing how easily prizes could be won, they’d switch the machine back to being unwinnable before letting the customer try (and pay) again.

While most crane games in Japan cost 100-200 yen per play, the machines involved in Trust’s alleged scam were priced at between 500 and 10,000 yen (US$4.50-US$89.30) per try, and offered high-end prizes such as self-balancing scooters/hoverboards and video game consoles, as well as less pricey items such as anime figures and stuffed animals.

While police only made their moves last week, local rumors that Trust’s crane games were rigged had been circulating for some time, and the authorities were finally prompted to make a move after receiving an increasingly steady stream of complaints from suspicious customers. Claims of fraud go back all the way to 2015, however, with investigators estimating the scam bilked players out of some six million yen (US$53,600).

Ohira has denied ever instructing his workers to make the machines unwinnable, but the five arrested employees have all admitted to such wrongdoing. One of them, the manager of Trust’s Osaka Dotombori branch, says that one customer dropped 300,000 yen on a rigged machine.

The investigation is the first of its kind targeting crane game fraud in Japan, and is likely to prompt greater scrutiny of arcade operators in other jurisdictions as well. Hopefully this incident will serve as a lesson to arcades to stick to legal ways of boosting crane game revenue (like putting bikini models inside the machine), and also to remind customers that crane games are never a sure thing.

Source: Yahoo! News Japan/Mainichi Shimbun
Images ©SoraNews24

Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s proud of himself for winning that Zaku mecha keychain from a Shinjuku crane game on his very first try.