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Man loses life savings at carnival

He dropped $2,600 on a midway game. Don't let this happen to you.

By Donna_Freedman May 1, 2013 11:34AM

A 30-year-old man from Epsom, N.H., claims to have blown his life savings on a carnival game called Tubs of Fun. The first $300 disappeared in just a few minutes of the man's trying to throw balls into a plastic tub to win an Xbox Kinect. After that, he says, he went home to get all the money he had in the world: $2,300.

"You just get caught up in the whole 'I've got to get my money back'," Henry Gribbohm told WBZ-TV, the CBS affiliate in Boston.


He wouldn't have been getting any actual cash back, of course. He'd have gotten an Xbox Kinect. Maybe.

The story is so unbelievable that one newsman I know wonders if it's a giant con -- which would be appropriate, given the nature of the loss. But it gets better: Gribbohm says he returned to the carnival to complain the next day, and the guy running Tubs of Fun ponied up $600 and a giant plush banana with dreadlocks.

Still down $2,000 (albeit up one banana), Gribbohm is considering a lawsuit because "it's not possible that (the game) wasn't rigged."

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. The fact is, even honest carnival games are well-nigh impossible to win. That's how carnies stay in business. That's how casinos stay in business, too. No one ever went broke underestimating the human drive to beat the odds.

Gribbohm could have bought an Xbox Kinect for about $300. But where's the fun in that?

The odds are dismal

The game he played is one singled out in an AARP article, "7 rigged carnival games," which explains why the odds on Tubs of Fun and other games are stacked against the players.

"It's not that every carnival game is rigged, but any can be, and many are," carnival fraud expert Bill Howard told the AARP.

Hold that thought as summer approaches. Many of us will be heading to carnivals, state fairs and boardwalks to ride the rides, eat fried stuff and, maybe get drawn into games like Pitch-Til-You-Win and Flukey Ball.

It could be argued that roller coasters and fried Snickers bars are also fleeting and expensive pleasures, and that the folks who play carnival games get "entertainment value" from the money they fork over.
Logo: Unemployed man (Alan K. Bailey/SuperStock)
Maybe so. But how often does anyone walk away empty-handed and smiling, saying "Gosh, that was fun! I'm going to the cash machine and get $100 so I can play some more!"

No. What's generally associated with empty hands is a sheepish grin or a morose scowl, and phrases like "What a rip-off!" or "Those darts didn't even have points on the tips!"

Assume the worst

Sure, some people win. But the average person won't, even with help from articles like "Beat the carnies: The secrets to winning 5 popular state fair games," on a blog called The Art of Manliness.


"Bottom line, if a game looks really easy to win, assume that something's been (adjusted) to make it harder," say authors Brett and Kate McKay.

One common ploy is to use a smaller-than-usual basketball rim that's slightly oblong rather than a true circle and hung higher than a typical basketball goal: "You can still make a basket, it just take a bit more skill and finesse."

Even if you can beat the odds, what would be the point? To win a teddy bear that will start leaking sawdust an hour after you hand it to your toddler?

Pricey suckers

The last time my niece and I took her 5- and 10-year-old boys to a free carnival they were utterly smitten with the midway. No amount of explaining would convince them that they might as well set fire to their greenbacks as chance them on the games. Either way, they'd be out the money.

Well, the 5-year-old did get a cherry-flavored lollipop by plucking a "lucky" duck out of a pool. That was the most expensive sucker ever.

The carnival is made for suckers. The sights, sounds and smells of the midway turn us all into little kids again, absolutely certain that we can get to the top of the rope ladder and grab that $20 bill. This feeling is magnified if you're with a group of friends and/or a young woman you want to impress.

I expect suckerdom from elementary-school kids. To see a 30-year-old man throw bad money after worse to "win" a prize he could have bought for 300 bucks is disheartening. How long will it take him to build those paltry savings back up again, even if he puts the dreadlocked banana on Craigslist?

Don't set yourself up to fail and lose a ton of money. If you want to show off, try Trivia Night at the local pub. Or maybe a free-throw competition -- as long as it's on a real basketball court.

More on MSN Money:

May 1, 2013 12:32PM

He needs to take those $600 that he didn't deserve to get back, and put them towards getting a vasectomy.

May 1, 2013 1:42PM

You cant save people from themselves and you cant cure stupid!

May 1, 2013 1:42PM
What an Idiot!!, I agree with Dean, this guy definitely doesn't need to reproduce an offspring to live in our society, we have enough as it is now.
May 1, 2013 2:03PM
They walk among us and are allowed to reproduce.
May 1, 2013 2:00PM
"A fool & his money are soon parted"

To quote Bugs Bunny:   "Mehhhh, what a maroon !"
May 1, 2013 1:47PM
This is how you make MSN's front page? "Extra: Man is idiot, trades money for magic beans!"
May 1, 2013 1:43PM
He need his **** kicked he could have brought the stupid game for that money . Ain't no such thing as getting caught up and he left and went home. PLEASE.
May 1, 2013 2:02PM
C'mon the guy is brilliant! What would YOU rather have, a couple thousand dollars OR a banana with dreads?
May 1, 2013 1:50PM
my ex was a winner.  He tossed a dime on the dish on top of a 4 foot stuffed animal and it stayed!!  At first the carnie tried to ignore us...then they tried to buy it back!!  I kept "ralph" the 10 cent Saint Bernard dog for 10 years!!! 
May 1, 2013 1:55PM
well there a sucker born every day but this guy is dumber than a box of rocks what a Moran
May 1, 2013 3:01PM
May 1, 2013 1:47PM
What a stupid idiot! I need to find this guy and sell him a trip to Mars on monthly installments of $200 a week for the next 10 yrs he is the perfect candidate for this! LMAO!!!
May 1, 2013 1:58PM
He should have spent that money supporting his kids instead of a damn X-Box.  Dad of the Year!?  Not!
May 1, 2013 1:54PM
Any moron knows the odds are already stacked against you big time walking in.  If you spend more then like 20 bucks (just for fun) then your asking to get ripped off.  Bottom line, dont spend anything that's not extra income and if your dumb enough to spend your life savings at a carnival you deserve what you get.  This guys should be thanking what ever god he prays to for the fact that they gave him back some money, they had no reason to do that.  If he sues I hope they counter sue him for wasting their time.
May 1, 2013 1:59PM

First off, why is this even newsworthy? Some idiot loses all his money because he was too dumb to know the value of hard earned money. And on top of it he is 30yrs. Not some naive highschool kid dropping all his allowances on some stupid carnival game.

MSN, why even waste yours and our time giving this knucklhead 15mins of fame which he doesnt even deserve?


May 1, 2013 2:21PM
This explains why these hard-core gamers are so sad! Stupid is as stupid does! he can sleep with that banana, because that is probably going to be his only girl friend for a long time! What a moron!
May 1, 2013 1:54PM
Like Vegas, I like to play but I don't expect to win. He went home to get $2,300 so he was expecting to lose a lot, or it was a "giant con". Either way I agree with Dean!
May 1, 2013 2:16PM
As the old saying goes "there's a sucker born every minute"
May 1, 2013 2:10PM
If the **** realized it sooner, he could have bought the Xbox for cheaper than he blew on the carnival game.
May 1, 2013 2:23PM
And the point is --"stupid is as stupid does"
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