Carnivals often offer games where the player can win a prize. Federal, state and local laws regulate the prizes operators may award. These games are subject to safety and fairness regulations. States, counties and cities may establish additional laws, such as permit or inspection requirements. Laws for carnival games also classify them by type, such as games of skill or chance.
Games of Skill
Inspections for games of skill prevent fraud. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, local police officers should ask the carnival operator to demonstrate the game and attempt to play the game themselves. Police officers may videotape the operation to have evidence ready when monitoring the game during the carnival. Game operators may not change the rules, relocate the game booth, or make any other changes to how the game operates after the police inspection.
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Cities and towns regulate public events, including carnivals. In Boston, for example, anyone conducting a carnival must procure an entertainment permit from the city. Boston requires the main applicant for the permit to provide copies of agreements with individual booth operators, including those running carnival games. Games are subject to restrictions on noise production and bright lights, which may disturb local residents. A city may assign specific operating times for games, which can differ from the hours of the main carnival.
Carnival games may award small animals, such as hamsters, rabbits, and guinea pigs, as prizes for winning a game. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the game operator must record the name and address of the person who sells or donates the animal as a game prize, and must record the USDA license if the seller or donor possesses one. Inspectors need not record the identity of the person who wins the animal and takes it home.
Games of Chance
Some jurisdictions allow carnivals to include games of chance. These games are a type of gambling, so there are additional regulations that apply. Some jurisdictions ban all types of gambling. Games of chance include raffles, bingo, miniature golf contests, and many casino games. New Jersey allows games of chance at carnivals. It charges operators additional licensing fees depending on the cash value of the prizes awarded and the type of game.
Eric Novinson has written articles on Daily Kos, his own blog and various other websites since 2006. He holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration from Humboldt State University.