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W WA Fair Midway Issues

Gamblers at Fair Told to Clean Up
Seattle Post Intelligencer - September 23,1949

Fair Officials Act to Check Open Gambling.

Confronted with evidence of open gambling, crooked wheels and lotteries with cash inducements in the heavily patronized Midway or carnival section of the grounds, Western Washington Fair officials Thursday issued an ultimatum to their operators of games: "Clean up and stay clean or get off the grounds"

The Post-Intelligencer informed the fair's management that three night's checking of games along the Midway (or "Fairway" as they call it at Puyallup) had shown nine different operators out of line. They were operating controlled wheels, making side bets with their patrons or sharing in the winnings with confederates or "shills" who were making bets with patrons.

CONFIRMED - - A professional gambler, wise to the ways of carnival "grift" and "grifters" confirmed the observations of Post-Intelligencer staff men.

The Post-Intelligencer pointed out to fair officials in a conference Wednesday night that thousands of school children were being dismissed from classes to allow their attendance at the fair, and that after a casual tour of the agricultural and commercial exhibits a majority of those unaccompanied by adults, were winding up in the carnival area.

There they were being importuned by barkers and shills to participate in horse race and bingo games and other thinly disguised lotteries with merchandise prizes.

A pair of Post-Intelligencer men found both on the afternoons and evenings of the three days checked that unaccompanied school children released from classes to go to the fair in groups, were spending comparatively little time in the educational exhibits. The greatest concentration of them was found in the carnival area near the "rides" - where also are found the wheels of fortune and other games.

ENCOURAGED - - Children were being encouraged particularly to play the horse race game at 10 cents a play. Participants sit in front of small pinball machines named after race horses and play those machines as rapidly as possible, their scores being translated into a moving horse on a brightly lighted backboard. Fair officials said this was not a game of chance but a game of skill.

In the course of a tour taken Wednesday night by a reporter and a fair official, four children under high school age were seen sitting in this game at 10 cents a throw. At other times and on other days, patronage by children was even greater.

Secretary-Manager J. H. McMurray of the fair association and Red Pyfer, a director and official in charge of the carnival area, denied any knowledge of open gambling, controlled wheels, or side-betting and convinced the Post-Intelligencer that they have made and are making honest efforts to keep grifters off the lot.

If a grift was present, they said, it was only that the fair was being imposed upon by game operators who had been previously instructed that the operation was to be clean.

STOP ORDER - - McMurray picked up his telephone and called E. O. Douglas of the Douglas Great Shows, the chief carnival concessionaire and said:

"Douglas, we have evidence that there is open gambling on the grounds, fixed wheels and side-betting. I want it stopped. I want you personally to check the games and made sure that nothing like that is going on. If you find it, throw them off the lot."

Douglas agreed to make an immediate check but protested that the games to the best of his knowledge were completely honest, not illegal and said he had done everything possible to weed out undesirables and keep the operation clean.

McMurray and Pyfer took the stand that the bingo and horse race games were not lotteries because they paid off in virtually worthless merchandise and not in cash. Courts, however, have widely held otherwise.

Two Post-Intelligencer representatives Monday night watched a shill operate outside one game of "skill." As customers stepped up to try their luck and put down their money to try for a prize of trifling value, the shill would approach them and offer to bet them a dollar or two they couldn't win. A number of customers so approached accepted the wager and lost the game and paid off. Later The Post-Intelligencer men saw the operator and shill walking off together to a hamburger stand the the later handed something to the former.

"BACK-OFF" - - One wheel of fortune was equipped with a "back-off" or resistance device and in operation it appeared not to be truly on center. Reporters watched as school girl of about 14 years old play 60 cents on it, lost it and then try unsuccessfully to borrow more money from a young companion.

Barkers for three games of chance seemed Monday night to concentrate on school children and left middle-aged adults strictly alone. They were games, it is true, which might more appeal to a juvenile but they did involve a wheel and they did pay off in merchandise.

Policing of the fair is being done under the leadership of Police Chief Robert Marshall of Tacoma. The night police detail is in charge of Chief Nort Wynn of Sumner. McMurray and Pyfer said they had supreme confidence in both, and said they believed the patrolmen who worked the carnival were sufficiently experienced to detect side-betting, fixed wheels and other age-old trick of carny workers.

"I am surprised to hear that any of the wheels are fixed." Pyfer said. "I've checked them myself and I have my two sons working in that area checking".

He said one or two operators in the Fairway had given the fair management trouble last year and had not been permitted to set up on the grounds this year. As an evidence of the fair's desire to keep the Fairway on a high plane, he cited some of the "gypsy" operations with which the fair grounds are lined - on the outside.

"Those fellows operating outside our gates," he said, "many of them wanted to come in here, but we wouldn't let them."

"WINNING DIFFICULT" - - Pyfer conceded that it was pretty difficult to win a ham or a bacon on some of the wheels, however, "There is only one position on the wheel where you can win a ham," he said, stopping in front of one booth in a tour of the grounds with a reporter. "But I'm sure the wheel is not fixed. It's not necessary. The odds are all on the operator's side."

He next stopped in front of a booth where fair patrons were attempting to shoot the figure five out of a card in three tries with a 22-caliber rifle. The prize was merchandise.

"We had trouble with an operation like this last year," Pyfer volunteered. "Last year the people who were running this sort of game offered 22 caliber rifles as prizes and on two occasions refused to pay off. We made them pay because the complaints had witnesses. The game operators screamed that they were going broke - the rifles cost them something like $26 each. We see they get a square deal here, and we've had no complaints like that this year."

IMPORTANT - - Pyfer said the Fairway was very important to the fair, that it brought in a large share of the fair's earnings and helped offset losses on other functions.

The fairway has been expanded this year from about 800 feet of footage to "something like 900 feet of footage," Pyfer said.

FAIR POLICY AGAINST GAMBLING - The following statement concerning charges of gambling in the midway was issued by Dr. J. H. Corliss, President of the Western Washington Fair Association.

"The Western Washington Fair Association sincerely regrets that anyone claims there is open gambling on the fair grounds. Always conscious of the problems existing elsewhere with traveling shows, the fair association has always worked to prevent and to eliminate everything of an unsavory nature.

"We pride ourselves on our efforts in this respect: It has been our policy of long standing to have a clean operation, and that shall continue to be our policy. We will not tolerate anything to endanger the welfare of our patrons."

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