After moderating the “Arcade Claw Crane & Merchan­dising Seminar” at AMOA in November 1986, it became very obvious to me that many crane machine operators do lit­tle more than throw plush animals and toys into any one of the 23 current models of claw cranes and hope that the public continues to play forever. A few “bad apples” put in some ex­pensive items that are “very diffi­cult” to win and/or reduce the claw tension to make the crane game harder to win. The second group (claw ad­justers) know exactly what they are doing—and I worry about that. The larger group (throw plush and for­get it) does not know what they are doing, but they should—and I wor­ry about that, too.

For cranes to remain profitable (and publicly acceptable), an oper­ator must always make sure that the customers are winning a fair share of prizes for the money they spend trying. The operator’s profit is the amount of money that a satis­fied customer is willing to spend to “be entertained.” To this end, the crane claw must be maintained and properly adjusted so that all the prizes can be picked up. Note that the customer does not expect to win every time. The smart operator will, over the long term, maintain a fair win percentage.

A crane, when properly adjusted, is a skill game that re­quires a significant degree of hand and eye co­ordination. If the winning percen­tage is reduced by an operator (I consider 25-30% cost of sales to be reasonable) either for short-term “greed,” lack of proper maintenance or because higher-valued merchandise is desir­ed, the results are always negative and the industry gets hurt! Why not educate yourself and operate the cranes fairly and in a manner that the general public finds accept­able and entertaining? The positive results will benefit you and the in­dustry for a long time to come.

Arcade Claw Machine Win % = (Wholesale Cost of Prizes Won x 100) / Claw Machine Revenue

For simplicity, I will refer to the two-button Big Choice crane. It is the model that Alpha-Omega Amusements chooses to operate and I have worked with the Big Choice for more than three years now. I have been operating cranes, dig­gers and merchandise equipment for 18 years (legally in New Jersey and throughout the U.S.) and naturally wish to continue… so it is important to me that the well-intentioned crane operators know what they are doing.

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There are a few different philoso­phies on what value and type of merchandise to use. The term “win frequency” is often used and it plays as major a role in keeping crane players coming back, as does winning free games on a pinball machine. Putting in only $1.50 plush prize (your wholesale cost) at 50 cents/play and having the player win once in every 24 tries equates to a win % of only 12.5%. This is not a good method of building up a legion of satisfied customers. A better method would be to properly adjust the claw to have a win frequency of 1 win out of 12 tries that now equates to a 25% win %. Another method of increasing the win % in this example would be putting in enough 25-cent, 50-cent and 75-cent prizes to decrease the “average prize cost”, will profitably allow you to have your players win more often is a better long-term ap­proach. If you want to use high-priced prizes, I feel it is better to raise the price-per-play to 75 cents or even $1 and let the player win more often, rather than to make the items “very difficult” to win. Either way, the use of many high-priced items will most surely draw nega­tive attention from the public and especially law enforcement offi­cials, as the crane will no longer be the “innocent machine” it was intended to be!

After much trial, error and absorption of advice from long-time crane operators, I feel confident about passing along to you some basic laws of crane operation. Spend some time testing and working with your crane and the several sizes and weights of merchandise prizes you intend to use. Each prize must be able to be picked up by the claw. The win percen­tages will take care of themselves if you do the following on a 25 cents/play crane: Zero in on an “average prize cost” of 80 cents that corresponds to a 27% win % and a win frequency of 1 win in 12 tries. Once you have this “base line” set up, it’s very easy to increase or decrease the weekly win % slightly, through claw adjustments and/or by increasing or decreasing the average prize cost (by adding some prizes costing you above 80 cents or taking out some prizes costing below 80 cents).

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80 cents average prize cost — Make up a list of the number and cost of each different prize you wish to load in­to your crane bay station (a triple crane has three bays, a single crane has one bay). The total cost of all the prizes in one bay divid­ed by the total number of prizes in that bay is the average prize cost for that bay.

Zeroing in on a 25% win % — I can feel com­fortable that my win % will come out at about 25% when the players are winning once every 12 times and I have stocked the crane with an 80 cent average prize cost. Your gross collections and an inventory count at the end of the week will tell you if you’re right on, high or low. The win % is based on the skill levels of your players and other conditions such as whether or not you let the prize inventory in a crane bay drop below 2/3-rds full.

The more often during the week that you reload and “fluff up” the merchandise prizes, the bet­ter your crane will look to the cus­tomer and the more your crane will gross. Remember, “crane dressing” (the art of stocking a crane) is a very creative job and should be taken very seriously. I also recommend using a one-and-a-half inch depth of the regular plastic granular beads that come with the crane game if you are using hard good prizes other than plush (jewelry, watches, calculators, etc.).


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Figure 1 shows the two positions that the claw cam can be set in. The large opening is for medium plush size and very light-weight “slum” or smaller plush. The smaller open­ing is for picking up small, solid ob­jects like jewelry and watches that are not in large cases. The claw ‘open rest position’ is set from 2.5 to 4 inches. If you want to mix, say, watches and plush in the same crane section, the watches must be placed in boxes or cases to make them larger, and you must set the claw cam to “large.”

arcade claw machina crane

FIGURE 1: Shown are the two possible ‘Claw Cam’ settings which adjust the claw rest position from 2-1/2’’ to 4’’ openings. With the cam in the ’small’ setting, the claw can better pick up small objects like watches, jewelry, and many ’out of the case’ objects.


A few drops of automobile motor oil on the cart rollers and gears, travel rods and the claw mechan­ism will reduce cart friction, string wearing and string breaking. On a new crane, the cart rollers and travel rods should be oiled after the first week of operation and then again after each year. The claw string should be oiled after the first 5,000 plays and then again after each 25,000 plays.

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I have written several technical articles on crane operation in the June-December 1986 issues of ‘StarTech Journal’ and will continue writing in that publication each month, solely on merchandise and redemption equipment. If you’d like this information, call or write me at Alpha-Omega Amusements & Sales, 12 Elkins Rd E Brunswick NJ 08816 732-254-3773 or email me directly at [email protected] or ask in comments.

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I want to thank Mr. Achiel Verstraeten, the designer, and manufacturer of the Verstraeten (Belgium) crane, known in the U.S as the Big Choice crane. It was my pleasure to get to know him and to listen to this creative gentleman talk about his 40-plus years of experience with cranes. He is truly the #1 crane expert in the world!

[Update: Verstraeten is now known worldwide as ELAUT and is run by Achiel’s son Eric and daughter Helga with operations headquartered in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium, and Lakewood, NJ and Sayreville, NJ – with their recent purchase of Coast to Coast Entertainment].

RePlay – January 1987