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‘Claw’ game offers arcade-like experience at Las Vegas casinos

A controllable claw is capturing the curiosity of casinos and their customers.

The Go Go Claw gambling game looks and plays a lot like a crane machine found in an arcade or the entrance to a grocery store.

However, there are no stuffed animals or boxed electronics. The prize for a successful treasure grab is cash.

The game’s manufacturer, Las Vegas-based Aruze Gaming America Inc., is field testing what it calls a first-of-its-kind game at a handful of Southern Nevada casinos, including three in Las Vegas. Based on the early returns, company executives think they’ve got a product with staying power in their grasp.

The D Las Vegas received the first two machines on June 29 — one downstairs and one upstairs. They were an instant hit, and by early August, executives had moved the upstairs machine to sibling property Circa Resort to try to take advantage of the game’s early popularity, said Rahmi Chaghouri, director of operations at Circa.

Now, lines form at both machines most evenings as people wait their turn to take a crack at the claw, Chaghouri said.

“I can’t remember a product that’s been rolled out that’s gotten this type of attention and interest from gamers as well as media,” said Chaghouri, standing next to Circa’s machine on a recent Tuesday morning.

The claw gave and took away at the D Las Vegas on Monday afternoon.

San Diego resident Adrian Zamora lined up the claw with his target and hit the bet button. The claw plunged into the ball pit, gripped one between three prongs, reeled it to the top and then swung into the plexiglass. The ball fell to the pit, and the display switched from its $20 prize graphic to a loss graphic.

Zamora, 37, looked to the ceiling.

He was intrigued to try something different on a casino floor. He put in a $20 bill and played roughly a dozen tries, winning a few times.

Did Zamora feel that he had the hang of it after finishing his second go at “Go Go Claw?” “Not really,” he said.

He could play only because an Aruze mechanic fixed the reeling mechanism about 15 minutes earlier. The machine has been “beat up” by its frequent use, the mechanic said, noting it was his second time that day fixing something with that machine.

“This thing gets played, man,” he said, leaning on the word “played.”

Digging for winnings

How is the game different from other gaming machines?

“Is that a trick question?” quipped Rob Ziems, president, secretary and chief legal officer at manufacturer Las Vegas-based Aruze Gaming America Inc. “Because there’s nothing else like it.”

The machine has the familiar joystick-operated crane, three-pronged claw, tub of prizes and winning prize box.

The tub holds clear plastic balls stuffed with “funny money” and a radio-frequency identification chip. An LED display on the machine’s back wall decides their worth.

There’s a $5 minimum to play the game at the D and a $20 minimum “experiment” at Circa to see what’s most viable, Chaghouri said. The machines carry a jackpot, the biggest of which at Circa was about $3,000, he said.

Players place their bet, and a ring of prize values in the tens, hundreds or thousands rotates on the display. The ring settles on a value, and every ball in the machine gains that value.

Then it’s crane game basics: see ball, grab ball, hope ball falls in the prize box.

Random number generators determine whether the claw will let a ball slip or swing it free before dropping it into the prize box, where an RFID chip reader will scan the ball and mark the win.

A physical component — maneuvering the joystick just right while under a 30-second time limit — adds a different dimension to the typical casino floor experience, Ziems said.

Go Go Claw is the first action-arcade-like gambling machine Chaghouri has seen hit the market, he said, adding that it fits a gaming industry focus of infusing casino floors with more skill-based machines.

Ziems said there’s an element of skill to the game, but he noted it’s not a true skill-based game and isn’t classified as one.

Competition is the draw, Chaghouri said. People want to prove they can win what can be a frustrating arcade game.

“It’s just kind of like you want to beat the machine,” Chaghouri said.

Rolling out

Finding a Go Go Claw machine is half the battle. There are just six on the market: one each at the D, Circa, MGM Grand and Aquarius in Laughlin, and as of last weekend, two at San Manuel Casino in Southern California.

The machine at Aquarius sits in a high-traffic space on the casino floor, by the Splash Bar, according to Jay Fennel, an executive at Aquarius parent company Golden Entertainment. The company chose Aquarius to test the machine because locals and summer tourists keep the property busy.

Casual gamblers are more likely to try their hand at the claw than a traditional slot player, Fennel said. Accordingly, players have approached the game like they might at the arcade.

“What we’ve seen is groups of people walk by (and go), ‘Hey, what’s this?’ And one person tries it, doesn’t do well, and the next guy is like ‘I can do that,’” Fennel said Friday.

He “didn’t get it” until he played the machine. It’s a novelty, Fennel said, though one that adds excitement to a casino floor and complements existing machines.

“We go to the gaming show every year, and it’s all the same stuff just in different cabinets or with a different theme. But it’s all the video reels. Nothing has been a big dramatic departure as this,” Fennel said.

“Is this the end all? No, but I commend Aruze for giving it a shot.”

A San Manuel Casino spokeswoman confirmed Thursday the property received both machines. An MGM Resorts spokeswoman deferred comment to Aruze.

The number is expected to climb in the coming months. The game is in a trial phase before an earnest launch when the Global Gaming Expo returns to Las Vegas in October, Ziems said.

Aruze debuted its new products at similar trade shows prior to the pandemic.

The company might have held off its introduction for the National Indian Gaming Association’s Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention in July, had it known with certainty that pandemic complications wouldn’t cancel the show, Ziems said. Instead, Aruze reached out to its casino customers to see who was interested in a rare casino floor product debut.

The D showed interest and became the first test subject. The hotel-casino’s downtown location exposes the game to a diverse player crowd, providing valuable insight about who the customers would be for a game not otherwise publicized, Ziems said.

So far the gamble has paid off, he said.

Other gaming operators in Southern Nevada have expressed interest in adding the claw game to their casino floors, he said. Ziems said he wasn’t sure if inquiring operators would’ve signed a leasing contract for Go Go Claw had he put one in front of them. But it’s not a reach to say they liked what they saw.

Contact Mike Shoro at mshoro@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mike_shoro on Twitter.