Arcade Claw Offers Live Lobster Prizes
A lobster dangles in a claw of a game machine that has a tank full of live lobsters in a neighborhood store in Scarborough, Maine, on Thursday, Feb. PAT WELLENBACH
By CLARKE CANFIELD (Associated Press Writer)
From Associated PressFebruary 06, 2006 3:37 AM EST
SCARBOROUGH, Maine - You don't have to be a fisherman to catch lobsters anymore. At a neighborhood store in this Portland suburb - and at restaurants and bars in more than a dozen states - customers can plunk down $2 for a chance to catch their very own lobster using a mechanical claw in an arcade-style game.
The apparatus is a new version of the old-style amusement game where players put in a quarter or two in hopes of grabbing a stuffed animal. But instead of plush toys, the Love Maine Lobster Claw game has a water-filled tank full of lobsters.
When a lobster is caught, the restaurants cook it for free and serve it with side dishes.
"He looks like a keeper," said Frank Margel of Westbrook, eyeing a mottled-green crustacean at Eight Corners Market before giving the game a try.
It's easier said than done, however.
Unlike stationary stuffed animals, the lobsters flap their tails, flail their claws and squirm this way and that, making them elusive prey.
"Those lobsters are lively. They're ready for competition," Margel said a minute later - and $2 poorer - after the crustacean slipped away.
Marine Ecological Habitats in Biddeford has been making the Love Maine Lobster game for just over a year and sold a couple of dozen, said Joe Zucchero, the company president.
The Maine-made machines can be found in restaurants and bars in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Maine, Zucchero said. A Florida company, The Lobster Zone Inc., makes a similar machine that it says can be found in more than 20 states.
The game has its critics. Animal rights activists contend it's cruel to toss a lobster into a boiling pot of water. And playing with the creatures before sending them to their deaths rubs some people the wrong way.
"Turning animal cruelty into a game is absolutely hideous," said Karin Robertson of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
A restaurant in Pittsburgh removed its lobster game last week in response to PETA's campaign against the machines.
Paul Carrozzi, owner of Roland's Seafood Grill, said he doesn't agree the machine is inhumane, but removed it after receiving threatening e-mails and calls. "It just wasn't worth it," he said.
Zucchero maintains that the machine has a gentle claw that won't hurt the animals.
"If it did," he said, "we'd have problems because then it would be destroying our inventory."
At Eight Corners Market, customers typically play the game 25 to 30 times a day and catch about eight or so lobsters a week, said store owner Peter Walsh, who also plans to sell lobsters out of the tank.
When the game's in play, it usually draws a crowd. A lighthouse-style beacon flashes on top of the machine when somebody catches a lobster.
"If somebody's playing this game and someone else walks in the store, I guarantee they'll play because they'll see how fun it is," Walsh said.
In Louisiana, Bill Bodin owns two of the machines, which he placed in seafood and Mexican restaurants in Lafayette. The machines do a brisk business, he said, especially when there are lines and people are looking for something to do - or for their kids to do - while waiting for a table.
At Eight Corners Market, Margel gets 30 seconds to catch a lobster for $2. Or he can get three plays for $5 or seven plays for $10.
Working a joystick and a pair of buttons, Margel lowers the claw, clamps it around the lobster and attempts to lift it out of the water. But the lobster fights back and escapes before he can deposit it in an opening and down a chute into his possession.
Margel leaves empty-handed, but he had good time.
"Who cares if you get a lobster for two bucks?" he said.