A viral TikTok video of a fairground game in Alaska involving a live rodent and a giant roulette wheel has sparked a debate about animal welfare on the social media platform.
The video is titled “Rat Roulette,” but its star is actually a white mouse. In it, the mouse is placed in the middle of a spinning wheel in a fairground stall with 48 mouse-sized holes along its circumference.
Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire plays in the background as onlookers are asked to bet on which hole the mouse will eventually disappear into.
The footage appears to be from the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, which runs until September 5. The short clip was posted by a user named @_the_alaska_guy and has been viewed more than a half million times.
“One of the highlights of the year for us Alaskans,” writes @_the_alaska_guy, who adds laughter and shrug emojis.
TikTok Cheesed Off
But to some, it was no laughing matter.
“That mouse must be so stressed out,” one TikToker declared.
“They don’t have animal cruelty laws in Alaska?” another asked.
“Doesn’t anyone feel sorry for the poor mouse?” wailed another.
To others, the video evoked warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia for the fairgrounds of their youth.
“Grew up with this game,” claimed one TikToker. “Good memories.”
A Short History of Rat Roulette
Because, apparently, Rat Roulette is not a new phenomenon. Nor has it in the past been exclusively confined to Alaska.
The earliest reference we can find to the game claims that it existed, albeit briefly, at Harolds Club in Reno in the 1930s, although it may have been played at fairgrounds earlier than that.
In his 1961 memoir I Want to Quit Winners, Harolds Club founder Harold S. Smith Sr. recalls returning to Reno from a business trip around 1936 to find Rat Roulette on offer at his casino.
In his absence, his father, Raymond “Pappy” Smith, the general manager and the public face of the casino, had hired “a traveler” who had introduced him to the game. Pappy and his new employee were using mice they caught themselves in the casino’s attic.
But the game ultimately proved to be unprofitable for Harolds Club. That’s because gamblers figured the mouse would be more likely to scamper towards a certain hole if they clapped their hands or made a loud noise. Also, the mice would tend to follow the scent of a previous mouse into a hole, adding an element of predictability to the game.
Nevertheless, it turned out to be indirectly profitable in the long run.
Harolds Club suddenly had an international reputation as the casino that ‘started from a mouse roulette game.’ Twenty-five years later, people still ask to see the game and won’t believe it was here only a week,” wrote Smith.
Meanwhile, gambling-history.com has discovered references to the game in newspapers of the 1940s. These include the story of one operator who was prosecuted in California in 1946 after he was found to have rigged the game by putting small pieces of cheese in the lower-paying holes.
In an initial trial, the court failed to reach a decision on the legality of rat roulette. The judge eventually dismissed the case when the mouse – a crucial piece of evidence — died of old age.
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