Before the fun begins, a test for fairness at the Florida State Fair

TAMPA — His eyes lowered as he approached the rickety booth. He reached into a box of darts, checking for sharpness.

POP!

It looked fun, but for Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober it was all business at the Florida State Fair on Thursday. In what has become an annual ritual, authorities spent the final hours before the fair opened inspecting midway games to make sure they were actually fair.

Okay, maybe it wasn't all business.

"Let's go measure the hot dogs to make sure they're 12 inches," Ober joked when the inspections were done.

Armed with 14 pages of regulations, Ober and his staff threw basketballs, picked ducks out of kiddie pools, popped balloons and shot water guns.

"We're trying to make certain that the public has a good time, and when they spend their money they have the ability to actually win a game," Ober said.

Unfair games or unclear signs could create conflicts at the game booths, leading to fairway fights, Ober said.

Besides a few unclear signs and some faulty balloon popping boards, everything this year seemed up to snuff.

"The proprietors are always very good about taking our suggestions," Ober said.

State and county officials visit the fair periodically to make sure games don't change after the initial inspection.

The Hillsborough County Fire Department, a sheriff's gang unit and other officials inspected rides and merchandise vendors. The gang unit made sure no one was selling gang-related clothing or paraphernalia.

Detective Marc Wilder of the gang unit held up a sweat shirt sold at the fair last year that said "South Side 13" — insignia of a known local gang. Gang members encourage fair vendors to sell their merchandise, and it's up to the detectives to make sure the vendors know what's coming off their shelves.

"Last year we were quite busy," Wilder said.

Back at the game inspections, Assistant State Attorney Mike Sinacore played alongside Mark Cox, a State Attorney's Office spokesman, in a bowling game.

Neither won a prize.

"Aww, man, this is a challenge," Cox said. "Can we do it again?"

Soon after they were done, the fair opened for the first of a 12-day run.

Mike Sinacore of the State Attorney’s Office checks the ratio of ducks that will produce a large prize. Authorities visited the Florida State Fair before it opened to inspect its games.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Mike Sinacore of the State Attorney’s Office checks the ratio of ducks that will produce a large prize. Authorities visited the Florida State Fair before it opened to inspect its games.

Before the fun begins, a test for fairness at the Florida State Fair 02/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 4, 2010 10:33pm]

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