Did You Know It’s Illegal to Win a Goldfish at the Fair in Massachusetts?
I remember taking home my first pet when I was in elementary school. My brother and I had won a pair of goldfish at our local fair and decided to name them Steve and Nancy. While Steve, my brother's fish, passed away not long after we brought him home, my fish, Nancy, lived for the next two years.
Chances are, you probably have some story, and likely a traumatic one, from winning a goldfish at a fair or carnival as a kid. Maybe you took your fish home and they lived a couple weeks. Or maybe you took one look at that clear plastic bag containing your new pet and thought it would be a great idea to take it for a spin on the Gravitron, only to find your fish floating at the top of the water by the end of the ride. Big oof.
Most folks here on the SouthCoast have brought home a fair fish at some point in their lives, but did you know that it's actually illegal in Massachusetts to *win one, and it has been for decades?
Chapter 272, Section 80F of Massachusetts General Law states that "no person shall offer or give away any live animal as a prize or an award in a game, contest or tournament involving skill or chance."
The law was further solidified in 1981, when the state of Massachusetts ruled in favor of the goldfish during the court case Charles Knox v. Massachusetts Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals et al. Knox had been traveling from state to state for 22 years, giving away goldfish at fairs and carnivals as prizes for games of chance. He planned on setting up shop at the Brockton Fair in July of 1980, and when MSPCA notified Knox that he would be violating G. L. c. 272, Section 80F, he fought back, obtaining a temporary restraining order against the enforcement of the law and giving away the live goldfish at the Brockton Fair. At one point, officials even argued if the usage of "animal" in G. L. c. 272, Section 80F included goldfish, but when all was said and done, goldfish were classified as animals and MSPCA came out on top.
But wait... Haven't we all been winning goldfish at fairs and carnivals in Massachusetts in the years since this court case in 1981?
Kind of, but not technically.
*Rob Halpin, MSPCA's current Director of Communications did some digging and said that while it is illegal to award someone a live animal, goldfishes included, as a prize, any "nominal fee" makes the exchange exempt. Basically, if there's a cost to play, even if it's as minimal as a quarter, it counts as a sale and the animal is no longer considered a prize, by law.
"That’s probably what’s been happening all of these years," Halpin said.
There's always a loophole for everything, isn't there?
While it's still widely accepted across America to give away goldfish at the fair, Massachusetts is not the only state to "ban" the practice. Iowa, South Carolina and Vermont have also made it illegal, and as of last year, Illinois was in talks to jump on board as well, according to the Illinois Times.