Restaurant Successfully Shamed Into Removing Claw Machine Game With Live Lobsters

Despite public outcry over these machines, there are still hundreds in operation across the globe.
October 29, 2019, 11:00am
tank full of live lobsters
Photo: Getty Images

Two restaurants in Singapore have recently stopped letting their customers use arcade-style claw machines to catch live crabs and lobsters, after they both received a number of complaints. A lobster-stocked claw machine had been inside the Sea Tripod Seafood Group since it opened in January, and a sign on its brightly colored display read "Catch lobster, and enjoy it! (Cook with no extra charge)."

According to The Straits Times, no one is catching anything anymore—at least not since the restaurant's owners put tape over the machine's controls—but it's probably fair to say that the lobsters still aren't enjoying the situation. Three of them have been left inside the game's attached tank, where they don't have much to do except stare at the giant non-functional plastic claw that still dangles over their heads.

The restaurant's owner, identified only as Mr. Li told the outlet that he'd paid $3,000 to buy the claw machine from China. "If we receive any complaints from government officials, we'll definitely take more action, but for now we don't play, we just display," he said.

The government hasn't spoken out about it, but the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has, and they think that the restaurant still "sends the wrong message" by having the claw machine on the property. "Our concern and worry is that it becomes a trend and is normalised, so we must take action quickly to stop this from becoming a norm," Jaipal Singh Gill, the head of the SPCA said.

Last week, Gill and the SPCA called out the House of Seafood for its newly installed claw machine; instead of lobsters, this one allowed customers to grab live crabs. "I wanted to educate the kids on how to differentiate a male and female crab and keep them entertained in the restaurant," owner Francis Ng said.

Despite the fact that the restaurant had only had the machine for a week and a half—and despite the fact that he'd paid five grand for it—Ng responded to criticism from the SPCA and from The Internet by replacing the real-life crabs with cardboard boxes that customers can cash in for a crab entree. (In the brief time that the crab machine was operational, only one customer caught a crab.)

In the United States, PETA's efforts have been kind of successful when it comes to removing similar lobster-catching games, most of them designed and sold by a Florida company called The Lobster Zone. PETA says that it has gotten the Lobster Zone's machines removed from bars in Illinois and Indiana—but according to the game's manufacturer, there are still 480 of the machines in operation. (VICE has reached out to The Lobster Zone for comment but has not yet received a response.)

The Lobster Zone says that it can produce as many as 60 of the games every month. Each one can sustain between eight and 10 lobsters at a time, and a lobster could theoretically live in the machine for as long as four months. "That population should be reestablished twice per week," the company says in its FAQ. "The cash box should be emptied during that visit." (Regardless of where those games have been plugged in and stocked with crustaceans, each chance at winning a lobster costs $2, and players have 30 seconds to try to catch one of them.) Gordon Ramsey installed one of these machines (seemingly made by a different manufacturer) into a restaurant on an episode of Kitchen Nightmares:

The Lobster Zone says that its machines do not harm the lobsters at all. "The plastic claw is engineered to close with a certain amount of air pressure, making it impossible to hurt the lobsters through its [sic] hard shell," the company says in its FAQ. "When a lobster is released, the claw extends far enough down the chute so that the lobster slides down a gentle slope and into a bucket. The lobsters cannot be hurt."

Has anyone asked the lobsters though?