Senate bill would outlaw using live animals as carnival prizes

It is a mainstay of fairs and carnivals around the country: Sink a Ping-Pong ball into a fish bowl and win the goldfish swimming inside.

But if a bill in the Illinois Senate becomes law, carnivals no longer would be allowed to award live animals such as fish, reptiles and hermit crabs as prizes.

Illinois' Humane Care for Animals Act already prohibits giving rabbits, ducklings and chicks as carnival prizes, but Senate Bill 2472 would expand the law's protections to all animals.

Sen. Suzy Glowiak Hilton, a Democrat from Western Springs, introduced the bill with backing from the Humane Society of the United States.

"This isn't just a 'goldfish bill,'" she said. "Carnivals across the country give out other animals as prizes, specifically iguanas and other exotic reptiles."

Hilton said these reptiles can grow up to six feet long and become a burden to people who did not consider the specialized care the animals need.

"Many are simply abandoned and wreak havoc on our natural wildlife, or are turned into local animal control centers which are not equipped to handle them," she said.

Cook County already has banned using live animals as prizes, as have Kane and McHenry counties and the city of St. Charles.

Hilton's bill would apply only to carnivals. She plans to add an amendment to expand it to fairs.

Ken Tyrrell, president of the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs, says SB 2472 could affect the $170 million the Illinois fair industry contributes yearly to the state economy.

"That's how these people make their money," said Tyrrell, whose organization represents Illinois' 104 county fairs, its two state fairs and hundreds of vendors.

"It affects the people that bring those games to fairs and it affects the fairs if they don't have that," he said.

Tyrell also says the bill erases the nostalgia of taking home a small pet from the local carnival.

"I've been in the fair business all my life, and people have a tendency to go back and play the same games every year," he said. "If your small children look forward to going and playing the game where you have the possibility of winning a goldfish, they're going to be very disappointed."

Hilton included a workaround in her bill, though. Carnivals can offer a coupon or voucher to winners so they can buy the animal from a licensed pet store.

"(SB 2472) will allow prize winners to go into a pet shop and fully understand the animal that they are going to be caring for," she said.

Tyrrell, however, said teaming up with pet stores is unrealistic for carnival workers who are constantly on the road.

SB 2472 was assigned to the Senate agriculture committee on Tuesday. If it passes committee, the bill will go to the full Senate for a vote.

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