FAIR: Rodent roulette a fair staple for nearly 50 years

ROBERT DeBERRY/Frontiersman One of the Palmer Elks Club Rat Race ‘rats’ (technically, they’re gerbils) surveys the situation before choosing a colored hole to climb into Saturday at the Alaska State Fair.

Aug. 26, 2007

By Chris Gillow/Frontiersman

PALMER - Those looking for an escape from the rat race of daily obligations can find relief by taking part in the rat races.

The Palmer Elks Club Rat Races at the Alaska State Fair is the place to find high spirits and competition as fair-goers plunk their quarters down to bet on the popular event. The Alaska State Fair is a great place to spend a beautiful sunny day with friends and family, and it's also fair game for those who bet on fury little rodents running on a spinning roulette-like table.

&#8220It's tradition,” Anchorage resident Robert Ruhs said of the rat races. &#8220We always play when we come to the fair.”

Similar to roulette, the object of a rat race is to pick a color to bet on, hoping the rat scurries into the color-coated hole you chose. It sounds simple, but it's still a game of chance.

&#8220We usually end up spending about 40 bucks a year on the races,” Ruhs said, adding he doesn't mind spending the money knowing it goes to a good cause.

&#8220All this money goes to support charity,” said Mark Ewing as he announced the races.

The Palmer Elks Club donates all the money earned at the fair to local charities such as the Mat-Su Boys and Girls Club, the Wounded Warrior Project and Special Olympics, Ewing said.

&#8220The rat races are one of the biggest fundraisers the Palmer Elks Club organizes,” club member James Hastings said.

In the past, the Palmer Elks Club Rat Races has drawn criticism from animal rights enthusiasts who believe the event is cruel to animals, Hastings said. So far, there have been no protests at this year's event.

As fair attendees cheered on the rats Saturday, Ewing gave up the inside information on the event and stars of the show. &#8220We've been doing this for 48 years, and they're actually gerbils.”

So, if you're looking for a good time that involves legal gambling, dizzy gerbils and donating money to charity, seek out the Palmer Elks Club Rat Races and plunk your quarter down.

Contact Chris Gillow at 352-2284 or chris.gillow@frontiersman.com.

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