This isn’t your average game of roulette at the Alaska State Fair.

The Palmer Elks Lodge rat race is actually older than the state itself.

It involves placing one of the tiny rodents in the middle of a spinning wheel, and placing bets on which colored compartment it will run into. The payoff for each color varies, with orange and pink netting the highest returns.

“This is a tradition,” said James Hastings with Palmer Elks Lodge, a charity-driven organization. “We’re talking four generations that come to this rat race.”

For almost 60 years, fairgoers have laid down their quarters with faith the furry critter will return their winnings. Instead of getting a prize, however, you give back to charity.

Despite what it’s alliterative title suggests, the rat race actually uses gerbils because real rats can jump off the wheel and make a break for it.

Although some people have called the game cruel, these little guys actually have the easiest gig at the fair.

“Realistically, these gerbils will work about 20 minutes every two days for 10 days,” Hastings said. “The rest of the year they eat, sleep and relax.”

Behind the scenes, there’s a whole team of reinforcements waiting to take a spin.

“If you think about the average gerbil that’s sold in a pet store, it winds up in a little plastic ball and kids are chasing it and kicking it down stairs,” Hastings said. “It’s a pretty good life actually.”

Once it’s their turn to take center stage, many of the gerbils don’t want to give up the spotlight. They’re indecision keeps gamblers guessing whether they’ll come out on top.

At the end of the day, the Elks volunteers cash in and the gerbils go back to their cage — where you can bet they’ll get some much-needed peace and quiet after a hard day in the rat race.


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