Crowd drawn to ‘rural-type fair’
Last year’s 150th consecutive annual Harrison County Fair set attendance records, so when the final figures were turned in for this year’s edition, it came as somewhat of a surprise that attendance was only about 300 paid admissions off from last year’s total.
The 151st fair went mostly rain-free, but the average temperature was also hotter than a firecracker lit on both ends. Still, all but one of the nights had good crowds, fair board president Todd Uhl said.
‘I think a lot of people still like going to a rural-type fair like we have; I think a lot of people wanted to check out the new ride company; and I think more families decided to stay home this year rather than go uptown,’ Uhl said.
Uhl said the Wednesday night crowd ‘ both here and elsewhere, according to other fair folks he’s spoken with ‘ is always the toughest draw. This year, there was gospel singing in front of the grandstand in Corydon, but it wasn’t too difficult to count heads.
‘We don’t want to go to smoke and gas every single night, but there’s no doubt that’s what brings people in. We’re still trying to figure out what will work on that Wednesday night. We want to give people something different on Wednesday, but the things we’ve come up with still aren’t drawing,’ Uhl said. ‘Another thing we’ll probably do for next year is move the midway stage. Where we had it this year, you had to kind of look for it.’
There were familiar grumblings about the $8 entrance fee to the fair, which included free parking and unlimited rides.
‘Most fairs don’t do it to where you buy a bracelet and ride all day, but, when they do, it’s $20 or $25, so that $8 is a good price,’ Uhl said.
The only other glitch in this year’s fair seemed to be the brief snag in regard to the nightly cash giveaway.
On Tuesday last week, the Indiana Gaming Commission contacted Harrison County Prosecutor Dennis Byrd and informed him that an IGC officer would be meeting with the fair board to put a stop to the giveaways.
Byrd said he was told there were several things the fair board was doing illegally: the fair didn’t have a gaming license; a raffle ticket was given away to everyone as part of their entrance fee (including those younger than 18); entrants had to be present to win; and cash giveaways on two nights were more than the $1,500 limit.
There was no raffle Tuesday night, July 27, when Byrd received a call from the fair board asking if there was a way to reinstate the giveaway and avoid violating the law.
Last Wednesday morning, and asking as the county prosecutor, Byrd contacted a member of the gaming commission, who told him if the board corrected all but one of the violations ‘ not having a gaming license, which is a six-to-12-week process to acquire ‘ that it could continue with the giveaways. The fair also would have to secure a gaming license for future giveaways. Byrd informed the fair board, and the rules were changed. Fair-goers 18 and older had to ask for a giveaway ticket, and the maximum prize was $1,500.
Through the letter of the law, Byrd would have been within his right as prosecutor to press charges against members of the fair board for the gaming violations; however, he said he didn’t see a need in this instance.
‘It was obvious these unpaid volunteers didn’t know what they were doing was in violation. They were simply continuing something that had been done for years and years without an issue. I get dozens of case reports every day, and some this office goes forward on and some we don’t,’ Byrd said. ‘As prosecutor, I have the authority and discretion to apply criminal statutes according to the laws of the state of Indiana.’
Byrd likened the situation to someone driving 56 mph in a 55 mph zone.
‘A police officer would be within his or her right to give that driver a citation because, by the letter of the law, that driver is speeding,’ Byrd said. ‘A police officer uses their own discretion on if a situation warrants a ticket.’
The extra money from not having the giveaway one night and a reduced amount Friday and Saturday was split between the amusement ride company, Cumberland Valley Amusements, and the fair board. Both parties split proceeds from the $8 entrance fee to put up the giveaway prize funds.