How Pinball Became Legal Again

Did you know that pinball was illegal in major US cities from 1942 until 1976?

Early pinball machines didn't have flippers, so the player would bump and shake the machine itself to try to affect the ball's fall.  If the ball went into the right slot, the player could win free games, which some bars would redeem for cash. The game was, by and large, a game of chance and could have a cash prize, so it was considered "gambling". In the early 1940s, the United States was cracking down on gambling machines of all sorts. And lawmakers started to believe that pinball was mafia-run scam.

New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia wrote in a Supreme Court affidavit that the machines robbed the "pockets of schoolchildren in the form of nickels and dimes given them as lunch money". And then he outlawed the game in NYC. Police and politicians raided bars and bowling alleys smashing machines, arresting their owners, and throwing the machine's remains in the river, as public display of "morality". Many other cities followed with their own bans.

Through this time, the major pinball manufacturers continued to make games, since they were still legal for home use. During this time, the pinball companies improved the game, inventing flippers and incorporating multiple electronics into the playfield.

Then comes the best part of the story!

The Amusement & Music Operators Association lobbied to get a meeting with the City Council in a Manhattan courtroom to plead their case to get the ban overturned in May of 1976. They brought in a writer named Roger Sharpe to prove to the Council that pinball was no longer a game of chance. He was out to prove that it was undoubtedly a game of skill.

With the Council watching, Sharpe called his shot. He said that he could hit his next shot through the middle lane. He pulled the plunger, hit the ball with a flipper, and sure enough it went through the middle lane! City Council overturned the ban on the spot!

Some places still had illegal pinball on their books for years, but not many places followed through on enforcement. It was only within the past couple of years, for example, that Nashville, Tennessee, eliminated its ban on under-18-year-olds playing or standing within 10 feet of a pinball machine. It's still technically illegal on Sundays in Ocean City, Nevada.

Next time you throw a couple of quarters into a pinball machine while you're waiting for your friends at the bar, you can not only appreciate it's rich history, but you can be assured that it IS winnable! :)

[Sources: Popular Mechanics, Gizmodo]

No comments:

Post a Comment