Did You Know Pinball Was Once Declared Illegal?

Pinball. The great American mechanical pastime. It's about as innocent as gaming gets, especially compared to the blood, drugs and sex you find in video games.

Yet bizarrely, for decades, pinball was actually declared illegal in some of America's biggest cities, including New York and Los Angeles.

It had nothing to do with the content of the games. Most tables were based on harmless fluff. No, it had to do with a combination of factors, such as early machines being used for gambling, the mafia and stuffy old politicians simply not liking the things.

Let's start with the gambling. Early pinball machines didn't have flippers, meaning the movement of the ball was (tilting the table aside) almost entirely random. Many machines were also designed to reward the player with free games or even cash tokens if they hit certain targets. Given the fact the movement of the ball was random, and that attaining such feats required little to no skill, it was determined in 1939 that pinball machines would be made illegal in the city of Los Angeles.

The fact they were also making a lot of money off kids, as well as allegedly attracting the attention of the mafia, led to bans in other cities in the 1940s, such as Chicago and New York. In NYC the move was a pet project of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who actually had raids conducted to seize machines still in use throughout the city.

It's important to note not all machines were banned. Manufacturers quickly became savvy enough to realise that removing the ability to win free games meant you couldn't gamble, and were able to continue selling and installing modified machines with this feature removed. What this meant was that, in areas like New York, while the sale and public use of pinball machines declined, it wasn't removed entirely.

These bans weren't short-lived affairs, either; they lasted until well into the 1970s. Chicago took pinball off its naughty list in 1973. In 1974, LA's ban was overturned when the Supreme Court declared it illegal, while in New York the machines were returned to legal status when pinball wizard Roger Sharpe showed a court that thanks to flippers and modern technology they were now entirely games of skill, and not chance.

The backpedals in Los Angeles and New York soon meant that similar bans elsewhere were quickly overturned, and all across America (or at least those places it had been banned; most other cities and towns hadn't bothered), pinball machines were free to legally resume their place in arcades. Just in time for video games to drive them right back out again.


    Feels like I'm watching the History channel, what's next? Hitlers Luftwaffe campaigns? The history of the Bedlum Asylum?

    Yes I did know, thanks for asking!

      This. In fact I'm pretty sure I read about it here on Kotaku. And then read about it again just a couple of months later.

      This article wasn't as good as the first of those two.

    Played my first game of pinball for at least a decade last week-end.Near where I was sitting a dude walked away after playing and got the mattch random free game and also another free game when my gams was finished.

    I like how Luke writes a propper article on something that may insterest some people and commentors are still acting like complete dicks.
    Kudos, morons.

    Aside from that, nice one, Luke - now try and keep it up :P

      The Total Recall articles are always a decent read.

        This is true

          What I find amazing is that (all of) the trolls don't realise that the 'junk' articles are SCHEDULED to be posted a half hour apart from each other ie. it's a deliberate SEO strategy. No effort goes into these posts, because they're scheduled to go live by a journalist who has already spent a full work day researching/developing/writing unique and decent content...

          Complaining about fluff pieces on a website is like complaining that TV channels air advertorials late at night...

          (Oh, and anyone about to say something along the lines of "well, they shouldn't post anything if they're gonna post crap like this!", refer to the words 'SEO strategy' above. Still stuck?)

        Well, the ones that actually have history lessons in them are a decent read. The ones that talk about why Starcrash should be an Atari game or have two lines simply stating that there was a book called "How to Master the Video Games" or are just a pic of light guns from 3 machines... Not so much of a decent read.

    Pinball is a thing sadly you dont see alot of anymore. Most arcade games these days are expensive and rubbish. How many times can you pay for a virtuacop clone, street fighter vs whatever, or daytona? We need more pinball.

    Love my pinball. Im slowly putting together my own table. If I find one I haven't played before I immediately give it a go. My favourite has always been The Addams Family. My least favourite is Jurassic Park.

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