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To what level was pinball banned in New York in the 1940s?
February 11, 2009 10:04 AM   Subscribe

To what level was pinball banned in New York in the 1940s?

I know pinball was considered illegal in New York at the time, but what I can't seem to find is whether or not it was strictly a commercial ban of pinball machines, or personal pinball machines were banned as well. I assume they were only banned in commercial locations because the root of the ban lies in the fact that pinball was believed to be more chance than skill, making it gambling. If the machine were for personal use, there would be no gambling involved.

Any insight would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
posted by zacharyseibert to Law & Government (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
This New York Times on pinball machines from 1975 article might provide insight. Entitled "Ping! Boing! Buzz! Pinball Machines Come Home, " the preview on the site shows the text:

"New York City's Mayor La Guardia included pinball machines in his campaign to eliminate gambling. Their installation in commercial' establishments is still ..."

It's from 1975, one year before pinball machines were made legal again. My guess is that article describes how commercial use was illegal but home use was not. Does anyone have a NYT subscription and can read the whole article?

Of interest is the writer of that article: Roger Sharpe. His demonstration of skill on a pinball machine in front of City Council probably lead to its legalization.
posted by ALongDecember at 10:23 AM on February 11, 2009


The idea of having something like a pinball machine for personal use in your home would have been much more of a rarity in the 1940s, so I doubt it was even considered.

Roger Sharpe talks about the ban and the demonstration that he gave to the New York City council which led to overturning it in this This Old Pinball interview.
posted by ecurtz at 10:27 AM on February 11, 2009


And then I remember that I work at a University. MeFi mail me for a copy of the article if you want it. It does say there is nothing illegal about owning a machine as long as it is not used for profit.
posted by ALongDecember at 10:29 AM on February 11, 2009


I think that what they were banning were not flipperball machines, but rather what is known as "bingo machines". Those genuinely are gambling devices.

Both flipperball machines and bingo machines are referred to as "pinball".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:30 PM on February 11, 2009


Be aware that although pinball was "banned" there were workarounds. Most of the argument against pinball is that is was "gambling" since you could win free games for high scores. What game makers did to work around this problem was create 2 versions of each game they made: a "free game" version and an "add-a-ball" version. The free game version did what you'd expect; a free game for the high score. But the add a ball version would allow you to extend your initial game by adding a free ball for each score threshold. It's a small difference, but it was enough. Wisconsin, New York, and parts of Conneticut and Oklahoma were "Add a ball" territory. So while pinball was banned, there were still machines available for play that you would be hard pressed to differentiate from "regular" pinball. The "add a ball" era ended when pinball machines went solid state in the late 70's. Today, "add a ball" games are considered more collectible and better playing than the "free game" versions. That's because there are fewer of them and an extra ball is more appealing to the home player than a "free" game.
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:33 PM on February 11, 2009


The idea of having something like a pinball machine for personal use in your home would have been much more of a rarity in the 1940s, so I doubt it was even considered.

My grandfather had one in his basement, about this era, as he died in the mid 1960s and I've read stories about it being there prior to his death. He was a working class guy in Chicago, of modest means.
posted by kuppajava at 6:10 PM on February 11, 2009


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