Oakland to Drop 80-Year-Old Pinball Ban

Machines were once considered moral menace

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 25, 2014 1:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – The California city of Oakland is about to finally scrap an anti-pinball law nobody has paid much attention to since World War II. The game was outlawed in Oakland and many other cities in the 1930s, when the machines didn't have flippers and were considered gambling devices, the San Francisco Chronicle finds. "It had the illusion of skill but was mostly a game of chance, sort of like the coin toss at the county fair," says the director of the Pacific Pinball Museum in nearby Alameda, where Oakland cops sent confiscated machines as gifts to the city's police force. "All you had to do was pull the plunger back and see what happened next."

The ban was largely forgotten after the war and there are already plenty of pinball machines in arcades and bars across Oakland. Other cities also kept anti-pinball laws on the books, including Beacon, New York, which enforced its law as recently as 2010, and New York City, which didn't legalize pinball until 1976, Gawker notes. The councilman moving to lift the pinball ban is doing so as part of a wider look at gambling in the city, which will also include a ban on "Internet sweepstakes cafes" where customers can win cash prizes for playing online games. "What you see are poor people lined up on payday with their checks," he says. "We're not going to tolerate casinos in Oakland. But pinball—pinball, I have no problem with." (In Massachusetts, a small town has decided it is time to lift its 1982 ban on arcade games.)

Older pinball machines line a wall of the Seattle Pinball Museum in Seattle.
Older pinball machines line a wall of the Seattle Pinball Museum in Seattle.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A spinner and target are shown on the 1979 Incredible Hulk pinball machine at the Seattle Pinball Museum in Seattle.
A spinner and target are shown on the 1979 Incredible Hulk pinball machine at the Seattle Pinball Museum in Seattle.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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