Pinball - Pinball and Gambling

Pinball and Gambling

Pinball machines, like many other mechanical games, were sometimes used as gambling devices. Some pinball machines, such as Bally's "bingos", featured a grid on the backglass scoring area with spaces corresponding to targets or holes on the playfield. Free games could be won if the player was able to get the balls to land in a winning pattern; however, doing this was nearly random, and a common use for such machines was for gambling. Other machines allowed a player to win and accumulate large numbers of "free games" which could then be cashed out for money with the location owner. Later, this type of feature was discontinued in an effort to legitimize the machines, and to avoid legal problems in areas where awarding free games was considered illegal, some games, called Add-A-Ball, did away with the free game feature, instead giving players extra balls to play (between 5 and 25 in most cases). These extra balls were indicated via lighted graphics in the backglass or by a ball count wheel, but in some areas that was disallowed, and some games were shipped with a sticker to cover the counters.

Pinball was banned beginning in the early 1940s until 1976 in New York City. New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia was responsible for the ban, believing that it robbed school children of their hard earned nickels and dimes. La Guardia spearheaded major raids throughout the city, collecting thousands of machines. The mayor participated with police in destroying machines with sledgehammers before dumping the remnants into the city's rivers.

The ban ended when Roger Sharpe (a star witness for the AMOA - Amusement and Music Operators Association) testified in April 1976 before a committee in a Manhattan courtroom that pinball games had become games of skill and were not games of chance, that is, gambling. He began to play one of two games set up in the courtroom, and – in a move he compares to Babe Ruth's home run in the 1932 World Series – called out precisely what he was going to shoot for, and then proceeded to do so. Astonished committee members reportedly voted to remove the ban, which was followed in other cities. (Sharpe reportedly acknowledges his courtroom shot was by sheer luck.)

Like New York, Los Angeles banned pinball machines in 1939. The ban was overturned by the Supreme Court of California in 1974 because (1) if pinball machines were games of chance, the ordinance was preempted by state law governing games of chance in general, and (2) if they were games of skill, the ordinance was unconstitutional as a denial of the equal protection of the laws. Regardless of these events, some towns in America still have such bans on the books 50 years later, and several countries still ban the games and their rewards. More recent games are clearly labeled "FOR AMUSEMENT ONLY" in an attempt to emphasize their legitimate, legal nature.

Read more about this topic:  Pinball

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Pinball and Gambling - Pachinko
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