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Oakland Lifts Pinball Ban; Archaic Law Recalls Simpler Times

by Staff Reporter
Posted On: 6/30/2014

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TAGS: pinball machine, pinball ban, coin-op news, Oakland pinball ban, pinball ban lift, amusement business, archaic law

OAKLAND, CA -- Pinball is about to become legal again in Oakland, CA, after some 80 years. The city's ban against the coin-op staple went into effect in the 1930s because the game was viewed largely as a gambling device. Since that time, thousands of cities across the country moved to prohibit pins and other coin-op games. In the eyes of the law and moral reformers, pinball posed a potentially deleterious effect on youth.

While the ban on pins has not been strictly enforced in Oakland in decades, lifting it has garnered a great deal of press. Oakland joins a growing list of cities that are revising their penal codes in favor of coin-operated amusement devices, including San Francisco. | SEE STORY

The vast majority of local pinball bans occurred before the addition of player-controlled mechanical flippers in 1947. Players simply propelled a ball to the top of the playfield and accumulated points as it traveled from the top to the bottom. Informal small payouts by locations for a high score were not uncommon. With the introduction of flippers in Gottlieb's Humpty Dumpty, an element of skill and entertainment was added and payouts largely ceased. However, lawsuits across the country would continue to debate the issue of whether pins were a game of skill or gambling device.

By the 1950s and '60s, the lawsuits, along with the controversies, abated as municipalities simply stopped enforcing the laws targeting pins; some operators moved the games to underground locations. To a large degree the bans and high-profile court cases, along with provocative backglass artwork, only served to add to the games' appeal and ushered in the golden age of pinball.

With the Oakland City Council's public safety committee poised to lift the ban on pins, the Bright Side of the Bay is following a trend that has seen more and more municipalities become coin-op friendly. Propelled by the new trend of bars and taverns featuring classic coin-op games, pins and videos are now viewed as small business friendly.

pinball machine, pinball ban, coin-op news
PHOTO: Players take their chances with on a pin game -- sans flippers -- circa 1930s. With the decriminalization of pinball, Oakland, CA, is now joining a growing number of U.S. cities wiping outdated and unpopular laws pertaining to coin-op off the books.