An Illegal Game of Vice and Sin: The Pinball Story

Pinball machine with bright lights

In 1932, Raymond Maloney designed the first mass-produced coin-operated pinball machine. It looked a little different from how you may picture a pinball machine today; it had no flippers or levers, just one plunger that shot a ball up into the game, and was designed to be played on a table or countertop for the cost of a penny. Soon, the game’s popularity took off across the U.S.


However, not everyone was a fan of the game.


Sometimes prizes or cash were awarded when players earned particularly high scores, and it was argued that playing pinball was another way of gambling. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia of New York was one of pinball’s biggest critics, saying that pinball machines were corrupting the youth. In 1942, he banned pinball from New York City. On the first day of the ban, police confiscated over 2,000 machines.


The anti-pinball rhetoric spread and soon pinball was banned in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago, Milwaukee, and other U.S. cities. It wasn’t until new flipper-controlled pinball machines were invented, changing the method of play and making the game one of skill and not just luck, that playing pinball was no longer considered gambling.


Pinball machines slowly made their way out of the seediest bars and into arcades, and the game became popular again in the 1970s as most city bans were lifted. By 1976, pinball was once again legal in New York.


In Kokomo, Indiana, it wasn’t until December of 2016 that pinball was re-legalized. The ban hadn’t been enforced in years but wasn’t officially lifted until the city decided to update associated laws. 


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Image Credit: Atmosphere1 /Shutterstock.com

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