Oakland Gets Ready to Legalize Pinball

But it's not the last city with a ban on the books.


When I wrote my history of game panics earlier this year, many readers were surprised to learn that New York City not only banned pinball but didn't get around to legalizing it until 1976. If you think that city took a long time to come to its senses, get a load of this:

Tommy also distributed this facegear to the city of Oakland's inspectors, so they wouldn't observe our violations of the law.
Columbia Picture

Like thousands of cities across the United States, Oakland banned pinball in the 1930s because the machines—which then lacked flippers—were being used for gambling. People paid a nickel to play, and winners received cash payouts from a bartender, store owner or other proprietor….

Despite the bans, people still played pinball, just as they drank alcohol during Prohibition. Flippers were invented in the 1940s, and by the 1950s and '60s the game was more popular than ever. By then, most cities moved on to more pressing matters and the laws were largely forgotten.

But next week, the City Council's public safety committee is poised to reverse Oakland's law that bans pinball machines, as part of a broader look at gambling in the city.

In Oakland's case, the law is still on the books but hasn't been enforced for decades. There are other cities, however, where the local pinball regulations still have teeth:

Beacon, N.Y., about 40 miles north of New York City, shut down a pinball museum and arcade in 2010 because of its historical ban. In San Francisco, pinball is legal but owners need a permit from the entertainment commission.

It's still illegal in Alameda[, California]. The Pacific Pinball Museum had to register as a nonprofit and remove the coin slots from its machines to comply with the law.

To read more about anti-game crusades, go here.