New York

White Plains, New York, Will Finally End Its Ban on Amusement Arcades

Pinball and Pac-Man: no longer illegal.

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Auremar | Dreamstime.com

In a victory for the young and the young at heart, a city in Westchester County, New York, is moving to strike down its harebrained ban on arcades.

White Plains—a popular suburb outside of Manhattan—inched closer to sanctioning fun this week, with the city council signaling they will scrap a law that has barred business owners from opening "amusement arcades." The ban's repeal will also pave the way for laser tag and Esports establishments, both of which were barred under the prohibition as well.

The city's ban was first implemented in the '70s, briefly repealed, and then reinstated in 1999.

Why the discrimination against arcades, which breed family friendly fun in malls across America? White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach thinks he knows the source, and it's as insidious as ever: Times Square.

"There was a time when Times Square was seedy, and they had a lot of arcades," he told the New York CBS affiliate. "Things were happening there that were not favored, and I think, in general, communities didn't think arcades were a good thing to have."

The centrally located Manhattan plaza—laden with jumbotrons and envied by tourists everywhere—does have an arcade or two. It also has its fair share of restaurants, bars, clothing shops, convenience stores, and hotels, which were fortunate enough to avoid prohibition in White Plains.

But that's not the entire story, as arcades have had a slew of critics since their inception in the early 20th century. Gambling was commonplace at such establishments, and the arcade's reputation as a smoky den of sin promulgated widely. In 1942, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia confiscated the city's pinball machines, and in a highly publicized news appearance, smashed some with a sledgehammer and then dumped them into the Long Island Sound.

The 1970s saw a resurgence—the dawn of an arcade golden age, so to speak—with businesses transitioning from pinball to computerized role-play games. Popular options included the legendary Pac-Man, as well as Asteroids and Space Invaders—pioneers in the "shoot 'em up" genre. That irked some politicians, church leaders, and concerned citizens, who worried about violence in video games and fretted over what trouble the youth might get in if left to their own devices. They soon saw to it that White Plains was washed of its debauchery.

Luckily for arcade-lovers in White Plains, though, pinball machines and Pac-Man are no longer canceled.

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12 responses to “White Plains, New York, Will Finally End Its Ban on Amusement Arcades

  1. Oh yes there’s trouble
    Right here in River City
    With a capital T
    And that rhymes with V
    And that stands for Video Games

  2. “The city’s ban was first implemented in the ’70s…”

    Gotta protect the proles from the ravages of Ms. Pac Man.

  3. Mind you, I loved arcades in the day. Spent a lot of time in’em. But the idea that they promore ‘family fun’ owes a good deal more to Chuckee Cheese ads than objective reality. The arcades in and around Times Square before the big clean-up may have been exaggerated cases, but I hung out in similarly sleazy arcades in Cleveland, Baltimore, and (of all places to loom for sleeze) Ames Iowa.

  4. I’m just about fed up with this browser-jamming site.

  5. Lived in White Plains in the 40s and 50s! I think there was an arcade on main street! It may have just been a TV store?

  6. Pinball and Pac-Man: no longer illegal.

    And people say there’s no libertarian moment.

  7. I don’t know who this author Billy Binion is, but he needs to get set straight on a very important topic: things don’t get thrown into THE Long Island Sound. There is no THE. Would he throw something into The Lake Michigan?

    1. Also the video of Fiorello LaGuardia shows him smashing slot machines, not pinball.

      Since I’m sure some pinball machines were seized and dumped however it should be noted that pinball at that time was entirely chance based, with no skill element, more like pachinko than modern pinball.

  8. When I was a child back in the 80’s, we weren’t allowed to go near the arcade in my town. The owner sold whatever drugs were available to him at the moment, and pimped his wife and another woman. Yeah I know ENB would be proud, but I was under 12.
    Plus, one guy got shot and another got stabbed there in its eight year run.

    Boy, did I ever want to play the After Burner game with the moving seat though. It was right by the window and I begged Dad to take me, but he never would.

  9. If it weren’t for arcades, Matthew Broderick would have spent even MORE time online in the movie War Games, had more time to start a nuclear war before he knew what what was going on, and we’s all be dead. Viva la Video!

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