Oakland Pinball Machines To Be Legalized After 80-Year Ban

Oakland Pinball Machines will finally be legal in the California city after an 80-year ban following the City Council public safety committee meeting on Tuesday, June 24. The ban is part of an effort by the city council to modernize and broaden the gambling laws of Oakland, California.

The 80-year old ban can be traced back to the 1930’s when pre-war pinball machines were popular. The tables were produced from the 1900s up until the 1930s when electronic versions were introduced between 1936 and 1948, giving rise to the “payout” machines. The idea behind these flipperless tables were in the player launching the ball and using skill and nudging to get the ball to land or trigger a payout from the bartender or proprietor turning a penny into something more.

The machines became more sophisticated, resulting in the game becoming more addicting, and many cities, including Oakland, banned all pinball machines outright. Once World War II broke out, the manufacturing companies essentially ceased production of the “payout” tables in favor of the war effort and over time the ban became obsolete.

When the war was over, pinball machines began ramping up production again and in 1950, the famous D. Gottleib Co. made the first table with the modern inward facing flippers called “Spot Bowler.” From there Gottleib and Williams rode a wave of new interest in pinball and, with the advances in technology, the tables became more complex and offered more intricate goals, lights,and sounds. There were even tables that spoke to you, such as the famous “Gorgar” table. As the pinball machine and arcade become more popular, cities decided to remove the old bans with one of the most famous cases being that of the New York City Council.

In 1976, the New York City ban on pinball tables was overturned by a historic shot made by Roger Sharpe, one of the best players in the city. Before the City Council, the demonstration provided the tangible evidence that the game was indeed based on skill, not chance. Sharpe explained that if he pulled the plunger back to the right position, the ball would go in a certain lane and before the assembled council and reporters he made the shot perfectly.

Now it is Oakland’s turn and according to the SFGate, the public safety committee of the Oakland City Council will vote to overturn the 80-year-old ban, which has not been strictly enforced. The recommendation before the council (PDF) will allow councilman Noel Gallo to start work on a broader campaign to update the gambling laws. The vote will remove a club poised above arcade owners and bartenders who have pinball leagues hosted at their establishments and will hopefully allow the only current pinball company, Stern, to make more tables in the area such as they usually display at CES.

Image Source | The Everett Collection