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Oakland to Legalize Pinball

June 22, 2014


Way back in 2010, I learned there are still laws on the books in Oakland pertaining to pinball.  The laws in question are:


It is unlawful for any person to keep or use in any public place any pinball machine equipped with any device which cancels and records the cancellation of free games won without the actual playing of said free games by the player.


It is unlawful for any person to keep or use in any public place any pinball machine game which permits the insertion of more than one coin per game.

These laws deal with pinball at a time when it was still a gambling game.  Pinball made so much money in that format that even the mob got involved.  Today, the laws are basically ignored: they’re antiquated and everyone knows it.  A few times I thought it might be fun to mount a campaign to “legalize” pinball in Oakland and get these old laws struck from the books.  The reality is they’ve never hindered the growth of modern pinball in Oakland.  And anyway, it’s kind of cool to be an “outlaw” playing pinball, right?

(A) was related to a thing called a knockdown switch.  If you earned some credits on a pinball machine, you told the bartender or soda jerk and he paid you out in anything from cash to cigarettes to prizes, after which he’d hit the “knockdown switch” to clear your credits so the next player could play.  Modern pinballs still retain the credit count, even after a reset, which might be a holdover from these days.

(B) seems particularly targeted at a special kind of pin game known as Bingo that was popular from around the 1950s through the 1970s.  Flippers were added to Pinball games in 1947, but a lot of people still liked to gamble, and Bally, in particular, knew it.  So while they made “games of skill” with flippers, which were “For Amusement Only”, they also made Bingos, which were for gambling.  Bingos became very popular, and like slot machines, they allowed players to insert many coins (over 100 was not uncommon) to better your odds or returns.

Musician Lonnie Irving made a great song about Bingos.

Well, it now appears the City of Oakland is going to finally, officially, get rid of these laws:

But note: I have it on fairly reliable word that some Bingos still operate around the Bay Area.  Could the striking of such laws usher in some of the Chinese Bingos?  Not likely, but who knows.

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