Was Pinball Really Illegal?
Between the 1940s and the 1970s pinball used to be illegal in parts of the United States. It was thought of as a gambling “game of chance” and was caught up in the post-prohibition push-back against gambling.
Early pinball machines were much more difficult and seemingly random than newer games. They didn’t have bumpers and some even rewarded players coins for winning. Due to the low-skill involved and the rewarding of “free games” and coins pinball became seen as a gambling game in some regions starting with Los Angeles in 1939 and NYC in 1940.
When Pinball was Illegal.
FACT: Pinball wasn’t fully legalized until the mid-2000’s. Before October 2004, it was illegal for people under 18 years old to play pinball in Nashville.
It wasn’t until the 1970’s that pinball became acceptable again as companies like Gottlieb, Bally’s, and Williams proceeded to develop innovations for their games, like double flippers, free balls, and electronic games. These innovations allowed pinball to pass as a game of skill, rather than a game of chance, and many localities regarded “free balls” differently from “free games” and thus allowed pinball machines that had this feature to be used at public locations.
Pinball: From Illegal Gambling Game to American Obsession
To be fair to the late prohibition area reformers, the old pinball machines are legitimately harder and less skill-based than their later cousins. People used them for gambling.
Today, for the first time since the 1930’s, pinball is set to become a gambling game again, as are other skill-based games like video and VR games. See the video below for new up-and-coming hybrids that pair gaming and gambling.
A Look at Skill-Based Video Gambling Games Coming to U.S. Casinos From Gamblit Gaming.
TIP: The above is one of the reasons why it is easier to find pre-1940’s pinball and post-1970’s pinball machines than it is to find ones from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s (which you’ll notice if you start window shopping for pinball machines).