Speed Reads

weird laws

80-year ban on pinball machines on its way out in Oakland

More than 80 years after it was banned, pinball will soon be legally available to the good people of Oakland, California, once more.

Pinball machines were viewed as gambling devices in the 1930s, and were outlawed across the country. At the time, players would put a nickel in to pay and received cash payouts from proprietors. And the machines didn't have flippers. "It had the illusion of skill but was mostly a game of chance, sort of like the coin toss at the county fair," Michael Schiess, director of the Pacific Pinball Museum in nearby Alameda, told The San Francisco Chronicle. "All you had to do was pull the plunger back and see what happened next."

Despite the ban, people continued to play, and after flippers were introduced in the 1940s, pinball machines became even more popular. Over time, most cities forgot about the bans, with some exceptions — in 2010, citing an old law, the town of Beacon, New York, shut down an arcade and pinball museum. Oakland is revisiting its ban as it looks to combat a modern gambling issue: internet sweepstakes cafes — establishments where customers play games online and win cash.

Councilman Noel Gallo, for one, is more than happy to make pinball legal in exchange for getting rid of those places. "What you see are poor people lined up on payday with their checks," Gallo told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We're not going to tolerate casinos in Oakland. But pinball — pinball, I have no problem with."