By Russ Jensen
When I became re-interested in pinball in the early Seventies (I had almost forgotten about pins since I was a kid) I decided to check and see if there were possibly any books on the subject, other than the Bally booklet "Coin Operated Amusement" which I had already obtained. A search through the library card catalog, however, revealed that there apparently had never been any books written on that subject anytime from the inception of the game in the early 1930's up through the early 1970's.
A librarian then told me about the publication, "Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature", which listed magazine articles by subject, so I thought I would see if there had ever been any magazine articles on the subject of pingames. After searching through a lot of issues of that publication, which came out yearly I believe, I was able to come up with a list of just under a dozen articles on pinball.
I have decided to give descriptions of the best of these articles in case anyone is interested in finding and reading any of them. With two exceptions, they are all found in "popular" national magazines and copies of these "back issues" are probably available in big city libraries (either in hard copy or on microfilm) or in used book shops specializing in "back issue" magazines. Following the description of the magazine articles I plan to talk about the several pinball books which came out beginning in the late 1970's.
I have grouped the articles in three categories: "Pro-pinball" articles, "Anti-pinball" articles, and "Historical" articles. It is interesting to note as you read these articles that in most of the "pro" and "anti" articles virtually the same statistics are used; in one case in a "good light" and in the other in a "bad light". For example, a "pro-pinball" article might tell you that Americans spend so many dollars a year on the wholesome amusement of pinball games, while an "anti-pinball" article will say that the same amount of money is "wasted" each year "on the horrible pinball racket which fleeces poor kids of their lunch money." It just goes to show you that it's all in the writer's point of view.
I shall present the "pro" and "anti" pinball articles this time. In a future article I plan to describe the "historical" articles, and then give a brief run-down on the several pinball books which have been published, beginning in the mid 1970's.
THE "GOOD NEWS"
The earliest of the "pro-pinball" articles that I will describe was called "Nickel Monte Carlo" and appeared in the October 19, 1941 issue of the New York Times Magazine, written by Sidney M. Shalett.
Mr. Shalett started by saying: "You step into the little stationary shop - maybe it's the corner drug store, the restaurant, the saloon, the roadside inn, or the penny arcade. Instantly that glittering device - its name may be RED HOT, LANDSLIDE, MASCOT, THREE SCORE, or SPORTY - catches your eye. You walk over to it, gravely study the set-up for a moment, then drop in your nickel and fire away. The lights begin to flash, the sparks begins to fly. The balls and bumpers jingle and whir. You are in the throes of the great American pastime - pinball!"
The pinball industry was then described as a "depression boom industry" which helped small businesses during the early years of the Depression. The industry had grown into "big business" with, at that time, approximately 200 to 250 thousand pinball games in the U.S., some 15 to 20 thousand located in New York City. It was also said that pingames were a popular diversion at Military bases.
The author next posed the question - "what was more fascinating, the machines or the players?" He remarked that the player was "something to behold", describing the body movements and sounds made by a typical player during his bout with the machine. It was pointed out that most people play the game for enjoyment, although some games were used for gambling, even if illegal.
It was then said that the games themselves were very interesting, and they were described as having "1000 faces" and many diverse themes. The industry was said to normally "take itself seriously", although some of the games had comical names and themes. The industry was then said to depict players as "a bunch of grown-up kids with a yearning to play marbles", downplaying the gambling aspects of the games.
It was pointed out that although some New Yorkers play for money, many of the games were set up in Penny Arcades set for penny play, which would make gambling difficult. An upper middle class player was then quoted as to the reasons he played pins. The three reasons he gave were: first, he enjoyed maneuvering the ball; second, it relaxed him after a busy business day; and lastly, he enjoyed the flashing lights and sounds make by the machine.
A 1934 Billboard article, "The Psychology of Pinball" by Leo J. Kelly, was quoted regarding the history of pinball. It stated that "it was human nature to seek amusement", adding that "games had been played since time began"; pinball's early ancestors being the games of "tenpins" and "bagatelle", the latter game having its roots in ancient "soothsayers" rolling stones up small hills, basing their prognostications on where they stopped rolling.
The first pingames, it was said, began appearing around 1929, and within a few years these new little games began to "strike the public's fancy". The name "pinball" was said to have originated when a Louisville, KY newspaper referred to these new games as "pin and ball games", which was later shortened to "pinball". Several cities have claimed to be the "birthplace of pinball" , but exactly where the idea originated was really unknown, although the story of a Chicago janitor having constructed a "pin-like" game for his daughter was mentioned.
It was then said that the game's real popularity began around 1932, at about the same time that law enforcement began "cracking down" on slot machines in various parts of the country. Popularity of the games steadily increased throughout the Thirties, with the manufacturers adding lights, bells, and other "gadgets", many of the new ideas being quite ingenious. It was pointed out that 90 percent of the pinball industry was located in Chicago, because it was near the East, and close to the supply of lumber required for the cabinets.
The "innards" of a pingame were then described. They were said to resemble "something you might see in a Boris Karlof movie". A typical game it said contains 700 feet of wire, over 100 light bulbs, 100 or more relays (somewhat of an exaggeration!), over 200 contact points, fuses, a motor, a "tilt mechanism", a "clock", a transformer, and "'meters' that compute the score". It was then pointed out that the U.S. Military used pinball circuits in torpedo "power units".
The "hierarchy" of pingame production/distribution and operation was described. The manufacturers bought most of the parts used in games from outside vendors. It was pointed out that there were about a dozen large pinball manufacturers at that time, plus several smaller ones, and that most plants employed from 100 to 500 workers.
The "distributors" were mentioned, saying there were probably about four or five hundred of these outfits who bought the machines from the manufacturers and sold them to "operators". There were probably 8 to 10 thousand operators who put the games in the "locations" where they were played, splitting the "profits" with the location proprietors.
The final portion of the article dealt with the subject of pingame design. The author remarked that one might think that the designers would be somewhat "eccentric", but that most of them were actually "solidly trained designers and engineers". In the early years many of the designers were "free-lance", and the companies sometimes held "try outs" to try and find people with good ideas for new games, some of them remaining with the companies as full-time designers. One of the artists who did artwork for pingames said that he had prepared over 5000 art designs over a period of 10 years.
A mythical example was given of a designer reporting for work in the morning and looking at the newspaper for ideas for a design. Seeing an article on "Selective Service" gave him the idea to design a game called "Draftee". He then worked feverishly all day to get his design to his boss by quitting time. But, it was said, the job is usually not that easy, telling about one designer who had an idea for a new game, which the company liked, being given a secluded room to work in, and it taking seven months to complete his design.
As a final note, the story was told of a designer having an idea for a pingame based on the popular game of Mah Jong. But, he was told by his company that the game would be no good for a "worker's game" because the play would be so complicated that the men who normally played pingames would not be able to understand it.
The next "pro-pinball" article I will describe was titled "The Lure of Pinball", was written by Julius Segal, and appeared in the October 1957 issue of Harper's magazine. The article began with the statement: "The machines pay off in something mightier than cash - a chance to Beat the System, do a little harmless cheating, work off your aggressions, and make the world behave".
The author began by commenting that each year over 4 million dollars are spent by Americans on the game of pinball (with winning money only being the incentive in a very few cases) chiefly for the chance to win a free play, which is usually the player's goal. He then said that he would try to explain why playing pinball is so satisfying and such an addictive pastime to many people. He commented that a "psychological study" could be used to do that; but in preparation for the article only a few players were interviewed, the article being mainly based on the author's addiction to the game, which he often played in a Washington D.C. luncheonette.
First he reminded us not to confuse pins with slot machines, saying that pinball provides entertainment for a nickel, utilizing gaudily attractive boxes with complex internal mechanisms, providing the player a show of lights and sounds. Although the layouts of the playfields and backglasses differ between games, the object of the game was always the same: to attempt to control the balls to make them hit certain objects to obtain the highest possible score.
One player who was interviewed had said that to him playing pinball was somewhat like chasing women; if you always win it's really no fun, but neither is always losing. It's the balance between success and failure that makes it interesting. That idea was then compared to the "come close, try again appeal" which pinball manufacturers try to incorporate into their games. It was pointed out that a 75 percent "payoff" for pinball play was what the game designers usually strive for, with operator's adjusting replay payout levels to try and compensate for the skill of players in a particular location.
The technique of "gunching" (pushing the machine to influence the movement of the ball) was then described, and it was pointed out that proficiency at this is what separates the novice form the "pro". It was emphasized that this challenge to "play against the 'tilt'" can be very satisfying to the player when successfully performed.
Under the heading of "Spin and Touch" the author began by remarking that "plunger control" (using the "shooter gauge" found on most machines) only has a "gross" effect on the outcome of a game, adding that some players believe that twisting the plunger gives "English" to the ball, which is really not so.
Many players, it was then said, think that a pingame is "a machine he can do something about; an industrial challenge he can master", saying that the player thinks he can invest five cents to "pit his skill against the combined skill of American industry". The player can imagine the game manufacturer looking over his shoulder saying "I've spend thousands building this machine; you've spend a nickel and you know the rules; if you cheat the machine will quit on you."
The author then said he doubted that if the "tilt" was left off the machines the operators would loose money, but that the tilt represents part of the challenge of the game.
Most pinball players it was said say that playing off replays is much less satisfying than winning them. It was also pointed out that using scoring values in the "millions" was a gimmick used by the manufacturers, because a person feels good "winning a million anything" for a five cent investment.
The idea of players using the games to help vent their frustrations was next mentioned, saying that some players hit the machines, curse at them, etc.; the author speculating that pingames have possibly saved wives, bosses, etc., from physical abuse, adding that a nickel was certainly cheaper than the cost of psychoanalysis. The author then remarked that he often plays when feeling low, and that winning was certainly "positive therapy", adding that winning makes him feel "that life can be controlled after all".
The playfield of a pinball was then likened to the player's own "field of experience". Before starting he knows the meaning of the obstacles to the attainment of his goal, and finds out what its like to come close and then fail. It was said that the player's response to the game could be representative of his "personality structure". Different players react differently when their goal seems unattainable; some try harder, others just give up.
The wide variety of places where pinball is played, and the types of people who play, was then discussed. Pinball is played in many foreign countries, such as England, Germany, Africa, and Japan. A wide variety of people play the game, coming from all socio-economic groups. There is no evidence that more men play than women, the author saying he had observed "women playing like veterans, with all the grunts and muscular responsiveness of steady devotees." He went on to tell of an old history professor he knew who played regularly, as well as people from the State Department.
The article ended with a short discussion of the "legal battles" that have occurred over "what is actually 'won' in pinball". Most court rulings, it was pointed out, have said that winning in pinball was a combination of luck and skill, the problem being deciding "if a 'replay' is 'a thing of value'".
The author stated that he personally believes that "psychologically" it is a "thing of value", the winner achieving the opportunity of bringing his dreams closer to reality, at the same time showing the industry that he can "beat it" and make the machine "do his bidding". Not only that, he went on, he has amassed a "fortune in points", expressed irritation with reality, and made the world behave, all for a nickel!
The next "pro pinball" article I'm going to mention was titled "After Hours" and appeared in the January 1963 issue of Harper's Magazine. The author, Bernard Asbell, was credited as being the current president of "The Society of Magazine Writers" as well as a professor at the University of Bridgeport. Even though the article appeared in 1963, it appears that the Gottlieb plant tour he tells about occurred several years earlier.
Mr. Asbell began by saying "In pianos the name is Steinway, and in pinball games the name is Gottlieb, the aristocrat of instruments preferred by all discriminating players". A "democratic aristocrat" he called these games because you could find them almost anywhere, the Gottlieb inscription appearing on every game being "Amusement Pinballs - as American as Baseball and Hot Dogs".
The author then began to tell of a visit he once made to the Gottlieb plant. When he asked to see "Mr. Gottlieb" he was asked "which one?". When he replied "D. Gottlieb", Alvin, David Gottlieb's son, was brought out to greet him. Alvin told him that his dad spent 90 percent of his time working with the hospital named for him to which he had contributed 750 thousand dollars.
Alvin began the tour by showing him the company's first pingame, BAFFLE BALL from 1932, saying it was a natural for the Depression, giving much amusement for a penny. Nobody at that time was expecting pins to last. He then told how his father started the business building coin-op "grip testers", and that in 1929 "someone in Ohio put a coin slot on an old 'bagatelle' game and it became a hit". David Gottlieb soon started building pingames himself.
The shop area was next toured where punch presses were operating and playfields were being assembled and tested. Alvin remarked that they had once heard someone say that "computers were only high-class pinball machines". He then told the story of Gottlieb designer Harry Mabs working repairing pinballs in a USO club during World War II. One of the hostesses, upon seeing the inside of a game he was working on, remarked "this thing must have been invented by a maniac". Mabs said that was "his proudest moment".
The author then told of being introduced to Gottlieb game designer Wayne Neyens who, he remarked, dispelled his idea that the insides of all pinballs were virtually the same. Wayne explained how he was constantly coming up with new ideas in play concepts which require re-design of the internal circuits.
Wayne then said that games require, action, lights, bells, and knockers; all designed to let the player know he's making progress toward his goal. Games also need a "theme", and as an example he told of their 1940 game PARADISE which had "light animation" showing a peacock's feathers being spread out as the score increased. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: I remember playing that game at the old Long Beach Pike when I was a kid)
Prototypes of a new game, Alvin said, were set up in the middle of the plant for a "hierarchy" of people to try out. This included Dave, Alvin, and Nathan Gottlieb, the game's designer, and four engineers. If they agreed the game was "no good" Alvin said it would "go to the boiler room." He then told of a game they put out in the mid 1930's, PLUS AND MINUS, which was very unpopular with players because a ball could decrease, as well as increase, the score. The idea of "score inflation" was then mentioned, Alvin saying that in 1932 scores were in the "hundreds", but over the years were increased to 10,000's and finally to "millions" to make the player feel he was really earning something.
Alvin then said that before flippers were invented there were essentially "3 kinds of pinball players"; the "pusher" who coaxed the ball by nudging the game, the "banger" who slapped the side of the machine to "shock" the ball, and the "body weaver" who tried to govern the ball by "pure psychology".
In 1947, he said, their designer Harry Mabs came to the conclusion that all players yearned to prolong the life of each ball. He first experimented with a ball activated "kicker" near the bottom of the playfield, but finally ended up creating the player controlled "flipper" which, Alvin said, "ushered in a new day in pinball culture".
Alvin then told of traveling once to Venice and seeing a pingame being transported in a gondola. When he asked the Italian where he could find pinballs he did not understand. But when he made flipper motions the man said "Oh yes, fleepers", and took him to a cafe which had 6 Gottlieb games.
The foreign market for pins was then discussed. Alvin remarked that even though their games were built to last, the "fickle American players" soon tire of new games and the operators had to move them from one location to another. After games are no longer profitable on location many are sent to foreign countries.
Alvin next said that the invention of flippers helped with some of the legal problems the pinball industry had been having. After they were added, some courts ruled that since the use of flippers required skill on the part of the player they could be used to identify the games which were for "amusement", as opposed to those used for gambling.
At that point the author asked Alvin why the stigma of gambling was still sometimes attached to games which only gave "free games", and why pinballs had been outlawed in cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Chicago? Alvin then took him in to see his father so that he might try to answer.
Dave Gottlieb began by remarking that games have been played since Roman Times, and that in current times pinballs are used to keep servicemen overseas from getting homesick, and also in Veterans Hospitals as therapy in restoring manual dexterity.
Mr. Asbell then asked Mr. Gottlieb if he felt uncomfortable that pingames were sometimes said to be associated with "racketeers"? Dave replied that he didn't worry about that himself, and added that "undesirable elements" were attracted to the industry after pingames were introduced that looked like "wholesome Gottliebs" but are really for gambling. He said those machines have a "meter" to indicate how many replays have been awarded and a "knock-off button" to cancel them out after payoff. He then added that racketeers have been interested in that type of game, but that his distributors are, for the most part, "gentleman".
The visit ended with Dave telling about a new law, which he favored, which "outlawed 'replay games' which were suited to gambling", saying that he hoped the law would restore "true pinball" to its rightful place in the entertainment world, and that it would soon become "as legal as baseball and hot dogs".
As a final note he commented that people who want to gamble don't need his games to do it. He said that the Government provides everyone with millions of "gambling devices" - pennies - each with a "head" and a "tail".
The final "pro" article I am going to present was titled "Mother Was a Pinball Machine", written by Tom Buckley, in the August 1966 issue of Esquire. This article opens describing a "Sportland", a pinball arcade in New Jersey. The patrons are described as being from all walks of life. The pingames there are then named, including such great pins as KINGS AND QUEENS, SWEETHEARTS, and NORTH STAR, among others of the period, it being said that each regular player usually has his personal "favorite".
A passage from the book "Understanding Media" by Marshall McLuban was then quoted which stated: "The games of a people reveal a great deal about them . . . a sort of artificial paradise . . in which we interpret and complete the meaning of our daily lives. In games we devise means of nonspecialized participation in the large drama of our time . . . A game is a machine that can get into action only if the players consent to become puppets for a time."
Talking of the many misapprehensions about pinball, the owner of the Sportland was said to be trying to prove that a pinball is not a gambling device. It was then pointed out that pinball was entirely banned in such places as New York City and Chicago, and also in the states of Alabama and North Carolina, because of "political pressure, whispers of underworld influence, and dubious outdated scientific evidence".
Two of the players at the Sportland were then described, including their actions during playing, and their reactions to events occurring during the game. It was said that most players play pinball because they can sometimes "beat the machine". If the games in an arcade are beaten too often, it was pointed out, the free game level is increased, but not too much, because if players can never beat the machine they will stop playing it.
Typical playfield actions were described, including detailed descriptions of the "flipper techniques" used by a skilled player. The sounds made by a game were also described, including the "CRICK" of the knocker when a free game is awarded.
Describing the banning of pins in New York City in the early Forties, it was called a "black day" when police seized 11,000 machines. Mayor LaGuardia getting that ban, and subsequently breaking up pingames, was said to have been a "triumph" for him, since he had always maintained that they were used for gambling (which was sometimes the case). He also had said that school kids were "wasting money" on the games, but the author pointed out that spending it that way was far less harmful than using it to buy cigarettes or pornographic materials. It was pointed out that the mayor's belief that pingames were controlled by the underworld was never proven.
It was then said that LaGuardia used an earlier university study which stated that there was no skill involved in playing pinball. After the one month study the professor concluded that there was only a 10 percent difference between players who did not try to influece the ball at all, and those using "nudging", etc. The author remarked that "a 10 percent difference would be regarded as an overwhelming margin of superiority in any game", and then added that the introduction of the flipper "made the game, beyond question, a test of skill".
The owner of the Sportland stated flatly that there was no gambling in his establishment - only pure amusement! He told of a lawbook writer who played to relax. He also said that if the kids weren't playing at his place they would probably be shooting dice in the streets.
The history of the game was mentioned next. Pinball was said to have been developed from the 19th Century English tavern game Bagatelle. The next step in the evolution was a children's version of that game, called Russian Bagatelle", which had holes, pins, arches, and bells on its playfield. Pingames were an outgrowth of that game.
Bally's advertising manager Herb Jones (referred to as "the unofficial keeper of the tradition of the industry") was said to have told the story of an advertising solicitor for Billboard Magazine seeing a Swedish janitor playing with his own home made bagatelle game and borrowing it to show to a small carnival game manufacturer who designed a coin-op version of the game. Then in 1931, he said, the game called BALLYHOO (named for a satire magazine of the time) was designed, and the Bally Manufacturing Co. (named after that game) started in business.
The simple "pin and ball" format of this game (which sold for $16.50) was described, and Herb Jones was quoted as saying that many amassed small fortunes operating that game, even at a penny a play.
The history continued, saying that in 1933 battery power was introduced in pins, followed shortly by "AC" power, automatic score totalizing, "free games", and the "tilt". After World War II came flippers, "thumper bumpers" and "multi-player" games. Herb Jones was quoted as saying that "pinball is a form of a computer with elementary memory" using the "bonus build-up" features of pingames as an example of "memory".
The author next told of visiting the Bally plant after corresponding with Mr. Jones. It was said that Bally produced approximately one-fourth of the 50,000 or so pins produced annually, 60 percent of this being sold to foreign countries (except for the "Soviet Bloc"). France and Germany were the biggest foreign buyers, but many used machines were sold to Africa and Asia. It was then said that some of the playfield instructions were translated into German, but that in France (where pins are called "Les Flippers") everything is left in English because the distributors there say that if the players thought they were French made nobody would play them!
The author then told of meeting Bally designer Ted Zale. When he went to Ted's office he was playing a prototype ("whitewood" as the designers call them) of a game he was working on, taking notes as he was doing so. Mr. Zale showed some of the features he had invented, such as the "free-ball gate" and "mushroom bumper", saying he often gets ideas in the middle of the night and has a drawing board by his bed.
It was mentioned that Herb Jones once had said that "a designer is something like a composer". Ted Zale had been designing for about 15 years and had started at Bally in 1962 when they again began producing amusement pinballs. Ted started using asymmetrical playfields in his designs at that time.
Zale said his designs always allow the player more than one way to get to a target. The author told of playing the "whitewood", when Mr. Zale was called away, and being able to reach in and grab the ball whenever he wanted. He then remarked "The first time I did it, picking up the ball before it droped into the runout slot, I had the uncanny sensation that my hand had somehow passed through the glass. The second time was easier, but within a few minutes, deeply affected by my conduct, I left the office."
Bally's Chief Engineer, Joe Lally, was then visited. He was said to be the person who decides if a game really has "play appeal". He said he really had no "guidelines" for doing that, just "a feeling of what will go or not go."
When asked to define "play appeal" he replied that one factor was "last ball suspense". He then told of a "plateau system" which meant "the attaining of awards that are larger and more difficult to obtain than preceding ones". He then mentioned "the cumulative effect" which meant, from the start of a game building up what you're going to have "in the bank" if you accomplish a difficult task confronting you later on.
Joe then made the comment that with pingames they are "selling playing time", and that 3 minutes per game was about right. Finally he remarked that he thought giving one replay for every two games paid for would result in a better return for the operator, but that most operators thought that was too high.
The author then told of seeing the insides of a pingame and noting that the technology was not as complicated as he had imagined, remarking that the "tilt" mechanism seemed almost "primitive". He then told Lally of some of his own ideas of using modern technology, but Joe countered with a story of how Bally had once tried using a photoelectric cell in a pingame. The players didn't seem to like it because they didn't understand it and could not see how it worked. Also, he added, the game servicemen are afraid of electronics.
Herb Jones was again quoted on the subject of pinball art and names. The artwork should be uncluttered; all that is needed is enough 'flash' to attract attention to the game. Our names, he said, often start with the letter 'B'. We also name games after "popular phenomena", for example: DISCO, HOOTNANNY, MOONSHOT, and MAD WORLD (after the movie).
Herb was also said to have once commented "considered simply as a pastime, pinball is vastly less expensive and less trying to the bodily and cerebral resources of the human organism than other forms of participant pastime". Bill Lally was then said to have said "the player knows that the machine isn't going to get mad at him even if he wins". He said that unlike beating your best friend at cards, "the machine is always happy, whether you beat it or not".
Finally, the author talked about his own experiences playing pinball. He said that he found after playing for awhile the game seemed to "exert a power over him", it becoming somewhat "addicting". He ended by explaining his feeling on one particular night when he said to himself "I'm not going to play the machine, the machine is going to play me".
He told about that game like this: "I felt the weight of the ball in my fingers, the pulse of the alternating 50 volts in my heart. I saw the tilt pendulum swinging in its circle of wire, and I made sure that the two never touched. The scores mounted and the blackness of the '8-ball' in the center of the backglass reached out and engulfed me. As though from far away, I heard the crack of the free-game, a sound like the hammer of a revolver snapping down on an empty chamber."
THE "BAD NEWS"
You have now heard from three authors who have presented pingames as good wholesome entertainment, although they did not hide the fact that some of these machines were used for gambling, but implied that use was in the minority. The following three articles, as you will see, take an entirely opposite view, implying that most pins are immoral gambling devices heavily used to finance "organized crime".
The first of the "anti-pinball" articles I'm going to describe appeared in the May 13, 1939 issue of Saturday Evening Post, was titled "Ten Billion Nickels", and was written by Samuel Lubell. This article dealt not only with pinballs, but other "gambling devices", including slot machines, punchboards, and "jar deals". Therefore, I will describe the general premises of the article as they apply to all these devices, and the details of the section devoted particularly to pingames.
The article begins by telling the story of a man asking to "sit in" at a poker game. When a friend tells him the game is "crooked", the man was said to have replied "I know, but it's the only game in town". The author then says that slots, punchboards, pinballs, and jar deals may not be "crooked", but maintains that they "give the 'sucker' very little chance of winning". Nevertheless, he goes on, 10 million Americans "sit in" on these games each year.
It is then said that this "Depression industry" has grown to great proportions, currently taking in 10 to 15 billion nickels each year, which is compared to various other enterprises such as the annual sales of America's shoe stores.
The industry was said to be organized along "business lines", and to be celebrating its "50th Anniversary". It uses mass production and mass selling and utilizes huge factories containing millions of dollars worth of machinery. This industry is further described as having 5 "trade journals", many "inventors", repair men, and salesmen, and annual conventions which are held just as though the business were entirely legal, even though some or all of it is illegal in every state except Nevada.
The article went on to say that the industry is the target of many crusaders and hostile laws, and its products are often seized. The industry is set up to satisfy the public's "appetite for gambling", and many times the designers have to design around "loopholes" in the law. It was also stated that bribes are often used to keep the games operating.
The industry was said to be subject to all the risks of other businesses, plus the additional risks concerned with "legal problems". The industry's capital investment was over 20 million dollars, with over a million persons deriving all or part of their income from it; from the suppliers of raw materials to the location owners who receive part of the profits from the games. One out of every three Americans were said to gamble.
Advanced technology was said to be used in the games, and it was pointed out that this same technology was used by the Military to control guns.
It was next remarked that law enforcement had been fighting the industry for 50 years. Herbert Mills of Mills Novelty was said to have started in 1889 with one machine and to have died in 1929 a millionaire. At the time the article was written Mills had three factories, employing 1500 people, and was worth 10 million dollars.
The games, which the author referred to as "nickel separators", were of four basic types: "one-armed bandits", pinball or "marble games", punchboards, and "jar deals", the slot machine concerning the author the most. It was said that the slot machine was invented by Charles Fey about 40 years earlier. Its basic features, and "odds against winning", were then described in detail. Herbert Mills was credited as being the person who mostly perfected the slot machine to what it was at that time.
The section on pingames began by saying that there were about five times as many pins on location as slots. The pingame was described as "a 20th Century version of the old Bagatelle boards". In its simplest form, the player shot marbles into holes guarded by pins.
The games were introduced in 1932, and "swept the country", the manufacturers not being able to produce them fast enough. It was said that some 800 manufacturers had produced pins since their beginning. The public passion for new games resulted in the companies sometimes conducting weekly auditions for "inventors".
Two modern trends in pins were then described. The first was more elaborate and tricky game features - pins had given way to electric bumpers; and lights, bells, etc. were added. The other trend was that pingames were becoming more like slots -payouts and jackpots were added, and the number of balls was reduced from 5 or 10 to 1 on many games. A pingame was then described (probably Mills "1-2-3") in which hitting bumpers on the playfield advanced slot machine type reels behind the backglass.
Court decisions were mentioned, many of which upheld marble games as "games of skill". This resulted in many localities licensing these machines as "skill games" even where they were actually used for gambling. The "skill element" was also said to have been used by manufacturers of gambling devices by adding "legitimizing attachments" in which a player has to shoot a marble into a hole in order to collect a "payoff" he had won.
The use of reconditioned pingames and slots, referred to by the industry as "klunks" was then mentioned. Some distributors handled them in their "backrooms" and had people who overhauled these used machines for resale. One of the largest dealers in this type of merchandise was Joe Calcutt in North Carolina who had been selling games for over 20 years, sold to customers all over the U.S. and in foreign countries, and even used an airplane to deliver "rush orders".
The importance of the "operator" in the system was described, referring to him as "the key to the system of distribution of the machines". He is the person who buys games from the distributor and puts them "on location". He was said to be the one who paid bribes when necessary to keep games from being confiscated, and also having the hazard of possible 'hijacking' of his machines by other competing operators.
It was then pointed out that the operator had to shift games between locations when patrons tired of them. Many operators have other business besides, it was said, and it was estimated that there were 25 to 30 thousand of them operating at the time. Many operators also operate other "legitimate" coin machines, such as vending machines and jukeboxes, and can temporarily "remove" the questionable machines when a problem arises with the law.
In was then said that the manufacturers of gambling machines, such as Mills, also produced "legitimate" venders, etc.; and even companies that produced only that type of machine shared conventions with the makers of the illegitimate ones. Advancements in the technology used in the gambling machines was said to also help the venders.
The article ended by saying that the people in the industry do not regard themselves as "villains", maintaining that their business is just as honorable as any other business. For instance they say it's no more harmful than liquor. They maintain that people spend money on many other "unessential" things, that they play their games for "amusement", and therefore the profit they make is legitimate. Finally they say that no one forces people to play the machines, and as long as people want them they will keep on making them.
The second "anti" article I will describe was titled "Pin Money Plungers", was written by Perry Githens, and appeared in the June 1942 issue of Reader's Digest. The article was condensed from the Baltimore Sunday Sun, and above the title was the phrase "Pinball is a sucker's game and a gangster's racket", which well described the theme of the article as you will see. It is interesting to compare the contents of this "anti" piece with the "pro" article, Nickel Monte Carlo, which I described at the start of this article, and which was written only some 8 months earlier.
The article begins by saying that pingames, with their flashing lights and clanging bells, have become "familiar furniture" in various locations. Some players play these games only once in awhile, while others have become "addicted" to them.
Billboard Magazine was quoted as saying that at that time there were some 250 thousand pins in operation in the country, taking in an average of $100 a day, with the "investment" in games being around 25 million dollars. The estimated 11,000 pins in New York City were said to gross 20 million per year, and for the whole country probably 400 million. Half of that money went to the location owners, with the other half to the operators who were said to control from 40 to 100 games each.
The author then said that it would be alright if all this money went only for amusement, but said much of it goes to operators with "underworld ties". Besides, he went on, the machines are widely used as "gambling devices". Even though most games have "FOR AMUSEMENT ONLY" signs on them, many times the location owner pays off winners in cash or merchandise anyway "under the table".
It was then said that although this could be considered as "petty gambling", that it can have a bad influence on children, referring to it as "the child's primer of gambling". Poor kids spend their lunch money on the games, many of which were located in candy stores near schools. When New York City outlawed pinballs, 135 of these establishments had to close due to the loss of the income from the machines.
"Adjusting" the machines to change the chances of winning was next discussed. The score for which payouts were made could be adjusted, and some operators would also raise the height of the rear legs to cause the ball to roll faster. These "adjustments" were then compared to similar techniques used with slot machines. When a machine was first put on location it was set up to make it easier to "beat". After players started playing the machine regularly it would be "tightened up" to make winning more difficult.
It was then said that players believe that using "body English" on pins helped them win, but that this was really not true. A study by New York University professor Clarence Clark was then cited in which two groups of players, "novices" using no ball control techniques, and "experts" using "body English", etc., played pingames thousands of times. This study concluded that the "experts" did only 10 percent better than the "novices".
The "crackdowns" on pingames by various communities was then discussed, it being said that the cities of New York, Cleveland, and Philadelphia, and the states of Vermont and New Jersey, had already been successful. It was pointed out that each time, high-priced legal talent was used by the machine operators to fight for the games.
It was then told how in Teneck New Jersey the PTA denounced pingames because they said the poor kids were spending their lunch money on them. Licensing the games was first considered, but upon investigation it was found that this was not working in other places. It was then decided to try to outlaw the games, and a town ordinance was passed which was challenged all the way through the State Supreme Court, which upheld it, saying pingames were "gambling devices". After that pingames were seized in other New Jersey towns.
It was next stated that the large profits from pinball operation help support "unsavory characters". A New York City Police Commission investigation had determined that one-third of the people connected with pingame operation had been arrested more than once, a smaller number being convicted, some of major crimes.
The Commission's report also stated that "pinball has a demoralizing influence on minors". It was said that even though most games have signs which read "NO PLAYERS UNDER 16", kids are encouraged to play them. For example, 41 percent of the games in Brooklyn, and 48 percent of those in Manhattan, were within one block of a school. The police often maintained that kids who hang out around pingames are often led into delinquency and crime.
High license fees were said to not stop the games as they tend to "give an aura of official sanction" to them. Prosecution under "gambling laws" was also ineffective as most games are "disguised" as "amusement devices". The only cure was said to be "a direct ban defining the machines as 'gambling devices'".
The outlawing of pingames in New York City was then described. In that case the court ruled that pinballs were "gambling devices" even thought they only gave "free games". The police then began confiscating the machines and a "legal battle" with the game operators began. Former New York District Attorney Thomas Dewey was asked to help prosecute the case for the city, and was said to have replied "I've spent 11 years fighting gangsters and their front men; why stop now!"
The state of South Carolina was also said to have banned pingames. The wartime ban on their manufacture was also cited, but the author commented "but that doesn't stop those in use".
The article ended by saying that other cities should follow New York's example by "gunning for the games to remove a bad influence on children, dry up one source of underworld revenue, and retrieve this valuable scrap."
The final "anti pinball" article I will describe could probably be considered to be the "most negative" of the lot. It was titled "The Pinball Business Isn't Child's Play", was written by George Weinstein, and published in the October 1957 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. It is interesting to compare this article with the one just described. If you do I'm sure you'll notice a definite similarity in them, even though they were written some 15 years apart. Old ideas and attitudes die hard!
The preface to the article set the theme by saying "Under the guise of 'Amusement Only', this vicious racket bleeds millions of dollars each year from youngsters. Act now to keep your child from being victimized!"
The article then began with the strong statement "Your community may be helping perpetuate one of the most vicious of all rackets - one that spreads gambling and corruption to practically every street corner, and has as its potential target every child." The pinball machine was then said to be regarded by many as harmless, but the National Association of Citizen's Crime Commissions calls them "a slot machine in disguise".
Even though most of the games were licensed "For Amusement Only", kids were said to gamble on them, spending their lunch money and carfare, and are sometimes driven to crime to get the money to play.
Problems in various cities were then described. In Baltimore there were games near every school and the police said that kids stole money to play. In Newark, New Jersey four boys, two who were only 12 years old, and all from good homes, had burglarized houses to get pinball money. In St. Louis school principles reported that kids loiter and gamble on pingames. Similar stories in other cities were also told.
Figures reported by the Citizen's Crime Commission in Massachusetts had said that in one small town pinballs took in over one million dollars a year. In Kansas City they were said to take in twice that much. In Cincinnati 1400 games took in 7 million. Figures were also reported for Baltimore, Chicago, and Erie Pennsylvania.
The author next asked the question "If pinballs are such a destructive influence, how do they continue to flourish?" He answered his own question by saying that the best answer was "by a combination of naivete, skullduggery, and legal mumbo-jumbo, abetted by civil indifference". The game manufacturers, who produced some 100,000 machines each year, were said to "piously insist that they are skill games used for amusement only."
The appearance and characteristics of pingames were then described. They were said to be "elaborately decorated boxes with a field set up to simulate a game, sport, etc." The player inserts a coin and receives some balls (usually 5) which he shoots trying to hit "knobs, bumpers, and other electrified objects", the hitting of which causes a score to be registered in a lighted backbox, a certain score being required to win, usually "free games".
"Bingo pinballs" were then described, saying they were somewhat different than other pingames. It these games balls were said to be shot "into 5 holes each labeled with a letter spelling out the word 'BINGO'". The author had obviously never seen one of these games, as there has never been one made with the word "bingo" anywhere on it.
In these games the awards were supposed to be "free games", but those were usually "cashed in". Depositing extra coins at the start of a game to increase the "odds" was mentioned, the game "flashing to encourage more coins". Odds as high as 300 to 1 were possible, but it was said that wins of that amount seldom occurred.
The games were then referred to as "electronic marvels" with "meters" being used to keep track of coins played and paid out. The payouts were made by the location owner, who was later reimbursed by the operator, who could be a "syndicate member". The location was said to normally get 40 to 50 percent of the "take" from the machines, which often was as high as $100 to $500 per week.
Violence involved with games was then discussed, mentioning a "war" taking place in two Illinois counties involving game locations. The large amount of money made by games was described, it being said that in a good location in Boston some take in as much as $1000 a week. A professional gambler also told a Senate investigating committee that a pinball in a "good location" could take in as much as $20 an hour. It was then stated that pingames often paid the rent for the location owner who many times increases the score required to win so he can make bigger profits.
Players were then said to think that winning requires skill, but even an "honest" game was 90 percent luck. It was said that manufacturers constantly come up with new games and features to keep the players interested, but often they have to be changed to get around local laws. If court action is taken against games, lawyers argue the cases while the games in question are still on location making money. Some judges rule that winning "replays" does not constitute gambling; others say that it does.
Some city police were said to have "pinball squads" who watch for kids playing the games, but that often there is not enough manpower. Many times officials, such as mayors, police chiefs, and District Attorneys, were bribed in order to keep games operating, a California crime commission estimating that over 400 million dollars in bribes are paid each year for gambling protection and graft.
Some cities had outlawed pingames. In New York City 11,000 pins were ruled to be "a menace to public health, safety, and the general welfare of the people". Some kids were said to be "driven to theft because of their 'addiction' to the games".
The town of Fitchburg, Massachusetts was next given as an example of what citizens can do "to rid their community of this racket". A year before, pinballs were going strong in the town and the police couldn't stop them. Parents and others then got together, and aided by the local press, started telling the mayor what pins were doing to their kids and to the town. When they hinted to the mayor that inaction by him could result in him not being re-elected, the mayor finally ordered the games "shut down".
Another story was told about Cincinnati where a councilwoman had began fighting against pinballs in 1954 when she introduced a ban ordinance. After a long legal battle, during which opponents spent some $100,000 fighting the ban, the ordinance was finally defeated.
Then in 1957, with the help of the PTA, the local Council of Churches, and other organizations, she tried again; this time winning a major, but not complete, victory. The ordinance which she got passed reduced the "take" from the games about 75 percent. She was quoted as saying that she won't be satisfied "until every pinball machine is kicked out of Cincinnati".
The article concluded by asking, and attempting to answer, the question "How can you do it?", meaning, of course, ridding your community of those "dreadful pinball machines". First, the author said, you must get the PTA's, etc., together and send a delegation to protest to the Mayor, Chief of Police, etc., about the placing of pingames where kids can play them. You should get women's clubs, service clubs, etc., to help, and also invoke the aid of the local press.
It was then said that if you are successful in getting a "temporary shut-down" of the games "don't relay, they'll be back". You should press for an ordinance which "bans, as a nuisance or a menace, pinball machines and other so-called 'games of amusement' that fleece kids".
It was next pointed out that if your community doesn't have any of the games at present you should be vigilant as operators are always looking for new locations; so put through an ordinance "in advance".
Finally, the reader was warned to beware of the argument that these games are harmless. The St. Louis Crime Commission was quoted as saying: "Pinball feeds on vast sums siphoned from the worn pockets of those least able to afford the sucker's game of rigged odds. If allowed to get out of hand, it can wreck the civic enterprise and economic well-being of any village, town, or city."
As a parting remark, the author commented "Remember, the first victims of this meanest of rackets are usually the children of the community. Can you afford to run this risk with your children?"
Well, there you have it, a look at the "pro" and "anti" sentiments of various authors, over two decades, regarding the pinball machine. As I'm sure you've noticed, the "pro's" admitted that pingames were sometimes used for gambling, but the "anti's" were very adamant that pins were strictly evil with no redeeming features. But isn't that the way all "anti crusaders" are when it comes to anything they are trying to ban?
In a future article (I have to report on two shows first) I will describe four more articles which talk about pinball with more of a factual or historical perspective with no built-in bias. At that time I will also briefly describe the several pinball related books which began appearing in the mid 1970's.
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