THE YEAR THAT COULD HAVE ENDED PINBALL
by Russ Jensen
The pinball machine has been attacked a multitude of times in its sixty year lifetime but has still survived. These attacks were generally based on the use (either real or imagined) of the pingame as a "gambling device" and were carried out using court actions and city, county, state, and federal legislation.
These attacks resulted in pingames eventually being banned in many jurisdictions, most notably in the nation's three largest cities (New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles). The bans in these cities only having been overturned in the courts in the 1970's.
Paralleling these legal harassments have been numerous attacks by the "crusading press" and national magazines. Probably the three strongest 'anti-pinball' articles to appear in major magazines over the years were: "Ten Billion Nickels", Saturday Evening Post, 1939; "Pin Money Plungers", Reader's Digest, 1941; and "The Pinball Business Isn't Child's Play", Better Homes and Gardens", 1957.
The attacks on pingames began in the 1930's and continued into the Forties and even into the Fifties. However, their frequency decreased with the years as did the actual use of pingames for gambling. By the mid 1960's you would have thought that the pressure would have been off. But was it? In the Spring of 1967 something occurred in the Illinois state legislature which, had it completely succeeded, could have resulted in the almost total annihilation of the pinball, and for that matter, the slot machine industry.
An editorial in the April 5, 1967 issue of CASH BOX magazine, titled "Illinois Alert", told of a bill introduced in the Illinois Senate, SB376, which would remove an existing exemption of pingames from the definition of gambling devices in the 1961 Illinois Criminal Code. This proposed bill had just been passed UNANIMOUSLY by the State Senate Legislative Committee.
The CASH BOX editorial made a strong plea for the operators and industry people in the state of Illinois to ban together to help defeat this legislation and urged Illinois coinmen to attend a special meeting of the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association (ICMOA) on April 22 and 23 in the state capitol. Action was considered urgent since the Illinois State House Legislative Committee had scheduled a hearing on this legislation for May 10th.
The proposed amendment to the Criminal Code replaced the section that excluded pingames from the definition of gambling devices with a new section which would explicitly prohibit the operation and possession of "pinball, bagatelle, or pigeon-hole games". It was obviously the inclusion of the term 'pinball' that worried the coinmen even though the further definition of these devices seemed to be aimed primarily at 'bingo pinballs'. The people in the industry who had analyzed this proposed legislation had come to the conclusion that it could very likely result in the outlawing of 'flipper pinball games' as well as the 'bingos'.
The ICMOA held their special meeting, although attendance by Illinois coinmen was somewhat less than expected; apparently the gravity of the situation was not appreciated by many. The meeting was highlighted by a talk by Representative Zeke Giorgi a member of the Illinois House who also was connected with a coin machine distributorship. He told the coinmen that even though "they are battling in a 'rough sea' all was not lost if they joined in the melee now". He then urged all to contact their state legislators to inform them of the true facts concerning amusement machines and the effect of banning them on their livelihood and the state's economy.
The major results of the two day meeting were: 1, A plan for all members to contact their appropriate state legislators (a list of these was provided to meeting attenders); 2, A committee was appointed to engage legal assistance; and 3, the membership voted a mandatory assessment of $3 per machine to help defray the cost of the undertaking.
A law firm in the state capitol was hired to represent ICMOA. These lawyers also worked in close association with attorney Rufus King of Washington D.C. who had been retained by game manufacturers Gottlieb, Midway, and Williams. Mr. King, incidentally, was later involved in the court cases to re-legalize pingames in the nation's three largest cities.)
With the cooperation of sympathetic state representatives, it was decided to introduce a bill, which became HB2410, which would outlaw gambling type machines in the state while allowing non-gambling flipper games. The plan was to push for approval of this hill and the defeat of HR688 which was the House version of the Senate "total ban bill". The Senate bill had finally passed the full Senate by a vote of 45 to 3.
The next round in the 'Pinball bill war' was conducted at the two day meeting of the Judiciary Committee of the Illinois General Assembly held on May 10 and 11. This meeting was quite hectic due to the large number of proposed bills which had to be considered prior to a scheduled adjournment of the legislature. Debate on the pinball related bills began late in the afternoon and continued into the late evening session. At that lime the chairman appointed a special committee to hear the debate and make recommendations to the full committee the following morning.
The proponents of the industry backed bill, HB2410, argued eloquently that forty states and the federal government easily distinguished between amusement and gambling machines, outlawing the latter, and in the case of the federal government taxing only the gambling devices. A vote on this bill was finally taken. The results were 16 in favor of passing the bill to the full House, 3 against, and 2 abstentions. A vote on the anti-pinball bills was not taken and was postponed until the next committee meeting scheduled for May 22 and 23.
The final defeat for the anti-pinball forces occurred during a late night session of the Judiciary Committee on May 23. At that time the two anti-pinball bills, SB376 and its House counterpart HB688, were killed by a vote of only 13 to 11. This ended the 1967 assault on the pinball machine in the state of Illinois.
How, you are probably asking, could this move to outlaw pinball machines in Illinois have possibly resulted in the end of pinball altogether? The answer to this question can be found in an editorial in the May 27, 1967 issue of CASH BOX.
That article, titled "The Specter on Annihilation", told of another proposed bill in the Illinois House, HB691, which was "quietly at play in committee" at the time the pinball ban bills were being debated. That bill, if passed into law, would have totally banned the manufacture and interstate shipment of gambling equipment in and from the state of Illinois. This bill, however, was also voted down during the Judiciary Committee meeting of May 11 and fortunately was voted down by a vote of 19 to 5.
The CASH BOX editorial pointed out that had this bill and the 'total pingame ban' bill both passed into law the manufacture and distribution of all "gambling equipment" (which would have by legal definition included flipper pinballs) would have been totally banned in Illinois which, of course, was where all the major manufacturers were located; an effective end to the industry! We are all fortunate that this never occurred, or even came close, but had it not been for the united attack by the coinmen of Illinois things might have turned out differently.
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