Pinball was banned from the 1940s to 1970s in many cities across America. New York City’s mayor made a show of bashing pinball machines with a hammer. Church ladies in suburban Chicago went on vigilante raids, ripping games out of stores. In this episode, we go through history to understand how a simple game became demonized. The answer, like pinball itself, requires us to bounce from one object to another, but ultimately falls into one big question: Is pinball a game of skill, or a game of chance?
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Jason Feifer: This is Pessimists Archive. I'm Jason Feifer. So, here's a quick thought experiment. Try to remember the last time you saw a pinball machine in a movie or TV show. Because pinballs are giant expensive props, they don't just randomly show up on your movie set. You're putting it there for a reason that Seth Porges, who we're going to hear a lot from this episode, he's a journalist and well, I tried to call him a pinball historian.
Seth Porges: Sure. Call me a pinball historian, but actual historians are just going to kill me.
Jason Feifer: We settled on pinball history enthusiast. That sounds good. So, okay. Let's think backwards. Today's pop culture tends to use pinball as time defining symbols, like, say the movie Adventure Land. You've got your movie set in the 80s, so you have to have your characters playing some pinball to make that 80s moment feel authentic. And then, if you actually rewind to stuff made in the 80s, pinball is just as wholesome as you'd expect. Here's, for example, this lucky charms commercial I found from that time in which some kids are chasing lucky, the leprechaun, into an arcade, and then he hides the serial in a pinball machine.
Voice Clip (Lucky Charms): Got you Lucky. [inaudible 00:02:31] pinball machine and hide me Lucky Charms. [crosstalk 00:02:35].
Jason Feifer: Oh, and by the way, I haven't heard that voice in 20 years. And now, as an adult, isn't it just brutally obvious that the actor voicing lucky is not Irish. Let's do a little Googling here. And yep. The guy's name was Arthur Anderson, born on Staten Island. Sounds about right. Anyway, pinball. Let's just keep going backwards. By the 1970s, there's a subtle but important change happening. Pinball isn't just for kids. But now it's for kids with a little edge. You've got people like The Fonz from Happy Days playing the game. And then, of course, selling the game. Here's a commercial from 1977.
Voice Clip (Fonz Pinball Commercial): Hey, it's me talking, The Fonz Pinball. Want to play me? [crosstalk 00:03:18].
Jason Feifer: From the days where a grown man could get on TV and say, "Hey, what to play me?" But the further back you go, the edgier pinball gets. And soon, weirdly, pinball starts moving away from kids entirely and towards criminals. And now you've got them in biker bars and gambling halls. It's almost always in the context of establishing that somebody is a rule breaker, or a criminal, or a rebel. And if you go all the way back to 1936, you can even see the two merge. There's a Humphrey Bogart movie called Bullets and Ballots, in which Bogart is part of a racketeering gang that uses pinball to make money. Here's this amazing scene in which two gangsters walk into a soda shop full of kids and talk to the owner.
Voice Clip (Bullets & Ballots): Tell us how many kids that aren't at school over there?
Voice Clip (Bullets & Ballots): 3,500.
Voice Clip (Bullets & Ballots): You get much of that trade?
Voice Clip (Bullets & Ballots): Quite a bit.
Voice Clip (Bullets & Ballots): How about building it up? We'll install a nickel game for you.
Voice Clip (Bullets & Ballots): So, they can go hungry and hand in you their lunch money. Get out of here.
Voice Clip (Bullets & Ballots): If that's the way you feel we'll only install three. And you'll like it.
Jason Feifer: Next there's a little flash-forward moment where there's a pinball machine in the soda shop and a bunch of kids are playing it and uh-oh, here come the gangster, shoving the kid aside. Now they opened the machine and take all the coins out of it. It's a very medicine coin collection, "Shove over, kids. We need you to nickels." And a little bit later, we've got the delivery to the crime boss.
Voice Clip (Bullets & Ballots): How's this for good news? 310,196.
Voice Clip (Bullets & Ballots): Not bad, but one week's take on pinball games.
Voice Clip (Bullets & Ballots): I wouldn't cry about it.
Jason Feifer: Yeah. I wouldn't cry about it. What is it with old time criminals? So, what have we witnessed here through this little trip backwards through time? We were rewinding through our own culture's comfort level with pinball. A game that may seem so simple. So, delightfully innocent today, but becomes more menacing with each decade backwards until you've reached a time where there is a full blown pinball panic.
Seth Porges: The fear was that people would become addicted, that kids would play these machines and freewill would disappear and the satanic grip of the pinball machine would consume them and turn them into lifelong gamblers.
Jason Feifer: Pinball was banned for decades in many cities across America. New York's Mayor made a show of bashing pinball machines with a hammer. Church ladies in suburban Chicago went on vigilante raids, ripping pinball machines out of stores. And so, today, on Pessimists Archive, we are going to go back through this history to try to understand how did a children's game become so demonized let alone for so long. The answer, like a game of pinball itself, will require us to bounce around whacking into objects that'll send us flying into others, unsure of the path, but sure of one thing, the ball, like the story, like pretty much every new technology that meets cultural resistance, will at some point, do the inevitable, it'll go where we always knew it would.
Jason Feifer: So, let's get into it. And to start, we need to understand where pinball came from. The game is widely considered the evolutionary endpoint of centuries of older games. So, you've got lawn games like bocce, which then move indoors to become games like billiards and bowling. And then, in one theory I read, people were annoyed at how long it took to reset bowling pins. So, they figured they'd all just nail some pins to a board, and that's how you eventually get pinball like games that were popular in the 1700s and 1800s, because consider it, this is an old game and the earliest versions really didn't look anything like the pinball games we now know.
Jason Feifer: They're like wooden versions of what today we might think of as Pachinko. So, imagine this, you've got a playing field full of pins and it's on an angle, and through one method or another, you send a metal ball down from the top of this thing and you watch it bounce around the pins.
Seth Porges: Think of it as a smaller scale version of ski ball with pins in the field.
Jason Feifer: Okay.
Seth Porges: You know, like you're trying to get into holes, right? That's what a lot of early pinball machines were like. And the goal was to get as many points as you could.
Jason Feifer: The game evolves over a few hundred years. For example, originally, people are shooting the ball into a playing field with, what almost looks like a miniature pool cue, but eventually that becomes the spring loaded plunger we know today. But it isn't until 1932 that a version of this game is commercialized, popularized, and has a coin slot attached to it so that it can make money.
Jason Feifer: And, at that point, the word pinball doesn't even exist. The game is called Ballyhoo and it's made by the Bally Manufacturing Corporation of Chicago, which might sound familiar now because it eventually grew into Bally's Total Fitness and Bally Hotels. And then it got big and fractured and a big chunk of it was sold to Hilton.
Seth Porges: The industry very quickly became very popular because this is the great depression. This is a cheap form of entertainment, costs you a penny, cost you a nickel.
Jason Feifer: I found this old advertisement for the Ballyhoo, and it's hilarious because right at the top of it, like right at the top, it says...
Voice Clip (Ballyhoo): Ballyhoo, never successfully imitated.
Jason Feifer: But, of course, it was, instantly and repeatedly, successfully imitated. As pinball became popular, hundreds of manufacturers sprung up to make their own version of the game, which would soon be known as the Pinboard game, and then pinball. And manufacturers kept innovating.
Seth Porges: The flipper was invented in the 40s. The first game, the feature of flipper was a game called Humpty Dumpty, created by a designer named Harry Mabs. And it was, to some degree, a self-conscious attempt to institute more skill into the pinball game. To give the player more agency and more control, and to negate the argument that pinball machines were games of chance.
Jason Feifer: A game of chance. Let's pause here on that, because this is really, really important. It'll eventually become the critical question about pinball. Is it a game of chance or a game of skill? And in these very early flipper lists iterations, I think we can all agree that we're looking at a game of chance. In 1936, a New York University professor even had his students play 97,800 games of pinball and concluded that, at most, a practiced player could control the ball 9% of the time. Though, he said that could also just be a statistical anomaly.
Jason Feifer: The metal ball just pings around wherever damn pleases on those pins. And if someone tells you that they can control that in a meaningful way, then they are either lying to you or they are the X-Men villain, Magneto.
Voice Clip (Magneto): You want to know my powers, know who I am, see what I can do.
Jason Feifer (whisper): I can get the ball into the 500 points hole every time, I am a pinball champion.
Jason Feifer (whisper): Anyway, to understand why this question of skill or chance is important. Let's just back up a bit back to the 1930s as pinball is first booming. And now, let's look at the world that pinball was becoming popular in.
Dave Schwartz: So, in the 30s, crime is all rackets. They call them rackets, and it's all local. So, you've got your local racket king, or whoever it is. And there's no idea that this is nationally a part of a bigger problem.
Jason Feifer (whisper): This is Dave Schwartz.
Dave Schwartz: My name is Dave Schwartz. I'm the director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Jason Feifer: So, in the 1930s, these local racketeers would come to dominate some part of business. Like there was a guy called the Artichoke King, who bought artichokes from California, imported them to New York, and then mark them up like crazy, and threatened anyone who was buying or selling other artichokes. And remember that 1930s movie Bullets or Ballots.
Voice Clip (Bullets & Ballots): If that's the way you feel, we'll only install three. And you'll like it.
Jason Feifer: That's a portrayal of how the racket would go down. Pinball was a popular item for the racketeers because, one, people paid to play it. And two, people could bet on it. And even better, the games were mostly being manufactured in Chicago. And let's not forget that Bally, the maker of Ballyhoo, was also in Chicago. And the Windy City was a hub of organized crime. So, that made pinball a target of tough on crime politicians. And one of the biggest names gunning for the game was this guy.
Voice Clip (Fiorello Laguardia): The success of a democracy depends upon the enlightenment of its people.
Jason Feifer: That's Fiorello LaGuardia, Mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945. And now the namesake of what is an absolute disaster of an airport that I have to fly out all the damn time.
Seth Porges: If you look at who Mayor LaGuardia was, his hatred of pinball makes a lot of sense. It sits at the intersection of all of the things he cared about.
Jason Feifer: For one, LaGuardia fashioned himself an anti-corruption mayor. He totally hated the mob and his mom was a poker addict. So, he hated gambling too.
Seth Porges: And then on top of that, Mayor LaGuardia loved children. He viewed himself as a guardian and protector of children.
Jason Feifer: During a newspaper strike in the 40s, in what is today considered one of the classic stunts by a politician appealing to his public, LaGuardia famously read the newspaper cartoons over the radio, so that little kids wouldn't have to go without their daily dose of the funnies.
Voice Clip (Fiorello Laguardia): [inaudible 00:12:07] is doing, [inaudible 00:12:09] that's the driver, you know. [inaudible 00:12:12] eating his lunch, as he said, "When are you going to let me out of here?"
Jason Feifer: LaGuardia had spent years gunning for pinball, but it wasn't until 1942, shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, that he finally got what he wanted. America needed supplies for the war and pinball games used a lot of those supplies, wood, metal, and so on. So, now he had a patriotic excuse to just all out ban the game, which he got passed into New York City law. And he went after slot machines for the same reason. Soon, the guy reading the newspaper comics over the radio was out doing another famous stunt, which was smashing pinball and slot machines with hammers.
Seth Porges: They take the machines, bring them onto a boat, leave from lower Manhattan, go about 40 miles up Long Island Sound and then throw them overboard. So, to this date, the base of at least one part of Long Island Sound has hundreds, if not thousands, of pinball machines on it, in addition to other mob loot.
Jason Feifer: Other cities, including Chicago and Oakland, California, would soon follow. And around this time, the nation as a whole, seems suddenly very eager to separate itself from all things pinball. 1940s newspapers tell an amazing tale. So, let's just go through a few of them. Here, first is a weirdo one paragraph story that ran in the New York Times on January 10th, 1941, headline Mrs. Earl hits pinball tail.
Voice Clip (Mrs. Earle): Mrs. George H. Earl, wife of the Minister of Bulgaria, put an end today to one Balkan rumor that her husband had won her Christmas present, an emerald ring, in a pinball game with King Boris. She said the whole story was fantastic and declared the King and her husband were too busy to play a pinball machine. It is generally known here that Mr. Earl bought a pinball machine from a Philadelphia club and took it to Bulgaria with him.
Jason Feifer: By the way, the guy serving as our reader for this portion of the show is pretty important to the legacy of pinball. But it will not make sense to you right now to introduce him. So, stay tuned to the end of the episode, where I will reveal all. And here's the New York Times on January 22nd, 1942, under the headline, Police open raids on pinball games.
Voice Clip (New York Times): The police in cooperation with the district attorneys of the Five Boroughs declared war on pinball machine operators.
Jason Feifer: The story said that cops were now going after all 11,080 pinball machines in the city. That same day, there's also a little story in the paper about a plain clothes police officer passing a cigar store in the east Bronx, and then he sees a man walking out of it with a pinball machine on his back. And the cop asks what the guy's doing, and the guy says.
Voice Clip (Mrs. Amanda Herrick): Haven't you heard the cops are picking up all these machines, I'm going to hide mine.
Jason Feifer: At which point, the plain clothes police officer reveals himself. And there goes the machine, whoops. By 1948, though, pinball machines have crept back into some stores that were near schools leading to this awesome New York Times headline.
Voice Clip (New York Times): War on pinball machines, near schools is ordered.
Jason Feifer: War. War. And, all right, last one. So, remember at the top of the show, I mentioned a roving pack of church ladies grabbing pinball machines out of the store. That story comes from the Chicago Tribune and the ladies were part of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. They seized 94 slot machines and 25 pinball machines. And when the newspaper interviewed the woman in charge, a Champion of Temperance named Mrs. Amanda Herrick, she said this.
Voice Clip (Mrs. Amanda Herrick): We considered this drive one of the finest things we have ever done. Conditions around the taverns have been frightful. We acted because it was intolerable.
Jason Feifer: Intolerable or not, Seth Porges makes a great point about where, at least some, of this anti-pinball feeling may have been coming from.
Seth Porges: A lot of the same groups in same values that were at war with prohibition carried over into the 30s in the form of gambling, and specifically, in a form of pinball.
Jason Feifer: The pinball scare was coming right after prohibition, which was lifted in 1933. And the Women's Christian Temperance Union was a huge supporter of prohibition. So, once it lost that battle, it was looking for other fights to fight. Pinball was an easy target. So, taken together, let's consider what we have here. Pinball is a game for kids that local criminals see an opportunity in, which then leads to politicians banning the game, and therefore, the public perception that pinball is no different from slot machines and other tools of gambling, and as that's happening, moral crusaders looking for a post-prohibition fight see this battle over gambling as their next stand. So now, with that context in place, let's replay that thing Seth said a few minutes ago.
Seth Porges: Flipper was invented in the 40s. The first game, the feature of flipper was a game called Humpty Dumpty, created by a designer named Harry Mabs.
Seth Porges: And it was at some degree, a self-conscious attempt to institute more skill into the pinball game to give the player more agency and more control, and to negate the argument that pinball machines were games of chance.
Jason Feifer: Whoa, right? A lot is suddenly riding on that flipper. I mean, all of this moral crusading had done significant damage to the pinball industry in America. And so, the game manufacturers are trying to figure out a way to make the game more of a, of a game, not a gambling tool. If you can make it a game of skill, it's less attractive to gamblers. But here's the thing, it's not just the flipper saving the world because things are about to get bleaker.
Jason Feifer: You have a very ambitious man who wants to be president and some ambitious journalists. And it's 1950, as [inaudible 00:17:49] from Kentucky had fought his local political machine there. His biggest issue was anti-monopoly, which isn't really going to get you to the presidency. So, he talks to these journalists and his finds out more about gambling. And [inaudible 00:18:08] this big thing with gambling, and nobody's really done anything about that. Guy named Virgil Peterson, who was the head of the Chicago Crime Commission, talks to him and gives him a lot of his information and explains, "Well, here's what's going on with that?"
Jason Feifer: This leads to the United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, or as it came to be known, the Kefauver Committee. It met in 1950 and 1951 and got America, for the first time, talking about a national mafia. And to be clear, it's not like the Kefauver Committee is all about pinball. The game only makes passing appearances. I did a search of the final committee report from 1951, and there are four references to pinball, including one of a guy who goes by the name, Jimmy Mac, who admitted to the commission that he owned pinball machines and a few slot machines and said that he grossed 50 to 60 bucks a day on them. But the point is here, that pinball was caught up in the whole mess. It was once stuck inside these little snowballs of localized crime, but now it's part of the big, scary mafia snowman.
Jason Feifer: It is a part of the world of gambling and that is not where pinball wants to be. And this raises an interesting question. What exactly is gambling? It's not actually that easy to answer. Dave, the gaming historian told me that many things we think of as totally common today, have at various points in time, being accused of being gambling. The lottery, for example. Before the lottery was this state run thing you could get in convenience stores, it was called the numbers and it was run by the mob. The government opposed it, but then decided to launch its own version of the numbers, and suddenly this thing that was gambling is now something else, something safer, something we don't call gambling.
Dave Schwartz: Something like the stock market for a long time really had to fight to not be considered gambling.
Jason Feifer: Which, when you think of it, it's like, well, why isn't the stock market gambling? And for that matter, why aren't raffles gambling? Like school raffles, when I buy a ticket and maybe win a nice dinner somewhere. That's technically gambling. And while we're at it, insurance. I'm spending money and I don't know the outcome, and maybe I get paid and maybe I don't. Why is that not gambling?
Dave Schwartz: Theoretically, they would repair my car, replace my car at the [inaudible 00:20:17], that's why they say this isn't really gambling.
Jason Feifer: It's as if we have gerrymandered gambling.
Dave Schwartz: Yeah. There's a lot of really... It... The way we construct gambling culturally says a lot about just how society is structured, I think. Where some things are considered gambling, some things aren't.
Jason Feifer: What do you think it says about us? What?... If it says a lot about us, what is it saying?
Dave Schwartz: Well, that people like... That we like to do it, but we're not comfortable with doing it, because it can have negative consequences. So, we want to just say, "Well, this is, what you like to do is gambling. But what I like to do is speculation."
Jason Feifer: We were having a cultural conversation about that right now, with online sports betting, DraftKings, for example, it had spent a lot of money and fought a major lawsuit from the state of New York and lobbied a lot of politicians, all in order for it to not be considered gambling. And I've interviewed the CEO of DraftKings, by the way, you can not get that guy to say that online sports betting is gambling. That company and that whole industry is really, really careful about that. But let us be honest. The raffle, the lottery, the stock market, online sports betting, poker, Jack Black, it is either all gambling or none of it is gambling. We are intellectually inconsistent, if we think that they're really different. So, all right, rant over. We'll find out how pinball escaped being thought of as gambling, but that comes a little later. Our timeline has thus far taken us into the 1950s. And in the 1950s, another hazard is about to come pinball's way. And it sounds like this.
Voice Clip: (singing).
Jason Feifer: This is an actual song from 1956 called I'm Not a Juvenile Delinquent and it's by, I'm not making this up here, a group called Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers. Seriously, when I found it, I had to Google around to make sure I hadn't discovered some old Saturday Night Live sketch, but no it's real.
Voice Clip: (singing).
Jason Feifer: So, this gives you a good idea of where else the moral panic of the 1950s was going. America was terrified of juvenile delinquents, which may have originally been kicked up by some disputed statistics about showing a rise in youth crime, but eventually just came to be adults absolutely freaked out by a new kind of youth culture that developed in the 50's, rock and roll, comic books, pinball. I promise you, we are going to dig a lot more into this moment in future episodes of Pessimists Archive, because it is an absolute goldmine of absurdity. But for our purposes today, it's important to also know that this panic was fueled by...
Audio Clip (Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency): Various members of our committee. All of it happen from time to time in the course of these hearings. As suggested, our awareness of the fact that there is no one single factor that is creating, but there's known as juvenile delinquency.
Jason Feifer: Another Senate Committee chaired by the opportunistic Senator from Tennessee, Estes Kefauver. Though, that voice you heard was actually another Senator, Thomas Henning. Anyway, the point is that the pylon continues. Pinball, a kid's game, becomes a tool used by local crooks, which makes it a target of local politicians. And then the whole thing gets wrapped up in a national conversation about the mafia at large, and the target of a post-prohibition moralistic mob, and it's considered gambling because when we spend money on things we don't know the outcome of, and it's something we don't like that other people do, then it's officially gambling. And now there are roving gangs of juvenile delinquents.
Voice Clip: (singing).
Jason Feifer: We get it, deep voice guy. You're not a delinquent, go have a milkshake. But you know, all the other teenagers are delinquents. And so, anything that youth must like is bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, and bans on pinball must continue.
Seth Porges: But they didn't disappear, just because you ban something doesn't mean it disappears overnight. In New York City, if you wanted to play pinball machines, you had this be in the know, they went underground. You had to know what porno shop to go to and pull a curtain back, and there'd be a pinball machine waiting for you, what members only club. And these are oftentimes in what were then fringe neighborhoods kind of populated by people on the outskirts of society, places like the Village, and Harlem, and parts of Brooklyn, that's where you would go to find pinball machines.
Jason Feifer: And this is basically the reason we still have pinball today. The forces of mass culture were aligned against it for decades, but a few manufacturers still made games and a generation of players could perfect the use of that flipper that was created in the 40s. And by the 70s, organized crime was no longer associated with pinball and America's moral crusaders had moved on to some other outrage. And so, one question really remained, is pinball a game of skill or a game of chance? Because that would determine whether pinball was gambling. And if it wasn't gambling, well, then there was no reason to keep banning it.
Jason Feifer: So, in 1976, an industry association that represented pinball makers finally got a hearing in front of the New York City Council.
Seth Porges: And what their plan was, was to roll a pinball machine in and have the best player they could find, basically, just show off his skills and prove to them that it was a game of skill and not a game of chance.
Jason Feifer: And as their star witness, they brought in a guy named Roger Sharpe, who was an Editor at GQ and knew a lot about pinball. He also happened to be a hell of a player.
Roger Sharpe: Part of my testimony was also to demonstrate that the games were based on skill and wound up playing before the City Council members.
Jason Feifer: That's Roger from an old NBC segment. And the point here was to show that Roger was so skilled at playing pinball, that he could totally control the game, that there was no chance involved. You can't do that in poker or blackjack, or craps, or any other games we consider gambling. So, they bring in Roger as well as the pinball machine that Roger knows how to play really well. And the industry brings a backup machine as well, just in case the first one breaks.
Seth Porges: So, there's this one particularly antagonistic member of City Council who just doesn't trust pinball people. He thinks they're all scoundrels, thinks they're all mobsters to this day. And he says, "No, no, I don't trust you guys. I think that machine has been rigged, bring in the other one." So, they bring in the other machine, that's one he's never played before. So, he has to demonstrate his pinball prowess, his pinball skills in front of these stodgy city councilmen, while cameras are looking down at him and microphones are in his face.
Jason Feifer: And then they tell him, "Okay, play the thing." There's an amazing black and white photo of this moment. Roger is at the helm of the game. He's got this big bushy mustache and long dark hair and a tie about as wide as his face. Someone's holding a microphone up to the game. There's a guy with a big video camera and then a couple of very skeptical looking men in suits to his left, who, I guess, where the City Council members. And what happens next is, I think it's fair to say, the biggest single moment in pinball history. It is pinball's version of Down goes Frazier, pinball's immaculate reception, pinballs Michael Jordan buzzer beater.
Seth Porges: He compares to Babe Ruth calling his famous shot in center field, where he pulls back a plunger to begin a new ball, and he says, "Based on my skill, the ball's going to land in the middle lane at the top of the playing field." So, he pulls it back, bounces to the left, bounces to the right, goes right where he says it. Well, and very soon thereafter, they overturn the ban of pinball machines. But the great irony, of course, is that if you ask him, he'll say that that shot was pretty much pure luck.
Jason Feifer: So, he passed off chance as skill in a moment when he needed to prove that it was skill not chance?
Seth Porges: Isn't it great? Yeah.
Jason Feifer: It's perfect.
Seth Porges: It's perfect. This is great. You know, when you're actually doing something impressive, nobody notices, but if you can create some drama around it, even if it's subtle chance, people take notice.
Jason Feifer: Not every New York City Council member was convinced. The story about the lifted ban on May 14th, 1976, in the New York Times quote said, Democratic Member from Queens named Arthur J. Katzman, as saying.
Voice Clip (Arthur J. Katzman): On the surface, it appears to be an innocent device, but it will bring rampant vice and gambling back to the city. The machine is easily changeable into a gambling device.
Jason Feifer: But the ayes had it, after New York City lifted its ban, over time, the rest of the bans across America were lifted too. And in the 1980s and 1990s, arcades became popular places for kids entertainment. And so, pinball found a natural home and a resurgence took place. Manufacturers began making ever more elaborate games and made licensed pinball versions of big movies. And we ended up with the machines that we know and love today. Although, the legacy of pinball bans lasted longer than perhaps anyone could have anticipated in that Oakland, California, and Marshfield, Massachusetts wouldn't lift their bands until 2014 and Marshfield voters had previously voted twice to keep the ban in effect. One in 1994, and again, in 2011. So, today when you step up to that game, here's a question, are you playing a game of skill or a game of chance? Personally, I feel like I'm playing a mixture.
Jason Feifer: I mean, I have enough skill to hit the flipper roughly when the ball comes by, but the rest is chance, and chance to me is part of the fun, as I watched the ball bounce around the playing field and see what unknowable series of events I set in motion. But you know what? Really, does it matter? Skill, chance, gambling, not gambling. If the history of pinball tells us anything, I think, it's that things are largely what we make of them. I could stand at the half court line of a basketball court and heave a ball. And if I make it into the basket, it looks like skill. And if I miss, well, it looks like I played a game of chance and lost. And I know that may sound blindingly obvious, but now go apply that to all the things that we, as a culture, have at various times, demonized as harmful of having a bad influence on our children of degrading our moral character, the bicycle, the car, the umbrella, chess.
Jason Feifer: We saw them as good, or we saw them as bad, but we were never really talking about those things when we made judgements like that. We were, in some way, always talking about ourselves.
Jason Feifer: And that's our episode. And now, as promised, I'm going to reveal the super secret, very exciting person who was reading all those archival materials earlier in the show. Although, first, let me just tell you that if you like this show and you have not subscribed to us already, please do so on iTunes or wherever you get podcasts. And please leave a review on iTunes. All that stuff really, really helps us reach more people. Okay, story time.
Jason Feifer: As I was working on this episode, I traveled to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronic Show, or CES as it's known, and ran into two big coincidences. Number one was that I'd booked a hotel room at Bally's, which we now know takes its name from the Bally Manufacturing Corporation, which made Ballyhoo, the popular pinball game from the 1930s. And then, on my first night at CES, I went to a trade show called Pepcom. And right there in the corner was a pinball company. So, I went over of course and said, "Hi." It's called Stern Pinball, and they had their brand new Guardians of the Galaxy game on display. And I started telling the publicist there about this podcast, this very one that you're listening to. And she said, "Oh, you've got to meet someone." And here's a little tape for that moment.
Zach Sharpe: Under the hood, you can't see it. But games used to have like mile wire, just like tons of wire, there's still a lot of wire, don't get me wrong. But with the advancements of technology, the amount of moving parts and components is produced. So, games are more reliable, especially when you go on location, you now [crosstalk 00:31:37].
Jason Feifer: So, who is this guy?
Zach Sharpe: Hi, my name is Zach Sharpe and I am the Director of Marketing at Stern Pinball. I'm also the son of Roger Sharpe, and am currently ranked number one in the world of competitive pinball.
Jason Feifer: That's right, Roger Sharpe, the guy who played in front of the New York City Council and got the ban overturned. This is his son, a pinball champion, of course. Zach told me that his dad, Roger, still gets requests for interviews all the time, but I figured, "Hey, let's have Zach do the readings here." I mean, he is the future. And Pessimists Archive may be a show about the past, but it's really about looking forward. The other voice you heard in this episode was Linda Lacina, a colleague of mine here at entrepreneur and host of the podcast, How Success Happens. Thanks again to the experts you heard on this show, starting with Seth Porges, the journalist who lent me his pinball expertise, and also many, many of his pinball files. A lot of the research in this episode came straight from that. And, I should say, thanks to Seth for giving me the microphone that I use to record each episode of Pessimists Archive, but one I am speaking into right now.
Jason Feifer: Seth and I have been friends for a long time, and as I was preparing to launch this show, he lent me a spare mic he had, and I've basically never given it back. Now it's mine, Seth. It's mine. Also, thanks again to our other expert this episode, David G. Schwartz, the Director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Pessimists Archive was created by Louis Anslow and the rest of the team here is Jennifer Ritter and Chris Cornelis. Our theme music is by Caspar Babypants. You can check that out at Babypants music dot com. You can reach us on Twitter at, at pessimists arc, that's A-R-C. And by email at Pessimists Archive at Gmail dot com. My name again is Jason Feifer. Thanks for listening. And we'll see you in the near future.
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