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WW2 Pinball Stories - Legal Issues

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Pinball has always been perceived by some factions of the public as an evil game, designed to drain money away from unsuspecting youths, corrupting them for the rest of their lives. Then there is the seedy gambling aspect of the game - formerly hard working sluggos throwing away their meager earnings in the hopes of the big payoff from the marble games, only to lose it all and see their marriages, their lives, their very essence destroyed by the game they call ... pinball!

On this page we show some of the stories related to court cases and legal issues that seemed to pop up on a regular basis.

Los Angeles County Repeals Restrictions on Pinball Games

Note the interesting "anti-crusader" slant of this story.

Los Angeles, Feb. 6 - Following discussions of the pinball question for several days, the Board of Supervisors of Los Angeles County January 26 voted 3 to 2 to remove restrictions in the present ordinance which forbids licensing machines within 1,000 feet of any school.

The issue served to arouse the well-known crusaders against pinball, including those who had engaged in the fight the lasted for more than a year in the city of Los Angeles. [...]

Charges were made during the discussions that operators of pinball games contributed heavily to campaign funds, including members of the board. [...]

In requesting the repeal of the 1,000 foot limitation, Supervisor Jessup declared he had made a tour of the stores operating the pinball games and found no gambling going on where they were set up. [...]

Accusations were made against pinball games in the usual crusader style. One speaker said that pinball machines were taking in an average of $25 per week. Another supervisor said this meant that the total take in pinball per year would reach close to $3,000,000. [...]

A well-known political newspaper in Los Angeles used strong crusader language in condemning the action of the board in removing the 1,000 foot restrictions. Another speaker said that there are about 2,150 pinball games operating in unincorporated parts of the county. The chief arguments of the opposition were that pinball machines increased juvenile delinquency and taught children to gamble.

Court Decision Returns Pinball to Philadelphia

Here is another story about machine confiscations and repeals.

Philadelphia Feb. 6 - After many months of watchful waiting, during which time the industry was virtually "frozen", the legal light was given for the return of the pinball machines in Philadelphia and to the rest of the State as well. [...]

The pinball machines have been in retirement in Philadelphia and in most parts of Pennsylvania since last March, when the State Superior Court ruled the common types of pinball machines as gambling devices. However, on January 28 the Superior Court, sitting in Philadelphia, handed down another ruling which, the operators say, reverses it's previous decision.

The return of pinball machines is based on this latest decision, written by Judge Charles E. Kenworthey in an appeal from a lower court order for the destruction of the pinball machines seized in Erie and Butler counties in the western part of the State. The Kenworthey decision holds that the police in Erie and Butler counties cannot destroy the machines because no proof was offered that the players were paid with cash or merchandise. [...]

Meanwhile, the pinball operators, inactive for so many months, are now busily engaged in tuning up and polishing off their machines, which have been in storage, and are beginning to renew their location contacts. Councilman Egan also intimated that the association will ask Judge Byron A. Milner ... to order the return of more than 100 pinball machines the police seized during the ban. The police department had petitioned last spring for an order to destroy the seized machines, but Judge Milner withheld decision, presumably pending the outcome of the Erie-Butler appeals. [...]

The Philadelphia operators withdrew an estimated 5,000 machines from circulation last spring. Councilman Egan said, however, that because of a scarcity of parts and skilled labor the pinball operators will be lucky to get 500 or more back into operation.

Pinball Gremlin Hovering Over Los Angeles!!

Los Angeles, June 12 - Shades of all the evil in pinball games floated over the city council once again the first week in June. Reports were received by council members that a "pinless" pinball game was being played in the city, and some of the members immediately began to ask for amendments to the ordinance which bans all pinball games.

Two council members were particularly disturbed by the new game, and they told other council members that the new machine was like a metal ski-ball game but instead of pulling the plunger as in the old pinball, the player rolls the ball down with his hand.

Complications arose when the city attorney submitted a ruling on the new games stating that in his opinion they did not violate the anti-pinball ordinance now on the books. The stalwarts that have been opposing pinball for years informed the city attorney that anyone can gamble on these new machines just as easily as they could on the standard type of pinball.

Governor Refuses To Allow Machines In Maryland County

Nasty people these Maryland folks.

Baltimore, June 12 - The measure known as House Bill 746, to license pinball machines in Prince George's County, was included in the group of bills vetoed by Gov. Herbert R. O'Conor which had been passed during the 1943 biennial session of the Maryland Legislature. This measure provided that after June 1, 1943, no person, firm or corporation would be permitted to keep, maintain, operate or distribute, or lease for operation in Prince George's County for public entertainment or gain an unlicensed pinball machine or game played with balls and plungers by using coins. The measure called for an annual license fee of $25 for each machine.

Anti-Pinball Mayor Didn't Stop Crime!

This mayor must have been related to Mayor La Guardia of New York don't you think?

Los Angeles, Sept. 11 - Mayor Fletcher Bowron, who conceived the great plan of stopping crime and vice in a big city by banning pinball games, is having more troubles. This time it seems it is a disagreement between the mayor and the district attorney for the city. The district attorney now charges that there are reports of widespread gambling and other vice in the city and he thinks the mayor is to blame for these bad conditions.

Newspaper stories of the present unfavorable situation have mentioned the names of men who have opposed the mayor in his former crusade against pinball games when he assured the voters that if licensed pinballs were driven from the city, it would take its place as one of the cleanest cities in the United States. Since that time there have been many reports of increasing crime and vice conditions of all kinds.

Circuit Court Judge Says Pinball Constitutes Sport

Following is a long drab legal blah blah on a St. Louis pinball case. It is interesting in the level of detail that the lawyers and judge went to to describe the innocent game of pinball. I never knew it was this complex....

Editors Note: The judges decision in the famous St. Louis "free-play" game case is reproduced in part in this issue since many trade members will want to file it for reference purposes. In this case, which resulted from efforts of McCall Novelty Company last fall to recover pin games which had been seized while in storage, Circuit Court Judge W. L. Mason ruled that playing of a pinball game constitutes a sport that is entertaining for the mere sake of the game itself without any regard to anything won or lost. The decision follows:

A number of pinball machines were introduced in evidence and their operation described In detail. There was also evidence that at various locations pinball machines of the same description as the ones introduced in evidence were played by various witnesses and instead of being allowed to play free games on a winning combination, the witnesses were paid off in money.

There was also evidence to the effect that the pinball device or game represents an amusement or recreation which is worth while and attractive to many people in end of itself regardless of whether any money or property may be won or lost or regardless of whether anything may be won.

Some of the police officers, placed on the stand by the complainant, testified that a high degree of skill may be attained by the player of the machine by the manner in which the lever is manipulated so as to affect the result. One witness actually demonstrated that he could select certain pins to be struck on various parts of the board and on two trials was able to strike two out of three of the pins selected.

The pinball machines involved in the inquiry, according to agreement by counsel on both sides, were all of the same general character and, operated on the same general principles as the ones actually demonstrated, explained, and shown to the court. Such machine consists of a small table with Its surface slanting upward from the end at which the player stands at which is equipped with a plunger which he manipulates, striking therewith some balls, which are knocked toward the upper end of the table and they rebound and roll back toward the lower end with landings that are directed by the obstructions on the surface encountered by them on their return. Those obstructions are bulbs or other sorts of bumpers, and when touched by the ball in returning to the lower end of the table, will light up. The player deposits a nickel in the provided place for that purpose before commencing, and if he succeeds in bringing about a prescribed result with the five shots which he is allowed for his nickel, he wins the right to a replay and perhaps, if he scores high enough, he may be entitled to more than one replay. If, on the replay, he is again successful in making the required score of points, he is entitled to a second replay, and so on.

However, each machine involved in this inquiry is equipped with a button and when a winning score is indicated, merely pressing the button the machine can be adjusted so that it does not automatically allow free games but on the button being pressed the indicator returns to zero and cannot be played without the insertion of a nickel.

The evidence showed that the metal balls used in the operation of the machines offered in evidence differed slightly in weight, measured by the metric system, to the extent of a fraction of a gram, to be exact, thirteen one-hundredths of a gram. [...]

Pinballs Come Under Police Scrutiny in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City was not immune to anti-pinball movements either in this 1945 story. At least they were only trying to stop minors from playing.

Salt Lake City, April 14 - A local drive has been started here to prevent the playing of pinball games by minors.

Police are checking the various locations in which pinball games are located and are notifying the owners that they must stop children from playing the games. No official objection is being made against the games in any establishment, provided minors are not allowed to play.

Police officials say that if any drugstore or other locations having pinball games permits minors to play them that the business license of the establishment may be canceled. They say that this step would not be exactly legal except that any establishment can be declared a nuisance if it permits children to play pinball.

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