Once Scorned As A Racket, Pinball Remade Itself As Game Of Skill

Pinball was once banned in New York City, lumped in with gambling and other social evils. It's crime? Stealing lunch money of innocent children.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Parents often warn their children against gambling on cards, horses, dice and pinball. Pinball? An issue of Popular Mechanics shows how pinball was scorned and prohibited in many major cities between the 1940s and 1970s. It was deemed gambling because it seemed to take no skill except slipping a coin into a slot.

New York's mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, called pinball a racket that robbed children of their lunch money back when lunch money was just a few nickels. The mayor led raids to smash pinball machines, and the game moved underground, often to the back of pornography parlors. New York's pinball prohibition didn't end until 1976. Flippers had been added, and the Amusement of Music Operators Association was eager to show the New York City Council that pinball is a game of skill, not chance. So they enlisted a pinball wizard named Roger Sharp who pointed, Babe Ruth style, to a spot on the pinball board and told the council he'd put the ball right there. He pulled back the plunger with just the right force, hit that spot and pinball was back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PINBALL WIZARD")

ROGER DALTREY: (Singing) Ever since I was a young boy, I've played the silver ball. From Soho down to Brighton, I must have played them all. I didn't see nothing like it in any amusement hall. That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.

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