America’s War on Pinball,
In the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s pinball became one of the most popular games in America. However the popularity of pinball came with a downside; suspicion from older generations who did not understand the game. Conservative elements of the country saw pinball as a scourge which corrupted the youth and weakened the moral fiber of the country. Many saw pinball as nothing more than an easy form of gambling marketed towards young people. Religious elements saw pinball as a game of the devil, with satanic influence designed to lead the faithful astray. One of the most ridiculous arguments leveled against pinball was that the machines were controlled by, and a source of income for the mafia.
In response to the moral outcry against pinball, Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia led a campaign to end pinball once and for all. In his city, New York, he sponsored laws and ordinances to ban pinball. On January 21st, 1942 pinball was banned in New York City. Reminiscent of Prohibition, police raided gaming centers, arcades, and amusement parks, smashing the games with axes and tossing the remnants in a local river. Mayor LaGuardia himself did several photo ops of him participating in raids and personally destroying pinball machines. Also reminiscent of Prohibition, pinball went underground, and became controlled by the seedier elements of society such as organized crime and the mob.
Inspired by LaGuardia, other cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago likewise banned pinball. By 1950 pinball was banned in most major cities. The ban would last until the 1960’s and 70’s. The pinball ban in NYC lasted until 1976 when the law was challenged by pinball aficionado Roger Sharpe challenged the law. Today pinball is legal most everywhere. There are still exceptions. For example in 2010 Beacon, NY shut down a pinball museum due to its ban dating to the 40’s. In San Francisco owners need a special permit from the city. In Alameda and Oakland California, pinball is still illegal, though there is talk of legalization in Oakland.