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Oakland to lift 80-year-old ban on pinball machines

The City of Oakland is set to lift an 80-year-old ban on pinball machines when City Council's public safety committee meets this week to clarify prohibited gambling activities and delete outdated provisions related to the machines.

The ban was originally put in place when early flipperless machines were considered a form of gambling. According to SF Gate, the pinball prohibition has not been enforced in Oakland since the ‘40s. Head of the public safety committee, councilman Noel Gallo, told the publication that while decriminalizing pinball machines is a "great idea," it is secondary to a broader campaign to update gambling laws in the city.

As early pinball machines were seen as games of chance that required no skill from the player and offered cash payouts from the proprietor, they were banned for decades in many other U.S. cities, such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Courts agreed to lift bans in the ‘70s after demonstrations showed that pinball was a game of skill and not a form of mindless gambling.

Recently, in April, the residents of Marshfield, Massachusetts, voted to end 32-year-old prohibition on coin-operated video and arcade games. Marshfield residents twice previously voted against petitions to repeal the prohibition, once in 1994 and again in 2011.

A summer exhibit at The Strong's National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, called The Boardwalk Arcade and Pinball Playfields will look at the connection of modern games and the amusement machines of the past. To learn more about the subject, be sure to read our report on how pinball and boardwalk amusements gave rise to video games.