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Pinball Is Finally Legal Again in This Indiana City

Kokomo, Indiana, has reversed a 61-year-old ban on the game

Pinball players are no longer scofflaws in the eyes of Kokomo, Indiana law. (Chris Ainsworth - Flickr/Creative Commons)
smithsonian.com

If you’ve ever manipulated a pinball machine’s flippers and experienced the lights, movement and music to be had for just a few quarters, you know how magical the game can be. But did you know that not everyone shares your opinion? Pinball wasn’t always beloved—and it even continues to be banned in some places. But now one city in Indiana is getting a high score with pinball enthusiasts by putting its foot down and flippers up in a bold move to re-legalize the game. As the Associated Press reports, Kokomo, Indiana has finally reversed its 61-year-old pinball ban.

George Myers reports for The Kokomo Times that the ban was originally put in place following a unanimous decision by the Kokomo City Council in 1955. At the time, Kokomo had over 100 pinball machines licensed by the city. But the mayor and the council decided that the machines were games of chance and technically could be considered gambling devices that threatened “peace and good order.”

The decision appears to have been predicated by a larger anti-pinball movement nationwide. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, cities and states all over the U.S. gave pinball the thumbs down, and bans went into effect in places like New York, where it remained outlawed for more than 30 years.

Billboard reported in its July 2, 1955 issue—a few weeks before the ban went into place in Kokomo—that Indiana law enforcement officials had indicated that they intended to crack down hard on the game in an effort to reduce gambling in the state. Though Billboard doubted the laws would be enforceable in court, it noted the Kokomo ban and wrote about a similar ban in Cincinnati, Ohio, that was upheld in the state court of appeals.

The same thing happened in Kokomo: The ban survived a challenge by a machine owner and went into effect. Apparently, it was not taken too seriously until the pinball craze of the 1970s when the city started to collect fines as a revenue source, Myers writes. Pinball fever eventually subsided, but the ban lived on despite lax enforcement.

Kokomo’s pinball ban outlasted the game’s heyday, but now it’s gone: As Myers reported on December 13, the ban was reversed by Kokomo’s mayor, who accompanied his announcement with cheesy pinball puns and a rousing game with the police chief.

Maybe it's the game's much-lauded revival, or maybe it’s just a hometown love of the game, but every few years another pinball ban falls. Perhaps one day America will be a land of pinball for all. For now, if you care about the persecution of pinball machines where you live, it might be worth checking your local laws.

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