OAKLAND (CBS SF) – Pinball wizards in Oakland can rejoice, because they can now play the silver ball without worrying about being thrown in the slammer.
Last month, the Oakland City Council amended the city’s 80-year-old ordinance outlawing pinball.
In truth, there was little threat of being prosecuted for breaking the outdated and little-known law that dates to anti-gambling ordinances put in place in the 1930s.
“I certainly knew pinball was illegal, but I didn’t know it was still illegal, said Michael Schiess, the founder of the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda. “Those types of laws aren’t really enforced now.”
Schiess said laws against pre-flipper pinball were popular, because the games were considered a form of illegal gambling.
“It was a form of gambling, and there was a lot of money made in pinball gambling,” Schiess said.
In 1947, flippers were added to the games, which added a level of skill to playing and made them less reliant on chance.
The ban was lifted in Oakland with the July 15 passing of an amendment to the city’s ordinance on gambling.
The amendment prohibited Internet cafes that, through a loophole in the ordinance, were able to offer illegal online gambling activities disguised as business, communication and other commercial activities, according to a city council agenda report.
In making the changes, the council also deleted outdated provisions related to pinball machines.
Josh Sharpe, the president of the International Flipper Pinball Association, said it’s not uncommon for cities to still have anti-pinball laws on the books.
“It’s similar to a lot of other laws that don’t make sense today,” he said. “It’s kind of like having a 7 mph speed limit for a horse and buggy.”
Sharpe, whose father Roger Sharpe started the association and worked in the 1970s to promote pinball as a game of skill, said the law is rarely enforced but can become an issue when someone has a complaint against an establishment or event involving pinball and tries to use the ordinance to get it shut down.
He said the anti-pinball laws are almost always amended with little resistance.
He said the flipper pinball machines of today have little in common with the games that years ago were associated with gambling.
“Seventy to 80 years ago, there wasn’t a big difference between pinball and slot machines,” Sharpe said. “Now, it’s a game of skill.”
The end of the ban in Oakland hasn’t gone unnoticed.
RadioShack has teamed up with Stern Pinball and the International Flipper Pinball Association to hold a month-long pinball tournament.
The RadioShack at 3040 East Ninth St. in Oakland is hosting the tournament and has a Stern Iron Man Pro Vault Edition pinball machine onsite.
The winner of the tournament, which started Wednesday and goes through Sept. 20, will win the pinball machine.
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