Pinball to be made officially legal in Oakland, California, after 80-year ban

Officials are expected to chuck out the outdated law this week as part of a wider look into the city's gambling regulations

Cha-ching! Games arcades in Oakland, California, may experience in surge in popularity of their pinball machines after it will be made legal to play the retro game.

Authorities in the port city are expected to lift an archaic law which banned residents from playing the machine, despite the move being largely symbolic.

Perhaps once the bastion of vice, pinball machines were outlawed in the 30s after being considered a gambling device. People later picked them back up, however, and have continued playing them since.

The UK also has its fair share of obsolete laws. It is still illegal to beat or shake any carpet, rug or mat in London as per the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839. An exception is made for door mats before 8am.

In Oakland, pinball machines 80 years ago didn’t have the flippers that they have today, and it made the game more one of chance. This led to its classification as a gambling instrument.

“It had the illusion of skill but was mostly a game of chance, sort of like the coin toss at the county fair,” Michael Schiess, director of the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda told the San Francisco Chronicle. “All you had to do was pull the plunger back and see what happened next.”

Flippers were added in the late 1940s, becoming the first of one of many features to be added into the game over the next few decades, such as ringing noises, bumpers and extra balls.

As the law outdated itself it was largely forgotten but never repealed… until this week.

The council’s public safety committee is due to meet to take a wider look at the city’s gambling laws.

Councilman Noel Gallo said that while he has no problem with pinball, authorities would like to totally ban internet sweepstake cafes.

Sweepstakes cafes – not popular in the UK – are stores which sell a product, such as time on the internet or a telephone card, which then allows them to provide the customer with a number of bonus chances to enter internet sweepstakes or play games to win cash prizes.

Critics have said that these cafes navigate around technicalities to avoid anti-gambling laws. Its proponents say that it’s the same as a winning a prize as per a purchase from an establishment such as a fast food chain.

The old pinball law is still upheld in other US cities, however, such as Beacon in New York, which had to close its pinball museum and arcade in 2010 because of the ban.

A 1958 law review published through Marquette University, Wisconsin, said of pinball at the time: "In New York, an investigation report on pinball operations concluded that the social evils of pinball machines were the same as those presented by the new generally banned slot machines.