Breathe easy, Anaheim

Particularly if you own a pinball machine. From the LA Times:

Anaheim officials are doing a little housekeeping and whittling down the city’s bulky municipal code. Tonight, the City Council is scheduled to consider repealing or modifying several ordinances that officials call outdated, redundant or just plain silly.

The unlucky task of poring through decades of laws and thousands of ordinances fell to City Atty. Jack White, who said he had collected arcane gems that may come in handy only at cocktail parties or if he became a “Jeopardy!” contestant.

He knows, for example, that in the 1940s and ’50s, pinball was considered gambling.

The change in the law is welcome news for Terry McIntire, an owner of Orange County Game Distributors Inc., who said that if authorities cited him for all his pinball machines, “we would be old and gray by the time we got out” of jail.

In most cases, authorities realized the absurdities of these ordinances and stopped enforcing them years ago.

Pinball Desperados in Anaheim Will Be Allowed to Play at Full Tilt

During my research for Uneasy Convictions, I learned that many slot manufacturers evaded the Johnson Act, the 1950 law that halted the interstate shipment of slots, by switching to “amusement” devices whose “free games” could be redeemed for cash. In 1961, when RFK pushed for new anti-gambling laws (including the Wire Act), he also spoke out against pinball machines. So this was actually a pretty common theme of anti-gamblers in the 1950s and 1960s.

Even now, the line between “amusement” and gambling is thinner than we think. Is there that much difference between a slot machine and redemption games? Some would argue no.

3 thoughts on “Breathe easy, Anaheim”

  1. wow. i’m surprised there aren’t more comments here.

    i know what you mean with regards to the whole amusement vs. gambling thing. i’ve walked through a casino, then through an arcade, and seen the same game. i can’t find a link, but i’m thinking especially of that one where you shoot the coin onto this flat surface where bars push the coins toward a ledge. the point is to get as many coins over the ledge as possible. the only difference is that one version spits out tickets you trade in for toy prizes and the other spits out cash (and you have to be 21 to play).

    in such cases, what is the difference between amusement and gambling? the point is still to get the most for the least, be it in coins or tickets, and the reward is based on the “skill” of the player.

  2. You wanted a comment, you got one! In response to your observation that (children’s) arcades have similar games to the casinos, I must wholeheartedly agree and confirm your sighting. I recently saw an arcade game that is training young kids to play slot machines–it even has the cherries and 7s on the reels. “I’m just like you, daddy!”
    And an interesting finding whilst browsing through the always-entertaining Nevada Gaming Regulations… you may wonder how slot machine manufacturers can get away with themes such as Garfield (discussed on this blog). According to Regulation 14.025 1(a), themes primarily targeted toward younger people are forbidden. But wait, read on, to 14.025 3(a), which says that, indeed, if the inspiration for the aforementioned youth-targeting theme was copyrighted prior to 21 years before the sale of the machine *whew* then it is up for grabs! (But still subject to a decision as to whether it is kosher.) Garfield got in there by about 3 years, but still… that is not right.

  3. The “shooting coins onto a ledge” machine was exactly the one I was thinking of when I wrote the line about “amusements.” If gambling is “any activity in which a person places a bet or wager on the outcome of an uncertain event,” I can’t think of any way that such a machine is not a gambling device.

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