Bingo Pinballs

Created on 02-22-2020



Well I met Federico a few years ago (through email) and I have been tracking his history with pinballs ever since`You will find him still active

out here on the Internet – 2020 – Still posting-and-sharing, and still covering the Bingos`


I found this back in 2015`


FOR IMPORT ONLY: chapter 1

Senza Ripetizione della Partita

(Federico Croci) Hello everyone, and thanks for being here. I'm Federico Croci (in the middle of the photo), and together with David Marston (at the left of the same picture) I welcome you to this presentation about American electromechanical pinballs, especially built for my country, Italy. (79B)


First of all, I would like to thank the following: obviously, Rob and Mike for the Expo; David for the help in organizing and actually reading all I've written - my spoken English is really bad, I prepared these few words in advance and I trained hard just to read them, go figure...; a special thanks must go to the whole, the Internet newsgroup where you can find all you could need, for example: help for a pinball presentation!

I want to add something also about the slides you are going to see. Most of them are from games in my collection: I own at the moment more than 250 machines, and you can understand why most of them are in storage somewhere (2v). So, a lot of slides were taken on location in one warehouse or another; thus, the quality of the pictures isn't the best possible. I apologize in advance for this. The American photos were shot by Tim Drake, who likewise apologizes for any shortcomings. Reinhold Mokrohs also contributed a picture from Germany. Also, what we'll see and talk about are the results of many years of pinball collecting and hard research: it's always possible that tomorrow we'll find something that will change what we believed to have discovered for sure.

If you have any questions, please write them down on a form and submit them to me during the presentation. We'll try to answer you at the end, or even before. Thanks again.

(David Marston)(44) What we are about to show you will go far beyond Federico's small article that ran many years ago in The Pinball Trader. This information is being made public at a time when we have answers to about 90% of our questions. If you have questions, Sergio Johnson (at the left in the picture) is here to help get the words translated between English and Italian in a timely manner. It helps a lot to have written questions, so when you raise your hand, I won't call on you. Rather, Dusty Hull will come over and give you a question form, then bring it up front here. The questions will be answered near the end of the presentation, and those that we can't answer today will be held for possible treatment in Federico's forthcoming book on this subject.

We have identified over 50 electromechanical pinballs (43) that were made specifically for export. Italy dominates as the destination country, and we'll explain why as best we can. Sometimes the game names are the same as the American equivalent, sometimes not. If you look at game lists or old parts catalogs, you may see names that are "foreign" to you. Well, today we'll take those old entries in the reference books (106) and show you the actual Italian version (103), using pictures shot in Italy. In some cases (107), the manufacturer admits to making more than one American variation and says nothing about an export model, but we know that a special Italian version exists. If we overlook something, please help us expand our base of information about these games.

The first obvious question is: why there should be a need to build special pinballs for Italy? Well, in Italy pinball has never had an easy life. There was Mussolini, the Italian fascist leader, who banned all American coin-op machines. But even before, during the Roman Empire, there was a lot of work trying to determine if a certain game was mostly luck or skill. Luck or skill: this is the distinction.

As the government was - and does even today - controlling all the national gambling games like lotto, etc., it was concerned that no other money-awarding games were available for the game-playing public.

So, it was very strict in looking for any rationale which could help in eliminating other gambling games. This happened to bingo machines first; then it was the time for German wall slot-machines, very popular in Italy at the time (American slot-machines were banned by Mussolini and never returned); rifle-games weren't widely-enough distributed to be seen as a danger; with soccer tables and other two player games it was obvious that they weren't made for gambling as it there wasn't the possibility of winning a prize; so, the authorities turned their attention to pinball.

Pinball, in Italy, was only operated in arcades (of which there were few) or in bars, taverns, etc. (for the most part). These weren't usually very upstanding places, in the sense that men spent the time smoking, playing cards, or betting on something. But especially these were places forbidden to women: and that explains why women were rarely seen playing pinballs. Today, pinballs are physically larger than 30 years ago; as with other arcade games; both of them are no longer operated in bars, due to the lack of space in these places; instead, there has been a great spread of arcades, often with a bar inside, where the whole family - not only the boys or the men - can relax, for example during shopping.

This was not true in the 1965. A lot of newspapers were publishing articles, telling stories of guys who lost all of their money just playing pinball, because the possibility of winning a replay was a big incentive in playing more and more. These articles kept appearing, until the government was forced to seriously consider the argument. This was the start of severe legislation (97), with the law continuosly being changed, in an attempt to consider and outlaw every possible case in which pinball could be a gambling machine.(96)

From 1961, Italy has had an association for operators and manufacturers: SAPAR. They print a monthly magazine, "Automat", which is very useful in reconstructing what was happening at the time.

The first draft of a law which prohibited in Italy the game of "flipper" (as it was always called in Italy, due to the fact that the first machines to appear were the ones with the two flippers; and that was the only writing always the same from machine to machine) was published in May, 1965. It prohibited every machine able to give away free plays, as well as every machine which had inside something to facilitate, or to stimulate, gambling. This point wasn't too clear: every automatic game, and even non-automatic ones, could stimulate gambling. The purpose of the government was to banish German slot-machines, bingo machines, and everything with a replay unit. A replay was considered a prize, something which could be exchanged by the barman for money or something else.

Obviously, this meant the end of work for many operators: the only games remaining were soccer tables, rifles, kiddie rides, and similar games, as well as jukeboxes. Even jukeboxes were under a cloud, as operators were forced to turn them off at 9 PM because they were too noisy: and this even on the beach resorts, where 90% of all jukeboxes were installed. So, the operator association tried to do something against the banishment of replays in pinballs.

After a few months, in July of 1965, came the definitive reply: not a change in a law, just a clarification of the terms used. The government declared which were the forbidden games by listing the names of the ones then available on the market. So, they declared that the games banished were the following: "slot machines", "bingo", "Rol a Top", "Rotamint" (a German wall slot-machine), and so on. They also forbade all the cranes. And finally: "...also banished is the automatic game known under the name of "flipper", as it may award a prize in the form of a free play". After all, isn't this the same way a bingo works?

The legislator explained it this way: "if we remove from a 'flipper' the chance of awarding a replay, these could be considered legal games: a normal person enters in a bar, inserts a coin in the game, and he or she plays. It's just like an automatic solitaire. And who can proihibit me from playing a solitaire?".(99)

In that month's issue of "Automat", there was the text of the law, and some articles to explain how to modify existing replay games to conform to the new law, just by removing the replay unit.(98) But obviously that wasn't a sufficient change: there was no need to qualify and light a 'special' now, so the existing pinballs were just machines not working properly, in the eyes of the players.

American manufacturers, who at the moment were the only providers of pinballs for Italy, were waiting for definitive information: they were ready to ship pinballs modified according to the new regulations, as soon as someone was able to let them know what those actually were, these new regulations!(7)

There were Italian importers for Williams, Bally, Gottlieb and Chicago Coin Machines: they contacted the manufacturers, each one explaining his own view of the new restrictions.

In the particular case of Gottlieb, they were dealing with an exclusive exporter, Mondial. So it was much easier for them to quickly satisfy the requests of the law, present and future.

Actually, even if the law was the same for the whole of Italy, it was differently applied, with big differences from the North to the South. In the South it was possible to find normal credit machines, while this was almost impossible in the North. (6)

1965: Let's start with Gottlieb, which was the first manufacturer to build something which was legal in Italy. Their new game, "Electra Pool" (10/1965), was just a copy of an existing add-a-ball game, "Flipper Pool". This one could have been perfect for the Italian market, but there was the word "flipper", which was indicated by the Italian importer as a forbidden word. It had to be removed from everywhere it could be found. So it had to be deleted from the game's name, but also from Gottlieb's logo and even from the flippers themselves (5v). The manufacturer applied the suggestions so exactly that it even removed the word from the metal score-card holder (now only reading "Buttons on sides of cabinet") and from the schematic! (36v) Furthermore, it was decided to clarify once and for all that this new kind of pinball was a new game, especially built to accomplish the goals of the Italian law. So, the words were added like (24) "Nuovo bigliardino elettrico" (new electrical game) and (16C) "Senza ripetizione della partita" (no possibility of replays).

For Electra Pool, there was no flyer printed, and Gottlieb's internal project number was the same as "Flipper Pool" - with the addition of the two letters 'it' (for Italy): 230it (Flipper Pool was 230. (105) The project number is usually given on the schematic.). I think that Gottlieb, always very careful with their image and not manufacturing bingos and slots, was a little worried about having to manufacture special games (32v) for a country where these games were actually forbidden: so, they tried to not publicize the thing, at least in the beginning.

At the time in Italy one play was 50 Lire, while two plays were 100 Lire. It has to be noted that "Electra Pool" only accepted 50 Lire coins, as without a credit unit it was difficult to keep track of additional credits. Also, even if the game was especially built for Italy, instruction cards were left in English, probably to avoid the additional expense.

Apparently, Gottlieb also built some special backglasses and (1v) metal score holders to be retrofitted on preceding games. For example, I've found a "Swing Along" pinball (built before the law)(12v) with no flipper represented in the Gottlieb logo in the backglass (it's just empty), no credit window, and the writing "Buttons on side of cabinet" on that bottom arch. Higher scores were enabled by converting to four full score reels. I don't think they built special versions of old games for Italy: it's more credible that they sent just the metal arch and new backglasses, often in plexiglass, to satisfy operator's requests. Anyway, operators often modified the existing games themselves, removing the existing credit unit as shown on the pages of "Automat", but also - worst of all - by deleting the word 'flipper' by scratching it out everywhere it could be find, on the playboards as well the backglasses.

If Gottlieb was very concerned in applying the new Italian requirements, Bally was not. Mainly distributed in the South and central Italy, where it was still possible to play Bally bingo games, Bally started manufacturing some games especially modified for Italy: the first was "Trio" (1965), of which an Italian version was built almost identical to the normal USA add-a-ball version. To tell the truth, it was actually the same: the only changes are in the schematic, and it's only the addition of the word "Italian". The internal Bally number for that game, though, was 768-C. This is interesting, because the normal credit version was numbered 768-A, while USA add-a-ball version was 768-B. And this kind of numeration can be found also in later games, with the suffix -C meaning an Italian version. Apart from the fact that they included in the game some Italian score cards, the only difference between a normal add-a-ball game and an Italian add-a-ball game are the word "Italian" and the internal Bally code, if one were to judge by the schematic. (Almost no one in Italy seemed to be concerned about the lack of Italian language on the schematic, they usually didn't even look in the envelope.) (28v)

Also, they included some notes - written in Italian! - in their parts catalogue. There were different notes - one for the operators, saying that the games built for Italy were different and it was necessary to specify this when ordering spare parts like backglasses and special units - the other, it seems, for those who were wondering why Bally games built for Italy were different from the normal add-a-ball versions: this note says that "for technical reasons, games built for Italy are different". Actually, it wasn't for any technical reason, but only because it was forbidden by law to win replays, so there could not be any replay unit, only an add-a-ball unit.

It's also interesting to note that they didn't make a different metal score card holder, as it still says "Flipper buttons on side of cabinet": but, at least, they fitted on these games some new plastic flippers with no writing on the top - they were just plain white.

Another difference from Gottlieb - (30v) at least Bally actually printed an Italian instruction card. They even added some lines saying that that game was operating within the law, even quoting the date and official number of the law. It had a lot of errors, but at least they translated it into Italian. After all, these games were especially built for Italy! - but Bally was the only company to do this. Anyway, apart from those cards, all the technical docs were written in English.

From this, we can conclude: Bally, with the instructions written in Italian, was looking mainly at the players; while Gottlieb, with the cards left in English, and the only translated thing being those two warnings on the backglass, was looking mainly toward the Italian police, who would occasionally check games to see if they were operating according to the new law: a kind of inspection which rarely happened. Anyway, this can give you an idea about how differently the situation was handled. And this gives us many different games to be examined, each one with its own secrets.

I said that Gottlieb was the first to produce something especially modified for Italy. (90) Actually, there was Chicago Coins' "Hula-Hula" - which by the way reminds us a lot of Gottlieb's "Hawaiian Isle" for its subject - which was produced in July, 1965. An Italian version of this game was produced, but it had the same exact name as the normal credit version, and we don't know for sure when it was produced (the only manufacturer for which we have sure production dates for the Italian versions is Gottlieb, as it gave them different names from the other versions). (92) Due to some of the characteristics of this game, I believe that the Italian version was produced later, in 1966. So let's move on.

Illustrations mentioned in this chapter:

1.     Federico Croci (center), David Marston (right) and Sergio Johnson (left) during this presentation.

2.     "Bazaar" special version, a prototype of an italian version never built: note that the half-moons on the top of the backglass are changed; also, the cabinet is from a previous game