Created on 07-11-2010 _ Last update 10-22-2016
~ A March 2010 posting on the blog “dontgetthewrongidea.com” ~
At the top of my want list: a Bingo Pinball Machine
As a teenager, I played a lot of pinball. But it wasn't necessarily the type of game that probably comes to mind when you hear the word 'pinball'.
The games that dominated the bars and hangouts where I grew up were what are commonly known as Bingo Pinball machines.
There were no buttons on the sides of the cabinet to push to activate the flippers. The machine didn't rack up your score every time it hit a bumper or target or slot or whatever. These machines were much simpler. And much, much more complicated.
The playing field of these machines consisted of a flat surface with round holes into which the pinballs would drop. Each hole was numbered, 1 through 25. Strategically placed near these holes were pins or slender bumpers, off which the balls would carom. The center hole, the 16-hole, always had the pin set directly above it, making it extremely difficult to slide a descending ball into it. Thus, it was the hardest number to hit and was nearly always used as the center square in the electronic bingo card. The anti-Paul Lynde, if you will. (For all you youngsters out there: obscure Hollywood Squares reference)
All the "action" for these machines came from the pin bumpers and the rebound rubber along the perimeter of the playing field. No flippers, no large mechanical bumpers that propelled the balls with increased velocity. Thus, a player was prone to banging on the machine to get a little oomph on the ball or to get it to go in a certain direction. Bang on the machines too hard and, ooooops, TILT! Game over.
Bingo Pinball machines were hugely popular in certain geographical pockets of the U.S but were completely unavailable in other parts of the country. You see, the primary reason for these machines, no matter what anyone might preach to you about entertainment value, was for gambling purposes.
These machines displayed odds for aligning 3, 4 or 5 balls in a
row on the Bingo Card-like backglass display, paying off in replays (free
games), normally at 2-1 for 3 in a row, 4-1 for 4 in a row and 20-1 for 5 in a
row. The normal play price back in my day was 5¢ for 6 balls. The payoffs
didn't come until you'd accumulated at least 20 replays (20 X 5¢ = $1.00). At
any point after accumulating 20 or more replays, you'd march over to the
friendly neighborhood bartender/proprietor and ask for a cash-out. He'd inspect
the machine, calculate your winnings, pay you the money and re-set the machine
to zero. Simple transaction. Illegal in all but 2 states (more on that later).
The thing that made these games interesting was the fact that you could add more coins or apply more replays that you'd won in hopes of increasing your odds. Normally, the odds increased exponentially. A typical 3-in-line payout on an early machine with ten odds steps would be:
2 4 6 8 12 16 24 32 48 64. However, simply adding money or replays was no guarantee that you'd get a step increase. Sometimes you'd need to add 5 or 6 coins just to get from 2-1 to 6-1 odds; sometimes 3 would do it. You just never knew. Frustrating, but fun.
Also, inserting additional coins on some machines gave a player the opportunity to unlock "hidden" bingo cards, most of which had the pesky #16 moved from the center square, thus making it a little easier to achieve 4 or 5 numbers in a row. In some games, extra coins (or replays) activated colored sections on the bingo cards, sections of yellow, blue, red, green that were irregularly shaped, allowing more opportunities to win with better payoffs. For example, 3 numbers in a red L-shaped grouping would usually pay as much as the 4-in-a-row on the regular bingo field.
The variations that could be achieved by inserting more coins into these machines are too numerous to mention here but a great reference site for All Things Bingo Pinball can be seen here.
Most everyone I hung out with as a "kid" . . . and by "kid" I mean 16 or 17 yr old and by that I mean, yes, I was hanging out in places I shouldn't have been but I've never looked my age; I was buying liquor for 20 yr olds when I was 17; didn't get carded until I was 27 -- coulda kissed that woman . . . anyway, we loved these games and played them semi-religiously. So pervasive in my world were these machines that I had no idea that there were other types of pinball games with flippers and advancing scores until I went to college and stepped up to a pinball machine at a bar in the Sunnyside section of Morgantown, WV and was amazed to find that there were no round holes in the playing surface of the machine. What the hell was this? Flippers? I mean, if I'd seen one of these machines before, I'd paid it no heed; where was the payoff, eh?
Eventually, gaming commissions and local law enforcement had their way and these machines disappeared or, at worst, became well-hidden in backrooms and private clubs. With the growth of the flipper pinball industry in the 70s, these machines all but disappeared. The last new design of Bingo Pinball machine was produced in 1979. The manufacture of these machines continued into the early 80s but eventually they went the way of the wind-up Victrola.
I've been trying to locate one of these old machines for awhile now and haven't had much luck. By that, I don't mean that I can't find them for sale. They're out there. But none I've found are relatively close to south Texas meaning extremely high freight rates to have them shipped here. In fact, some of the places where I've located them won't even consider shipping them via motor freight; it's 'will call' only. And the prices range from the sublime (for non-working machines) to the ridiculous (for rare machines or ones in 'perfect' condition).
Most of the machines I've located are in Tennessee, North Carolina or South Carolina. This is understandable because TN and SC were 2 states in the nation that did not 'honor' the Supreme Court 1957 Korpan ruling that essentially outlawed these machines. Pennsylvania is also a good source. But all these states are the equivalent of $500-600 in shipping and crating charges away from south Texas.
So . . . if anyone out there in worldwidefreakingwebland has a line on a decent, WORKING Bingo Pinball game (I haven't the patience for soldering guns and schematics) that isn't gonna make me re-mortgage the homestead and isn't gonna require a two-day road trip to pick it up, drop me a line. I'd sure like to have one of these puppies.
~ Bingo Pinball Memories ~