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At long last, residents of an Indiana town will be able to play pinball legally

Abhay Kumar

It’s legal everywhere nowadays, it seems. Whether it be recreational or medicinal, cities and states have become increasingly open to allowing people to try it.

Like it or not, pinball is here to stay.

For 61 years, the classic arcade game was illegal in the town of Kokomo, Indiana, due to a 1955 city ordinance, according to the Kokomo Tribune. And while the ban has not been enforced for quite some time, the city’s Common Council is currently in the process of repealing the ordinance, per the Kokomo Perspective.

Back in 1955, it was not at all unusual for pinball to be banned. Per Popular Mechanics, the game was considered a “game of chance” and thus equivalent to gambling. As a result, cities from New York to Los Angeles passed pinball bans and often led Prohibition-style raids on “pinball parlors.” In Kokomo, the Tribune ran a favorable editorial about the ordinance, which passed unanimously, saying “Wives whose husbands have gambled away their entire pay checks on pinballs have complained against the devices.

“The ordinance now gives the police department the weapon with which to stamp out one of the worst forms of modern-day gambling. It is a move welcomed in this community,” the editorial said.

In the city code, what exactly constitutes a pinball machine was laid out in extremely detailed terms. Just in case anyone was unclear, the council defined it as “an amusement device that consists of a glass-topped cabinet in which a ball propelled by a plunger rolls down a slanting surface among an arrangement of pins and targets with each contact between ball and target scoring a number of points indicated by a system of electric lights in which the player deposits a coin in the provided place for such purpose before commencing, and from which, if the player succeeds in bringing about the prescribed result or score within an allotted number of shots or balls which the player receives for the coins deposited, the player is permitted a replay of the machine or is entitled to some other reward.”

According to the Tribune, the pinball ban included up to a $300 fine and six months in jail for any violators. Adjusting for inflation, that would be more than a $2,600 fine today.

The ordinance was upheld in court but was apparently not taken seriously until 1978, when the city began taxing the machines as a way to generate income, according to the Tribune. But that strategy did not last and local arcade owners thought the law had been repealed, until council member Steve Whikehart sponsored a new ordinance to repeal the ban. The new ordinance is scheduled to be passed by Dec. 12, according to the Tribune.

“My wife and I have always dreamed that our son would grow up in a community in which pinball was legal," Whikehart joked with the Tribune. "Now that dream will become a reality."

According to the Perspective, however, the pinball ban is not Kokomo’s only unusual and potentially outdated city ordinance. The city also regulates the clothing a masseuse can wear, down to the length of their pants or skirts (no higher than the top of the knee) and requires that any refrigerator left unattended for 15 minutes be checked to ensure no child has climbed in and is in danger.

Unusual, outdated or just plain weird laws are not limited to just Kokomo, however. In fact, there is a website, dumblaws.com, that tracks all the strange city and state ordinances still on the books.

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