Tracing the History of Pinball from Illegal Gambling Game to American Obsession

Our latest documentary is a deep dive into the quirky and complex world of the planet's most skilled pinball players.

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Mar 18 2015, 5:30pm

In this episode of American Obsessions, we take a look at the beloved game of pinball, starting with controversial history and days of corruption and then diving into the story of a family rooted deep in the nostalgic game's past and future.

Between the 1940s and 1970s, pinball was banned in some of the biggest cities in the United States due to claims that it was a mafia-run gambling scheme that was corrupting the youth of America. It wasn't until 1976 that expert Roger Sharpe testified in court to demonstrate that pinball was a game of skill and not luck, after which the ban was lifted in New York City.

This, however, wasn't the end of the game's long battle for legality and legitimacy, and some cities today still do not allow pinball in their districts. But these days, the game is making a comeback—both in court and in the world of gaming.

In the above video, VICE follows pinball fans, including breakout musician Mac Demarco and beloved playfield artist Dirty Donny, to learn more about the game's place in American pop culture. We then travel to the 2014 annual Pinball Expo in Chicago to meet with the Sharpe family and watch the best players in the world battle for the title.

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