The Pinball Hall of Fame, Las Vegas

Sin City. Located some 270 miles north-east of Los Angeles, Las Vegas from the outside in never really struck me as a city I ever wanted to visit. I have a couple of friends who swear by the place, and go annually for a full two-week vacation. They’ve sung its praises for years, and so I finally relented, and managed a three-day visit there earlier this year, after finding myself a few hours away at Arcade Expo 4.0 in Banning, CA.

It would be fair to say that Vegas is exactly what I expected. It’s a smorgasboard of lights, noise, hotels, casinos and chaos. A real assault on the senses. One thing’s for sure: the ‘town that never sleeps’ is geared up to taking your money one way or another.

Aside from being a tourist doing touristy things while in town, there was one attraction above all else that I really wanted to visit, and that was the Pinball Hall of Fame. I’d read a lot about it over the years. I’ll save myself a job here and quote from their website:

The Pinball Hall of Fame is an attempt by the members of the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club to house and display the world’s largest pinball collection, open to the public. A not-for-profit corporation was established to further this cause. The games belong to one club member (Tim Arnold), and range from 1950s up to 1990s pinball machines. Since it is a non-profit museum, older games from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are the prevalent, as this was the ‘heyday’ of pinball. There are no ‘ticket spitters’ here (aka kiddie casinos or redemption). It’s all pure pinball (and a few arcade novelty games) from the past. And since it’s a non-profit, excess revenues go to non-denominational charities.

So this isn’t your average arcade – given its genuine not-for-profit status, significant contributions have been made to local charities each year as a result of its efforts.

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The unassuming building that houses the Pinball Hall of Fame

The facility is away from the main strip, so you’ll probably want to drive or Uber your way there. What immediately struck me on arrival, is the lack of ceremony about the place. The focus is on the games, not the decor. There’s no huge flashing light rig as you’d expect at other Vegas attractions. Clearly the mantra is “build it and they will come”.

What can I say about the Pinball Hall of Fame? Wall-to-wall pinball. Pure and simple.

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The first row inside the door is impressive. The latest Star Wars pinball flanks the left
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And a Whoa Nellie! flanks the right

From there, walk in any direction and swathes of pinball assault your senses:

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The bulk of what you’ll find is 70s pinball. Many familiar titles and other new discoveries
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Everything I played was maintained well
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The choice was phenomenal
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Modern pins were prevalent also: Stern’s Batman, Lord of the Rings, Transformers and a hot off the press Guardians of the Galaxy
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The lighting at the Pinball Hall of Fame was just right to allow players to experience the lit effect of many machines. Several 80s Williams pins here
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Great to see a Party Zone in the flesh

Tim Arnold the owner and main curator of the Hall of Fame could be seen milling around. I didn’t interrupt him as he looked to be very busy. My guess is there’s always something to fix when managing a collection of this size.

Interestingly, you don’t pay an entrance fee. Everything requires a coin to play. Just like arcades of old, you change-up your dollars for quarters and pay as you play. I’ve not experienced this business model before in recent years, but it added to the charm and feel of the place.

There were many highlight and rarities – I’ve captured a few here:

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Punchy Da Clown. Released in September 1993, and designed by Michel Gottlieb, this machine was produced with a few to appeal to kids. There are additional holes in the cabinet to mount the legs so the table sits lower for pint-sized players. Just 103 of these machines were built
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Arabian Knights. Dating from the 50s, it is regarded as one of finest pinballs ever built. Designed by Wayne Neyins, it has something of a cult following amongst the pinball community. It was a real treat to play. Check out the narrow gap between the flippers!
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Another small factor Gottlieb pinball here. Super Mario Bros Mushroom World
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Another I’d not seen before in the flesh. Bally’s Popeye Saves the Earth. Released in 1993, this pin was designed by the legendary Python Anghelo and Barry Oursler. 4,200 units were produced
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Q*Bert’s Quest. Another rarity. produced in very small quantities (less than 900) this table was released during the lean years of the early eighties. It’s certainly unique and if I’m being honest, downright weird to play. A real oddity and a unique piece of pinball history
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Another Gottlieb creation here. Challenger has a total of eight flippers and is unusual in that it is designed for two players to play simultaneously head to head. This was a revolutionary concept in 1970 when it was released. There was much debate at Gottlieb during its development as to whether it should have been released at all. Just 110 units were produced

I think you get the idea. But the Hall of Fame isn’t just about pinball. There were a good selection of classic video games to play also.

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Centipede, Tetris, Asteroids & Spy Hunter
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More video game classics
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I’ve only seen one of these before at the American Classic Arcade Museum in New Hampshire. Sega’s Star Trek cockpit. This is a really fun colour vector game with a very unusual control system. Note the buttons located on the arms of the seat. It was playable of course, and the monitor displayed nice bright colours
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Sadly out-of-order when we visited, Computer Space is always an impressive thing to behold
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Take note

And then there were older Electro-Mechanical machines dotted around:

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Big Top and Dune Buggy. Both surprisingly fun and glorious to look at
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Yep. “Computerised” no less
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This thing was amazing. 1969’s Zoltan. You put in a coin. Press the button relating to your Astrological birth sign, pick up a telephone handset and listen to a pre-recorded message telling you your fortune. Great stuff. More detailed info here
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Taito Ice Cold Beer. Huge fun this game

So there you have it. The Pinball Hall of Fame is an amazing place. Worth a trip to Vegas alone. The place doesn’t stand on ceremony, but what it does, it does well. If you want to experience a good mix of familiar and rare tables and games, you must visit.

A good litmus test of a place like this, is the maintenance of machines on display. Barring a few tables that were down (an inevitability of a collection of this size), everything worked great. Staff were on hand to answer questions and fix any immediate problems (I trapped a ball on Cirqus Voltaire at one point – this was promptly sorted). There was lots of repair activity going on while we were there, and you get a real sense that this place is a labour of love rather than an out-and-out commercial enterprise.

By coincidence, a video has just been uploaded today by Jeff (from the excellent 720 Zone site) to YouTube giving a quick walkthrough of the place this month (August 2018):

Great to have an up to date snapshot of the place, because I read recently there is talk of a potential new location to house the collection, nearer Vegas’ main strip with bigger premises and a more prominent location – I hope this comes off as the place deserves a much wider audience – the totality of what it houses should appeal to both enthusiast and casual player.

The Pinball Hall of Fame does great work. You may recall the write up of The Pinball Circus I did a few weeks back – this machine is housed at the Hall of Fame. It truly is a hiddem gem amogst the bright lights and madness of Las Vegas. It is clearly here to stay, and long may it continue.

A visit is highly recommended. I will be back for sure.

Thanks for reading this week.
Tony

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Patrick Norton says:

    A stop I always try to make whenever I’m in Vegas, and usually the only time all trip I don’t mind seeing some dollars disappear into machines. There was an Ice Cold Beer machine at the Southern Fried Game Expo in Atlanta this year, I became completely obsessed with it between games of RBI Baseball.

    Liked by 1 person

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