Many a man has lost many a quarter in the pinball for money game. Some of the more famous tables were Miss America and Nashville. No flippers were involved. There were usually 24 holes on the table. You used the plunger to launch your ball, and this was often the most important move you would make in your attempt to get the ball into a certain numbered hole. The first row would usually have six or seven holes, then a second row of six or seven, then the table would narrow down to the bottom where usually only 23 and 24 would be possible without the ball returning to the chute to try again.

So how would you win money? There were cards on the screen, akin to Bingo cards. Should you get 3 numbers in a row, you could basically get your money back. If you could line up 4, you could usually double your money. However, should you get 5 numbers lighted up in a row, you might stand to win a couple of hundred dollars. You improved your odds by putting in more money each time you played a game. This was the insidious element of the machine. There was no limit to the number of quarters (or nickels, or dimes -- but the true player only used the quarter machines) you could put in for each game, in order to improve your odds.

The 1957 "Korpran Decision" of the Supreme Court ruled that these "bingo pinballs" were "gambling devices" and thus subject to the Johnson Act which outlawed such devices. This severely cut back the use of these machines except in a few states, such as Tennessee and South Carolina, where they were legal. Bally continued to manufacture these machines even after this because Tennessee, especially, was such a hot market for them. In the early Eighties Tennessee (the largest U.S. user of these machines at the time) outlawed them.

I was living in Memphis at this time, and I have never had a gambling addiction before or since. But I put many a roll of quarters in these machines. They would be in the bars where you were drinking with your friends, and at some point during the night, you would gravitate to the "Miss America" glimmering in the dark, beckoning you to insert coins in her, with promises of big wampum. The other insidious thing was that the bars, if they knew you pretty well, would put rolls of quarters on your bar tab. You can guess how that worked out.

The best time of the experience was when you would get hot and run up a few thousand "games" on the machine. When you had had enough and decided to call it a night, the bartender would come over and flip the switch to set the counter back to zero and pay you a quarter a game.

However, as with all gambling enterprises, the house always wound up the winner in the long run.

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