Skee-Ball is a standard game found in almost any boardwalk arcade or even most general arcades. It is a distant relative of bowling but on an incline. The player is provided with 9 balls. There is a long ramp which slopes up and has a series of holes at the top of the ramp. Each hole has a point designation based on how hard it is to roll the ball up into it. The player would roll the wooden ball up the ramp, over a small hump, and then hopefully into one of the holes designated by a ring around it with the point amount. The game then dispenses tickets in return for the amount of points you scored. The tickets are usually redeemable for prizes and such.
The ramp initially was 36 feet long when it was invented in 1909 by J.D. Estes in Philadelphia, but were shortened to 14 and then 10 feet. The shorter lanes made it possible to fit more games in a single arcade and thus made the activity more accessible and popular. The original lanes were so long that whoever was playing needed to have considerable strength in order to roll the ball hard enough and with enough precision.
In the early 1900s, nearly all penny arcades had a row of machines and a display case of prizes to win. Back in the day, law enforcement considered any game that gave you a prize to be a gambling mechanism. In some places there were restrictions put on the amount of lanes allowed, if the game wasn’t completely banned from the arcade altogether. These laws were eventually let up and the first Skee-Ball tournament took place in Atlantic City, NJ in 1935.
The key is rolling the ball straight up the center of the lane, and not too hard. It is difficult to get the ball into the center hole, but with enough practice and the right rhythm, it is definitely possible. Nowadays there are several different versions of Skee-Ball, such as Mega Skee-Ball (which is much larger) and Skee-Daddle (a miniature version for kids). In the 1990s, lights and more effects were added to the previously no frills game just in time for it to be made popular in Chuck E. Cheese's and other kid-oriented places.