City to consider lifting arcade ban

City to consider lifting arcade ban

Michele Ellson
Pacific Pinball Museum

Image courtesy of the Pacific Pinball Museum.

Before Michael Schiess could open the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda he had to remove the coin boxes from the museum’s machines, because arcades with coin-operated machines are illegal here.

But now that the museum is preparing to build “the Smithsonian of pinball” in the city’s grand but long-shuttered Carnegie Library, City Manager John Russo says the Island’s leaders are ready to rethink Alameda’s position on the establishments.

Prompted by questions about the ban from one of The Alamedan’s Twitter followers, Russo said city staff will bring a “significant revision” of the ordinance prohibiting arcades to the City Council for its consideration at the same September meeting where they will also discuss a Carnegie lease for the museum.

“We’ll get rid of this outdated ordinance,” he said.

The reader’s questions sprang from a San Francisco Chronicle piece about Oakland leaders’ plans to eliminate that city’s decades-old ban on pinball machines, which were once used like slot machines, for gambling.

“They were in bars, candy shops, drug stores, smoke shops. They were set up so that if you got a high score the establishment would give you a prize,” Schiess, who was quoted extensively in the story, said Wednesday. “That is what I call gambling light.”

Schiess said that many of the machines ended up in Alameda, given to local police officers as gifts even though pinball was illegal here for decades, too. He said one of his prize machines is a Bally Bumper from 1936 that was confiscated by Oakland police and given to someone in Alameda.

The museum has more than 1,000 machines, most of them stored in a warehouse at Alameda Point. But the museum is working to raise $3.5 million to refurbish the Carnegie; it’s raised $750,000 so far.

The city’s rules allow other businesses, like pizza and ice cream parlors and bowling alleys, to have a few coin-operated games as an accessory use. But arcades whose primary offerings are video games, pinball machines and a host of other, more obscure games are prohibited.

“Basically, you could not have a place that had just pinball,” Schiess said.

The Webster Street museum charges visitors a flat fee to see the machines and for unlimited play, which gets him around the city’s ban. Park Street’s High Scores video game arcade charges an hourly rate.

Schiess said he’s not sure what, if any, impact changing the rules will have on the museum. But he praised Russo for his support of the museum and its effort to move into and restore the Carnegie.

The city paid $4 million to make the building seismically sound and repair its roof, but has not been able to come up with the money needed to install electricity, heating and cooling systems and handicapped accessibility improvements.

Plans for the museum include two floors of vintage pinball machines and more modern machines plus a café in the basement, along with a community arts center in the center of the Carnegie space. All told, the museum is expected to showcase 250 machines – including some from Richard Conger, whose collection Schiess said includes machines that were all thought to be destroyed.

“After the money’s all there, it shouldn’t take more than a year to get the property in shape to open up,” Schiess said.

Russo expressed excitement about the museum’s planned move.

“Alameda loves pinball,” he said.

More information about the museum’s fundraising effort is on its website.


Submitted by William (not verified) on Thu, Jun 26, 2014

Michael has given his life to pinball. Not only has he collected hundreds of pinball machines, but he also teaches children how the electricity works within a machine and how they are built. His also repairs other machines that are owned by people like myself. He does quality work and cares about each machine he comes in contact with. If you haven't already donated to his cause for the museum, please try to so soon. His efforts are worth supporting!!