If you’re like me, pinball was a bit before your generation, so when you went to an arcade your options were Sega Rally, Street Fighter II, Tekken 2, Virtua Cop, etc… Then, against one wall was always the pinball machines. Typically there was something along the lines of a Batman machine, a KISS machine and maybe a Star Trek TNG machine. To be entirely honest with you, I never fully appreciated pinball machines… until now.
Located in sunny Las Vegas, The Pinball Hall of Fame is inside of a sand tone brick building. It’s more like a warehouse than a hall of a fame, but once you step foot inside none of that matters. No time is wasted on decor and swiping point cards, instead you get pure arcade goodness at ridiculously low prizes (most machines are quarter plays) and to top things off, all the proceeds go to charity. Seriously, in 2011 they donated $500,000 USD to the Salvation Army. The guy who owns it, Tim Arnold, is a pinball machine collector & repair specialist. His work shop is in the back of the Pinball Hall of Fame where you can see the guts of various machines he works his electronic wizardry on. There are machines dating back nearly 80 years as well as brand new limited edition machines. They even have several “EM” or electro-mechanical arcade machines which are essentially the prototypes of modern video games. To top things off, there’s a couple of aisles filled with the most vintage video games ranging from the original Donkey Kong and Missile Command to lesser known gems like Mad Planets.
It’s not like a boring museum where you just look at shit… it’s a play museum.
We spoke with Tim Arnold for a little while and he explained his motivations for The Pinball Hall of Fame. He describes the Pinball Hall of Fame as, “A big, square, dark building; nothing fancy, just a plain vanilla building with about 250 pinball machines that you can actually come in and play.” He continues, “It’s not like a boring museum where you just look at shit… it’s a play museum.” Arnold also shared that there are machines dating back to the 1930’s as well as the newest, modern machines. When we were there we noticed Arnold’s workshop in the back where he repairs any of the machines that break. He explains, “Yeah, it’s kind of a neccesity. They don’t make parts [for old pinball machines]. I just spent 3 days fixing the popcorn machine because the motor melted,” He continues, “The machine was made in ’61 and the factory that made it has no records that far back and nobody that still works there who remembers who made the motor. There’s no marks on the motor… I’ve searched eBay, I’ve searched Google trying to find a motor; couldn’t find one. So then I started bringing in replacement motors which involved different directions and shaft sizes and speeds. And it had to be a clutch motor because it had to stop instantly. But yeah, it’s things like that, there’s no sane reason why anybody would have 30, 40, 50 year old equipment that doesn’t work. You have to be kind of kooky to do it.”
The staff of the Pinball Hall of Fame are all volunteers who are there to help the cause, not only for pinball history but for charity. “It’s kind of like a social club,” Arnold explains, “Everybody just pitches in and fixes things and cleans up. Stuff like that.” He continues, “Last year we gave away $516,000, which you know, that’s not bad for a bunch of bumble-fuck amateurs that don’t know what they’re doing. We purposefully try to keep it unprofessional around here because the minute you start going professional you’re gonna do things like run a spreadsheet. And the spreadsheet’s gonna tell you that 80% of the income comes from 10% of the games and that most of the stuff that’s in here isn’t pulling it’s weight. So rip it out and put in something else like Dance Dance Revolution, or violent video games, or pool tables and then pretty soon, you’re not a pinball museum, you’re just another Chuck E. Cheese. And we don’t wanna go there, we want to stay ass backwards and do it the way we do it, because that’s the way we do it.”
Last year we gave away $516,000, which you know, that’s not bad for a bunch of bumble-fuck amateurs that don’t know what they’re doing.
He also explains the decision to keep everything coin operated, “We could save a lot of time and effort by going to swipe cards like everybody else. But part of the coin-op experience is putting a real U.S. coin in a game… not a token, not a swipe card, not pay one price at the door and play for an hour. An arcade has always been a big square dark room, full of pinballs that you come in and play. So, that’s what we are. Even though it’s horrendously stupid to do it that way, that’s the way we do it.”
Despite it’s name sake, the Pinball Hall of Fame also has a pretty spectacular line up of classic arcade games. I asked Arnold what purpose those have in this museum and he explained, “Oh, we don’t like video games. Video games are for children… little babies. When you grow up, you don’t play Game ‘Boy’, that’s for little kids. When you get to be a man you play a man’s game, with a steel ball. You play pin ball.” He adds, “This Donkey Kong, violent kung fu crap does not interest us. We keep the video games along the one wall here, just for the spouses and the children that happen to come along. We don’t have any of the violent ones, so we don’t do the rip out your heart kung fu shit and we don’t get into the Mortal Kombat… any of that jazz… any of the crime scene things. None of that. Just you know, bing bing bing bing bing.” Arnold also emphasizes that playing at the Pinball Hall of Fame is cheap, “You gotta remember that half the games in here are still a quarter. We haven’t done like everybody else and moved up in price. We could probably be making a lot more money if we raised our prices, we just haven’t.” Arnold, a purist and pinballer at heart describes an experience which goes against what he believes, “Part of the fun of an arcade is you come and put a quarter in a game and it starts up. I went over to this KISS Monster Mini Golf and it’s like a buck and a half to play a game. And you don’t use coins, you gotta swipe the card. And it’s like, no no, that’s not what I remember. That’s not part of it.”
Once it’s clean and working, all games are fun to play.
We asked Tim Arnold what pinball machine he loves to play the most and to our surprise he answered, “I never play ’em.” Sal, one of the volunteers said that he enjoys the latest Tron Legacy and Iron Man machines. Sal explains, “Once it’s clean and working, all games are fun to play. They just get so much play that they need maintenance. But every game in here is good pretty much. It all depends on what era you came from. Some of the older people play the electro mechanicals for 25 cents and the kids love Family Guy and Shrek, but they have no idea what they’re doing, you know?” Arnold adds, “If I get time to play, I go home and play with my dogs. I pretty much had enough of this after being here every day, all day. The last thing I wanna do is play the actual stuff.”
We could probably be making a lot more money if we raised our prices, we just haven’t.
Being in Las Vegas, there are many attractions to compete with a humble pinball museum, but every day there are people coming in and enjoying the low cost nostalgic gaming. Besides tourists and street people, the Pinball Hall of Fame also served as the backdrop to popstar Lana Del Rey’s music video for her single Ride. There’s even a yearly pinball tournament in which some of the best players from around the world join for a challenge of high scores. Tim Arnold emphasizes that, “One day the economics of this situation is gonna become too much, or I’m gonna be too old. One day you’re gonna come by and it just gonna be closed because there’s no economic reason for this thing to be here, so you better get over here and see it, while it’s still here.”
Pinball Hall of Fame image gallery…
Check out the Pinball Hall of Fame Official Site which allows you take a virtual tour of the museum.