Town Shuts Down Pinball Hall, Because Pinball Was Deemed Evil In the 1960s [Update]

from the that-deaf-dumb-and-blind-kid-might-go-to-jail dept

We’ve seen over and over again how forms of popular entertainment, from the waltz and chess to comic books and rock n’ roll, have often been deemed “a bad influence” (or worse) on children and and “respectable” folks in society, leading to efforts to outlaw them. In some cases, these efforts have been successful — such as with the horribly evil game of pinball. I have to admit, I did not realize that pinball was actually banned in large parts of the US for many years due to connections with organized crime and (yet again) a fear of the “bad influence” the game had on kids. Many cities and towns felt that arcades and pinball games were not the sort of thing that should be seen anywhere respectable, as it was an indication of the wrong type of business.

While most of the world has grown out of this, apparently some of those laws are still on the books. Jay points us to the news that a guy who opened up a retro arcade/pinball museum and entertainment center in the small town of Beacon, NY has been forced to shut down because someone discovered this ancient law on the books banning pinball. While absolutely everyone admits that this is a dumb law, and they would be perfectly happy to have this shop open up, they’re apparently still enforcing the law, and for some unclear reason, the city council is taking forever to repeal the law. In a video report on CNN no real reason is given for this delay, other than that these things take time.

Update: Someone in the comments helpfully provided the town mayor’s response, claiming that the CNN report was misleading, and left out the fact that there were serious noise ordinance issues with the place, and that it had changed business models from one that was considered okay, to one that was not. The mayor also insists that he’s done a bunch of things to try to make this right. However, others still find the use of such a law to be questionable.

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Comments on “Town Shuts Down Pinball Hall, Because Pinball Was Deemed Evil In the 1960s [Update]”

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Shawn (profile) says:

According to the mayor..

“I understand the frustration people are all feeling about the retro-arcade business but take a step back and think for one minute. The CNN story was bogus and misguided. It totally hyped the emotional side of the story and left out the real reasons for the closure and challenges in re-writing the law.

The issue is noise and only noise. The business next to the arcade and the residents above it had a legitimate complaint about NOISE. The owner changed his business model from one that was legal to one that was not permitted. A complaint was filed with the building department. Should the City of Beacon ignore the complaints from its businesses and residents and allow an illegal operation to continue? Which laws do you suggest we enforce and which shall we ignore? There are always two sides to a story and two groups ready to complain.

I am a huge supporter of the retro-arcade business. I think it is great for Beacon’s Main Street economy. I helped the owner to try to keep the business open but in the end when complaints are filed the law must be enforced. Meanwhile, according to the arcade owner, the landlord of the building took several actions and intended to deny a renewal of the lease – claiming that other tenants were disturbed by the noise.

Knowing his business was at stake I tried to act quickly. My next step was to change the ordinance to allow a vintage arcade to operate without causing problems to adjacent businesses. I made phone calls to help him to relocate. I had the city planner rewrite the ordinance to allow the council to give it special permission to operate (a special use permit). The council worked to find a way to allow any vintage arcade business to operate without opening the door to other problems identified by other municipalities in their laws, and to protect the adjacent businesses and apartments from noise impacts. We also had to protect the arcade business owner from being closed down again a second time due to frivolous or malicious complaints. We rejected ides such as making the room sound proof and ended up leaving it to the business owner to reduce the noise in any way he wanted. Enforcement would be objectified by a decibel meter reading taken at adjacent unites.

I am sure if you lived above a business that had constant pinging sounds you would want the city council to protect your quality of life. I am also sure if you owned a business you would want the municipality to write laws that would protect your right to stay in business (like the arcade owner). Well to get all of this right, it sometimes takes time.

We all hope we can resolve this quickly so this very fascinating and beneficial business can open again.

Steve Gold, mayor “

Reed (profile) says:

Re: According to the mayor..

Thanks for your input in this matter. We always appreciate hearing directly from the source her at Techdirt.

I would like to point out though that these people lived in a commercial area already so the noise issue is moot in my opinion as Pinball machines are really not that loud and the business I would imagine still had normal operating hours.

Using an old law that is clearly misguided and a noise complaint to shut-down a useful business in your local economy is a shame and a sham. We like to give lip-service to small business but it seems time and time again that it is just talk and when push comes to shove there is no real protection.

Rob says:

Pinball does start with "P"

I’d say they got “Trouble” with a capital “T” that rhymes with “P” and that stands for “Pinball.”

But let me get this straight. They want to limit noise in their town, particularly in mixed business/residential neighborhoods. OK, that makes sense. However, banning each individual thing and activity that could make excessive noise sounds like a bad way to do it.

First of all, not everything that can make a lot of noise necessarily has to. Second, and lastly, you’d need a large municipal code book to enumerate all the potential — and thus banned — noise sources. And third, you’d spend most of your time in city council meetings thinking up things that make noise and banning them. Perhaps this is why the city council is taking so long to consider the pinball ban — they’re working on a fingers-on-blackboard law and are trying to decide if whiteboards should be included as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

So the city is using an outdated anti-pinball law to pin down this arcade because of noise complaints? (No pun intended.) I really hate the abuse of law that these cities use to exercise control over businesses.

Also, you can’t tell me that a pinball arcade is as big of a noise disturbance as a club, a bar, or even many restaurants….I’m sorry to the residents above, but that is just a risk that comes with the territory of living above commercial zoned property.

interval (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m somewhat familiar w/upstate and the further north you go the more conservative you get, although its not clear from the info that the guy was serving alcohol or not; but back in the day pinball halls went with dance halls, pool halls, & and bars as places of “ill repute”… could be some old timer with clout went “Pinball??? Not in my town!” or something like that.

Scott says:

RE-OPEN Fred Bobrow's Business

I think this is crazy. Hope city hall got my email. I think this sticks that a guy is just trying to make a living.
Beacon should move it along a quicken the paper work and open the doors for him before he’s homeless.

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