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Pinball: From Illegal Gambling Game to American Obsession

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Published on Mar 24, 2015

In the series premiere of VICE's American Obsessions, we take a look at the beloved game of pinball, its controversial history and days of corruption, and dive into the story of the family rooted deep in the nostalgic game's past and future.

Between the 1940s and 1970s, pinball was notoriously banned in some of the biggest cities in the United States, due to claims that it was a mafia-run gambling device that was corrupting the youth of America. It wasn't until 1976 that expert Roger Sharpe testified in court to demonstrate that pinball was a game of skill and not of luck, after which the ban was lifted in New York City.

This, however, wasn't the end of the game's long battle for legality, and some cities today still do not allow pinball in their districts. But now the game is making a comeback — both in court and in the world of gaming.

VICE follows pinball fans, including breakout musician Mac Demarco, and beloved playfield artist Dirty Donny, to learn more about the game's place in American pop culture. We then travel to the 2014 annual Pinball Expo in Chicago to meet with the Sharpe family and watch the best players in the world battle for the reigning title.

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