Las Vegas is known for the unusual and offbeat. Places like the Liberace Museum, the Neon Museum, the Clown Factory, The Elvis Museum, the Barry Manilow Store, the Pinball Hall of Fame… Wait a second. The Pinball Hall of Fame? What exactly is that? Or more importantly, why is there a Pinball Hall of Fame?
Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame Pinball Museum is an attempt by the members of the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club to house and display the world’s largest pinball collection, open to the public. A not-for-profit corporation was established to further this cause. The games belong to one club member (Tim Arnold), and range from 1950s up to 1990s pinball machines. Since it is a non-profit museum, older games from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are the prevelant, as this was the ‘heyday’ of pinball. There are no ‘ticket spitters’ here (aka kiddie casinos or redemption). It’s all pure pinball (and a few arcade novelty games) from the past. And since it’s a non-profit, excess revenues go to non-denominational charities.
4500 square feet is dedicated to the Pinball Hall of Fame, where the entire family can enjoy non-violent pinball arcade games for small dinero. All machines are available for play, so not only can you see them, you can actually play your old favorites. The pinball machines are all restored to like-new playing condition by people that love pinball and understand how a machine should work. All older pinballs are set to 25 cents per play, and newer 1990s models are set to 50 cents per play. A far better return on fun than any Las Vegas casino environment, and the PHoF actually has windows and a clock in the room! It takes more than slot machines to keep tourists happy, and the Pinball Hall of Fame is trying its best to do just that.
Forget the Las Vegas platitudes about sin and chance, excess and luck, ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ slander. Sure Vegas is thought of in terms of slot machines, video poker, keno and roulette. Las Vegas is largely built on machines. And the Pinball Hall of Fame is no differenent, but it is different. Wall to wall machines, but machines that deliver fun, something that a lot of people come to Vegas for, and don’t get. Pinball is a welcome antidote to the gambling thrall that rules the town. Look at the zombies playing slot machines. Are they really having fun? Fun is mandatory at the Pinball Hall of Fame, and it’s something you’ll leave with, unlike what a slot machine delivers. Look at people playing at the PHoF; they’re cheering, jumping up and down, laughing. They’re having fun.
The PHoF is grounded by a quality-for-quality’s-sake, Zen-and-the-art-of-pinball-maintenance philosophy. The machines here all *work*, and they deliver what they promise – fun. The club members make sure of this, often clad in a carpenter’s apron and strung in wire. The Pinball Hall of Fame’s reputation is on the line, and it’s causing a stir among ‘pinheads’ worldwide.
The PHoF is run by Tim Arnold, a veteran arcade operator who made it big in the 1970s and 1980s during the Pacman era. In 1976 Tim and his brother opened ‘Pinball Pete’s’ in Lansing, Michigan, and it quickly became a gamer’s mecca. At the height of their success, the Arnold brothers weren’t counting coins, they were counting shovelfuls of coins. When Arnold sold his part of the business and moved to Las Vegas in 1990, he picked up the phone and started talking to the Salvation Army. Midge Arthur, the administrative assistant of the Las Vega branch of the Salvation Army says, ‘I got a telephone call from Tim about 15 years ago, and he said, ‘If I had money to give, what would you do with it?’ We had a long discussion about our different rehabilitation programs. He was, I think, kind of skeptical of all organizations. He wanted to make sure the money was going to help people.’ Not long after that conversation, Midge Arthur started receiving checks for thousands of dollars from the man she says is, ‘one of my strangest, out-of-the-ordinary donors we have ever had.’
The Pinball Hall of Fame is a registered 501c3 non-profit. It relies on visitors stopping by to play these games, restored pinball machine sales, and ‘This Old Pinball’ repair dvd videos (available for sale at the museum). The PHoF has also helped out with fundraising for the local Salvation Army, accepting donations to benefit them. There is a candy vending stand, where the entire 25 cents of each quarter goes directly to the Salvation Army. And after the PHoF covers its monthly expenses for rent, electricity, insurance, endowment savings, the remainder of the money goes to the Salvation Army.
Tim says, ‘I like the Salvation Army a lot because they’re kinda like us. They’re downtown on the cheap side, and they put all their emphasis on the areas that need emphasis, and not a lot on hierarchy and organization. When the crap hit the fan with Katrina, the government failed completely, the Red Cross failed mostly, but everybody that was there said the Salvation Army was exemplary in every way. This is why we help the Salvation Army. They are unlike any other charity or government, very little overhead and helping lots of people that need it. Today’s society is often too self-centered to bother doing community service. So I’m just giving them a vehicle where they think they’re being self-indulging by playing pinball, but they are really helping charity.’
The best thing about the Pinball Hall of Fame is their complete lack of a ‘profit’ mindset. It’s about the games and charity, and not about making money. Tim explains, ‘we just don’t care that this or that game isn’t making any money. The minute we start becoming professional, it’s all gonna be about the dollars and it’s not gonna be about the games. I mean like the kind of things we do to maintain these games – we change the rubber rings more often than we have to. We replace light bulbs the minute they burn out. That doesn’t make any economic sense. If we were professional, we’d let things slide a little. There’s no real economic reason for this to exist, or capitalism would’ve already built it.’
That ‘cheap side’ approach gives the Pinball Hall of Fame its disarming, thrift-store feeling. The royal-blue carpet? It’s scrap from a Convention Center weekend show. The change machines? Grabed from the Golden Nugget’s trash dock before the garbage men came. But it’s not about cutting corners – it’s about maintaining an almost obsessive focus on the pinball games themselves. Forget about public relations, marketing, uniforms, or even a sign outside. ‘If the games play, the people will come, quarters at the ready. There’s stuff here that hasn’t been seen since my mom was a kid. And it’s all up here, and it’s playable.’
I’ve a friend who has restored a few pinball machines, and last 4th when he had a party at his house he had a half dozen of them in a row in his game room. And I thought that was a good number. In fact he even had a relative who ignored all fireworks and good part of the food, and spent the time playing pinball. But this place rocks. I now have yet another destination to visit in Las Vegas. If you go to the site, you’ll see many more pictures of the museum and lots of stats and information on the MANY pinball machines there.