Pinball Wars: Slot Machines, Pinball Games, Racketeering, and Murder in Mid-Twentieth Century Rural Illinois
Master of Arts
Department or Program
Pinball was seized upon by organized crime for its ability to pass as an amusement device rather than a gambling mechanism. Pinball inherited this role from slot machines, which were often disguised as novelty toys or vending machines to circumvent increasingly strict anti-gambling laws in early twentieth century America. Pinball uniquely filled the role as a gambling device because of its ability to appear as a game of skill and amusement rather than of chance and speculation.
In January of 1960, Bunice Tyner, a resident of Marion, Illinois was murdered in what the local press dubbed a pinball war. His murder marked a high point in a struggle by organized syndicates fighting for regional monopolies on the coin-operated machine industry, especially those machines related to gambling. The close tie of pinball machines to the gambling industry in their early inception caused many Americans to view them as mechanisms of vice. However, the lucrative money the machines could help generate in small towns allowed their tolerance, even when the machines were used for the purposes of illegal gambling. The press generated around the violent struggle for control of pinball is a lens for which to study the culture, politics, and underground world of southern Illinois.