history of bingos
"Multiple coin pinball machines"
by Russ Jensen
When the pinball industry began in the early Thirties the main competition to the fledgling pinball machines were the three reel slot machines, commonly referred to as “bell machines”. Slot machines were still legal in many areas of the country at that time and were a major product of the coin machine industry.
Slot machine players deposited many coins in a relatively short period of time as opposed to pinball in which a game of 5 or 10 balls – at a penny or nickel a game – lasted a minute or two. The introduction of electricity (first from batteries and then A.C.) into pinball during the 1934-1936 period made possible a new concept in pinball design, the “multiple coin” pinball.
In this type of pingame the player could deposit more than one coin (if desired) before starting the game to increase his chances of winning. In addition, in most of these games, the number of balls per game was decreased to one and these games were soon referred to as “one-ball machines”.
MULTIPLE COIN POPULARITY
Two elements – the increase in the number of coins played per game, and the reduction in the number of balls from five or ten to one – made the operator’s earnings from the new type of pin game more comparable to those from the bell slot machine. (Note: Some one-ball payout pinball games were made with single coin operation before the introduction of multiple coin games.)
Early in 1936 D. Gottlieb and Co. introduced a game called DAILY RACES which was to set the pattern for almost all one-ball multiple coin machines for the next fifteen years. (It’s interesting to note that Gottlieb used the name DAILY RACES again on their last one-ball machine in the early 1947.)
The 1936 DAILY RACES had its playfield divided into three sections labelled WIN (near the bottom), PLACE (in the centre), and at the top SHOW. Each of these sections contained 8 consecutively numbered holes. The backglass had lighted panels corresponding to each of these numbers, and additional panels to indicate the “odds” to be won by matching a number in each of the three sections of the playfield. In order to “win”, a player had to get his one ball into a hole whose corresponding number on the backglass was lit. If he succeeded, he would win whatever the lit odds were for the section of the playfield (WIN, PLACE, or SHOW) in which his ball landed. Since the chance of the ball reaching the lower sections of the playfield (without dropping into a hole) were less than it going into one of the top holes, the odds for WIN were highest, PLACE a little lower, and SHOW the lowest.
In most of the early games of this type the first coin deposited would light number ‘1’ and select a set of odds. Additional coins could then be deposited to light additional numbers (generally in order) and to possibly advance the odds. A player could therefore cause all the numbers (generally referred to as “Selections”) to be winners but could still “lose” if his “winnings” were less than the number on coins initially deposited. Shortly after DAILY RACES, Bally – who was to become the major producer of multiple coin machines – introduced their first multi-section playfield game, HIALEAH. By the end of 1936, a fourth section (usually called PURSE) was added at the top of the field, and most one-ball machines from then on had four-section playfields.
The years between 1936 and the start of World War II saw much advance in the technical development of these machine, but the playfields and backglasses (except for getting taller) changed very little. Most of these machines had a horse race motif with the “numbers” (‘1’ through ‘7’ on most machines) corresponding to horse “selections” in a race, and the “odds” displayed on the backboard corresponding to the “winnings” on the horse – depending on where it placed in the race – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th. (NOTE: some games of this type had other themes such as baseball, and Gottlieb’s DOUBLE FEATURE in 1937 had a motion picture Academy Awards theme).
One significant change made in the operation of these machines was a change in what each additional coin would do. Instead of each coin lighting one additional selection, later one-balls offered a random selection or selections with each additional coin – from one to possibly all selections could be lit with each coin inserted.
In addition to extra coins lighting additional numbers (or ‘features’ in later machines), many of the later pre-war and early post-war machines had a “multiplier” feature. The depositing of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th coins would light “multipliers” on the backglass which indicated that the payoff for achieving a “win” would be multiplied by the numbers of coins inserted (up to 4). If more than four coins were deposited the “multiplier” would remain at four. These machines came to be know as “One-ball Multiples” within the industry.
The physical appearance of one-ball machines, while generally similar to other pinball games, differed mainly in their massive cabinets. Instead of individual legs, many one- balls had the front and back of the cabinet touching the floor. The artwork on the cabinets (as well as the backglass and playfield) were usually based on horse racing scenes. The names of most of these games were those of famous racehorses, racetracks, or other “racy” terms.
During World War II production of all pin games was, of course, banned. Conversions of older one-balls, like amusement pinballs, did occur frequently during the war however. When the war ended Bally celebrated the event by coming out with their first new pin games, a pair of one-balls called VICTORY SPECIAL and VICTORY DERBY. These two games were virtually identical except that the former indicated “awards” as replays, with the latter paying off directly in coins.
This idea of “replay/payout pairs” became pretty much standard with Bally after the war. The names of both games of a “pair” were usually quite similar, with the word SPECIAL in a name usually signifying a “replay” model. Other examples of such pairs were: BALLY ENTRY / SPECIAL ENTRY, and JOCKEY CLUB / JOCKEY SPECIAL.
From the end of World War II to the end of the “one-ball era” (1951), several “come-on” features were added to these games. One of these new ways to attract players was generally referred to as a “spell name feature”. When this feature was incorporated into a game two additional holes (often labelled simply “L” and “R” for “left” and “right”, or occasionally by some “horsey” name such as “boot” and “saddle”) were added at the extreme bottom of the playfield. Two corresponding lights were found on the backglass which lit at random intervals (called “Mystery Intervals” by the manufacturers) upon insertion of additional coins.
If a player succeeded in getting a ball in one of these holes, when the corresponding light was lit, a small number of replays were awarded. In addition, the next letter of the name of the game on the backglass would light up and remain lit from game to game. When the final letter of the name was eventually lit, a large number of replays would be awarded (or in the case of a few games all seven selections would light for the next game) and the name lights reset to a predetermined minimum number of letters. Another popular feature which was added to many post-war one-balls was the so-called “A-B-C-D Feature”. Four standard pinball bumpers (or in a few cases extra holes) were added to the playfield and labelled ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’. These bumpers would each light when lit in sequence and remain lit from game to game. When the “D” bumper was finally hit, the next coin deposited would turn on some special feature such as lighting all of the seven “selections” on the backglass for the next game. At the start of the next game these bumpers would be reset to their unlit condition. One of the most widely used “come-on” features on one-ball games was simply called “Feature” (standing for, I believe, “Feature Race”). A hole bearing that label was placed at the extreme bottom of the playfield, but just slightly above the “L” and “R” holes making it even harder to get a ball to land in. A lighted panel on the backglass, also labelled “FEATURE”, would flash on and off as coins were deposited. This light would rarely (usually once for each 400 coins deposited) remain lit. If it did, and a player succeeded in getting his ball into the “Feature” hole, a special payoff would be made. There were two common types of payoffs associated with the “Feature”, “direct” and “build-up”. If the game was designed or set (many machines had an operator option as to which type of payoff a game would use) for a “direct” payoff a large number of replays (or coins if it was a coin payout machine) would be given. The usual amounts of these payoffs were between 40 and 320 in multiples of forty. If the machine was set for “build-up” payoffs the scheme was somewhat different. A feature build-up award was indicated somewhere on the backboard, such as by using lighted numbers, a projected number, or, as in the later machines, a number shown in a window much the same as the free game window in most amusement pinballs.
This number started off at a minimum value (usually ‘1’) and would be incremented at ‘mystery intervals” as coins were deposited. The number shown generally represented the feature payoff in dollars which would be awarded to a player successfully landing in the feature hole when the feature light was lit. If a player succeeded in doing this he would have to call the location owner over to the machine, show him he had made the feature, and be paid off by him directly in cash, the amount of dollars indicated on the backboard. The next coin deposited (or the depression of a button underneath the cabinet by the location man) would reset the award number to its minimum value and the whole process would be repeated. Designers of these games incorporated these “build-up features”, which remained “on” from game to game, to tempt either the current player, or one who just happened to be walking by the machine; after all, the potential special condition was “only a few coins away.” Another very popular change to one-balls was introduced around 1949. Up to that time the payout “odds” used on one-balls were of a random nature. This is, any coin deposited could result in any of the possible sets of odds (payoffs for matching a number in each playfield section) being lit. The next coin could then result in either no change in odds, higher odds, or (and this was what the player dreaded) LOWER odds.
Then in 1949, with the introduction of the one-ball “pair” LEXINGTON/CITATION, Bally introduced what was known as “Guaranteed Advancing Odds.” This meant that insertion of additional coins would either increase the odds or leave them unchanged; in no case would they ever decrease. This eliminated the player’s dread of losing good odds when inserting additional coins while trying for better Selections or special “features.” Thus, players tended to insert more additional coins making for better profits for the operator. The final advance in the features of the one-ball multiple coin machine was made in the last few years of one-ball production. Many of these later games had “button features.” The first coins deposited would change the selected number(s), increase the odds or light the “spell name” special pocket lights or other features. On some of these machines when the player got a selection he wanted to retain, he would press a button which would mean that the selection would not be lost by the insertion of additional coins. Coins deposited after a button was pressed could give the player additional “advantages” such as lighting additional selections, further increasing the odds, making certain sections of the playfield worth more (Purse scores Win odds, for example) etc. Other machines had as many as four buttons, each button allowing the player to try to light different additional features when depositing extra coins. In 1950 Bally brought out TURF KING which had reached a high degree of sophistication (especially in its advance electrical circuitry). These machines were very popular in many areas of the country where they were either Legal or “tolerated.” Then came the Johnson Act and interstate shipment of one-balls became highly questionable.
It was clear that the days of the one-ball were numbered. Something would have to be done if the large profits From multiple coin pinball play were to continue. Early in 1951, the industry came up with a replacement for the one-ball, the “in-line” games, later to become known as “bingos.”
The last two Bally one-balls were FUTURITY in January 1951 and SUNSHINE PARK in March 1952. This letter machine is quite rare and may have been primarily made for foreign consumption. Because many anti-gambling machine laws specifically mentioned “one-balls” by name as a class of gambling device, the industry knew that one-ball play must be entirely eliminated in multiple coin pinballs to get around the problems concerned with the Johnson Act.
The resulting new type of multiple coin games were the “in-line” pinballs.
Early in 1951, United Manufacturing Company came out with one of these new types of games. It was called ABC and consisted of a circular playfield sloping toward the centre with 25 holes (numbered 1 to 25) around the outside of the circle. Located at the centre was a pop bumper which would repel any balls back toward the holes until each ball finally landed in a bole. A pinball plunger was used to launch each ball onto the playfield.
The backglass had three “bingo cards” labelled A, 8, and C), each with a different 5-by-5 array of numbers 1 through 25. The player could deposit 1 to 3 coins at the start of each game. The first coin “bought” the A card, the second coin the B, and the third the C. The player would then shoot five balls each eventually landing in one of the 25 playfield holes, lighting the corresponding five numbers on the backglass bingo cards. If the player succeeded in lighting 3, 4, or 5 numbers in a line (vertical, horizontal, or on the main diagonal) on a card which he had “bought,” he would be awarded a designated number of replays, depending on whether he had attained three, four or five in line. (Historical note: In 1938, Stoner came out with a game called ZETA which had a similar playfield with only 10 numbered holes and an “exploding spring” type pop bumper in the centre. Each hole would light 2 of the 10 numbers. Lighting all 10 numbers would give replays. This was possibly the first use of a pop bumper, since the use of that type of bumper on pinballs did not became common until the late forties.)
“ENTER BALLY BINGOS”
Within a month after the introduction of ABC by United, Bally came out with BRIGHT LIGHTS. This game had 25 holes and a standard size pinball playfield, six bingo cards on the backglass, and one to six coins could be deposited per game. The use of pinball-type playfields became the standard for these “in-line” pin games. Bally and United were the major manufacturers of these games, with a few being made by Keeney. Williams even made one machine of this type, LONG BEACH, in 1952. They also made a few flipper games in the same period which incorporated a bingo card as an additional way to win replays, supplementing the usual high score awards typical of “flippers.” Another early “in-line” machine was FIVE STAR by Universal Industries. That outfit was actually a subsidiary of United that previously produced console slots and one-balls. FIVE STAR had an almost square playfield and five 3-by-3 cards on the backglass. There was a star in the centre position of each card, surrounded by eight (out of a possible 11) numbers. One to five coins could be inserted, each “buying” an additional card for play. The playfield bad 12 holes numbered 1 through 11, and one labelled with a “star”. Balls dropping into the numbered holes lit the corresponding number, and getting a ball into the “star” hole lit the star in the centre of each card. Players lighting one or more lines on any card which was “active” (due to insertion of the proper number of coins) would receive replays based on which type of lines were completed on the card (vertical, horizontal, diagonal, the ‘T’ or the ‘X’), the latter paying 200 replays. FIVE STAR was a very novel game and bore many similarities to the many bingos” that followed, especially the “6 card” games.
ADVANCING ODDS AGAIN!
Late in 1951, Bally came out with SPOT LITE, which was an in-line pinball with variable replay payoffs (or odds). Instead of depositing additional coins to “buy” extra cards, the player would deposit coins to increase the number of replays received for the winning in-line combinations – sets of lighted numbers on the backglass would indicate the number of replays awarded for lighting 3 in Line, 4 in line, or 5 in line on the bingo card. The first coin deposited gave the lowest odds. Additional coins could cause higher odds to light up. Once the odds were increased, they could not go back to a lower value – referred to by the manufacturers as “guaranteed advancing odds.” This is, of course, the same feature introduced into one balls a few years earlier. In addition to advancing the odds, depositing additional coins could qualify the player for other “game advantages,” such as allowing the numbers in the four corners of the card to score, lighting (“spotting”) free numbers on the card, or giving the player one or two extra balls to play. This latter feature became standard on most in-line machines, with most of them giving the player a chance to be awarded up to three extra balls. The implementation of these “extra coin advantages” required some rather sophisticated electro-mechanical technology to allow the advantages to be produced on a fairly random basis. Much of this technology having already been developed for one-balls made the design job much easier. This, coupled with the mechanization of the “search” function required to detect winning 3, 4, 5 in-line combinations, meant that in-line games contained the most sophisticated circuitry to be found in pinball machines. Probably the most innovative concept used in the design of these games (actually it was originally developed for the later model one-ball horserace games),was that of “reflex play”. Simply stated this means that the more coins a player deposits without winning replays, the easier it becomes to win. Conversely, the more a player wins, the harder it then becomes to win more replays. This is a feature of these games that makes one think the machine has “a mind of its own.”
During the period between 1951 and 1956 many different in-line games were made primarily by Bally and United. Each machine had slightly different “special features” but were similar in basic design.
The scoring of all of these games had one thing in common, only one 3 in line, one 4 in line, and one 5 in line combination could be scored in any one game. Then, in 1956, games began to appear which featured 3 coloured lines on the bingo card (usually red, yellow, and green). Separate “odds” indications were provided for each colour, enabling 3, 4, or 5 in line scoring on all three coloured lines independently. Thus a player had the possibility of scoring 3, 4, or 5 in line on any or all colours in any one game.
Also in 1956 another innovative feature was introduced – with KEY WEST / NIGHTCLUB and “turning corners.” The four sets of four numbers in the corners of the bingo card each had the capability of being rotated at a certain point in the game (when that feature was enabled by depositing additional coins) by pressing buttons located on the front rail of the game. This allowed lit numbers in these areas of the card to be used to form a winning in-line combination on more than one line of the card. Some games featured “moving lines” in which all five numbers in a given line could be “rotated” from left to right or vice versa.
The next advance in bingo pinballs came out in late 1958 with the introduction by Bally of CARNIVAL QUEEN. This game featured one “bingo card” in the centre of the backboard with a set of moveable overlays (referred to as “Magic Screens”) each displaying different patterns of winning combinations of the 25 numbers on the card. When the first coin was deposited the “basic” screen appearing showed coloured lines indicating 3 colour in-line scoring as in previous games.
As additional coins were inserted the player could receive the right to cause additional screens to be moved in front of the card, each indicating different scoring combinations of the numbers on the card. There were seven or eight possible screens called “A,” “B,” “C,” etc., with lighted panels on the backglass being lit in sequence (at mystery intervals) with the insertion of extra coins. The player could then, during the course of game, cause the screens corresponding to the lit letters to be moved in front of the card. This could result in a lit combination of numbers on the card scoring replays on one of the extra screens which might not be a “winner” on the basic screen.
These extra screens contained coloured “Scoring Sections” rather than in-line scoring as on the basic screen. In order to score the player had to light 2 or more numbers in one of these sections. It normally took 3 or more numbers in any section to score, however, depositing additional coins could qualify a player for the so-called “Super Sections” in which 2 numbers scored as 3, 3 as 4, and 4 numbers as 5. Another popular feature of these games was “Push Buttons AFTER 5th Ball.” If depositing extra coins caused that panel to light on the backglass, the player could push buttons to move the screens alter 5 balls had been shot. (Normally you could change screens only BEFORE the 4th ball was shot). This allowed players to collect a score on one screen and another for a different pattern on another screen, as long as they were for different coloured lines or sections (or a better scoring combination for the same colour). Incidently, this same feature appeared earlier on the “turning corners” games mentioned previously.
One of the all-time favourite, features of bingo players of the “screen,” and later the “OK” bingos, was the “Blue Section.” The Blue Section was the smallest coloured section on the screen and only covered 3 numbers. As extra coins were deposited the feature “3 in Blue Section Scores 300” could light. And finally, if you were really lucky, and deposited enough coins, you would be rewarded with “2 in Blue Section Scores 600.” By this time the player would have a sizeable investment in the game and the anxious cry of “Two in the Blue!” would always bring silence in the establishment while patrons stopped what they were doing to see if the player would make his “2 in the Blue.”
Around 1960 a feature was introduced which became one of the most popular innovations with bingo players. The “OK feature,” as it was called, gave the player the possibility of doing something during one game that could influence the next game (a “future” effect). Other examples of “future effects,” which were used much earlier on many one-balls, were the “A-B-C-D” and “Spell Name” features mentioned earlier. Depositing of additional coins could cause a panel labelled “OK” to be lit on the backglass. If this occurred the player could cause a special “OK Screen” to be moved in front of the bingo card, in addition to any of the other screens (A, 8, C, etc.) for which he had qualified. This “OK Screen” had a special five-number orange-coloured section referred to as the “OK Section.” If two or more of those five numbers were lit during play (and the “OK Screen” was enabled and selected by the player) an “OK Game” was awarded. The OK game meant that the next game was free with certain guaranteed minimum odds and features. These were determined by which of the letters in the name of the game on the backglass were Lit RED in the game during which the OK game was awarded. Depositing extra coins at the beginning of that game caused the “red letter” in the game name to advance at mystery intervals (actually, the red letter was a function of the green line odds, although this was not generally known to the player). The minimum odds and features at the start of the OK game, corresponding to each possible red letter, were indicated on a card at the bottom of the playfield. The player could, of course, deposit additional coins at the start of the OK game to try to advance their odds and features even further.
Another major change in “bingo pinballs” occurred in 1965 with the introduction of 20 hole machines. The traditional 25 hole playfield was changed to 20 holes with the numbers on the bingo card being changed to a 20 number array. These “20 hole Bingos” generally had coloured sections on their cards (similar to those on the special screens on the “Screen Games”) rather than straight in-line Scoring. Another form of bingo pinball, which was prevalent in the 1960’s and 1970’s, was the “6 Card Bingo.” The main difference between these and other bingos was the fact that they had no changing odds, i.e. there were only three fixed scores, one for each of the three winning combinations (3-in-line, 4-in-line, and 5-in-line). In these machines each of the first 6 coins deposited would enable an additional bingo card for scoring. If more than 6 coins were inserted the extra coins would each enable another special feature (up to a fixed maximum of coins). In each case the player knew in advance exactly what the depositing of the next coin would do (no “mystery intervals” as in other bingos and one-balls). This “no chance” idea in multiple coin play enabled these machines to be legal in some jurisdictions where other bingos were outlawed due to their “chance” features.
END OF AN ERA
By the 1970’s bingo pinball was illegal in most states or localities. Actually only Nevada, Tennessee, and South Carolina seemed to allow them totally. Then a few years ago Tennessee instituted a “slow death law” saying that after two yearn bingo pinball would be permanently banned from the state. It was at this point that Bally, the only U.S. manufacturer of bingos at that time, apparently decided to quit bingo production, and thus the age of multiple coin pinball essentially came to an end, except for a smattering of machines in Nevada and a few other localities around the country where they were tolerated by local authorities.
“Multiple Coin Pinball” began in the mid-thirties with the “one-balls,” was “revamped” in the early fifties with the introduction of the “bingo,” and had a downhill struggle from 1957 (when the Supreme Court’s “Korpran Decision” put bingos under the Johnson Act) until now when they are almost completely eliminated.
But to many pinball collectors, bingos (and one-balls too) are a fascinating collectible to own and play and have a permanent place in the history of coin-operated game machines.
In memory of
russell warren jensen
1936 – 2007
As an electrical engineer for Port Hueneme, a United States Naval Base, Russ had a long successful career, up until the day of his retirement. Pinball repair and restoration had been his hobby since he was a kid. He wrote manuals on how to repair pinball machines, regularly contributed to Game Magazine and authored an internationally known book on repairing and restoring pinball machines. In doing so he made friends the world over.
If you want to let us know your history with Bally bingos then please contact us and we will gladly add it to our collection of stories. Also look out on the latest news as we share some of the memories of the Bally Bingo in Britain community.