Pinball Wizard Arcade OPENS - But is illegal in Michigan...Felony

By FlipperMcGee

May 03, 2019

24 days ago

The very very short version.   I loved playing pinball my entire life -at 21 religiously drove over an hour on weekends to Varsity Pizza in East Lansing MI  that had 5 EM machines. I said to myself, self if I and my college friends would drive 2.5 hours every weekend to play pinball, I bet a lot of us young bearded long hair college students would too!  Let open an arcade in Ann Arbor, a lot closer to my apartment at the time. Two drawbacks, One- NOBODY would rent their storefront to a pinball parlor. Second Pinball Machines were illegal in Michigan going back to the day when they were used strictly as a gambling device with NO FLIPPERS and 99% chance.  Caught operating them came with the game being taken smashed and a fine of $10,000 and up to 5 years in prison.  So I did what any young nieve student would have done, went to City Hall and had a meeting with the Assistant prosecuting attorney of Ann Arbor. Asking for an exception to the law (looking back, wow that took guts and lots of stupidity!)  After a few seconds, seemed like a half hour, he said, "I'll tell you what, if you promise not to allow any drugs in your business and NO gambling of any kind, I promise not to close you down....Because I LOVE to play pinball and I haven't seen one in years.  I'll have 20 games or more I instinctively said.  He stood up we shook hands and the first Pinball Arcade was open in 1969.  Where? In a dingy basement of a coop coffee house called MARKS.  I  bought 10 EMs from local distributors and in Cleveland Ohio. Brought them into my home and friends. Spent weeks cleaning and tuning up each one.  Opening Night, I was very nervous, my investment of almost $4,000 was on the line. With literally a hope, a dream and a few Flyers I printed PINBALL WIZARDS OPENING AT UNDERGROUND MARKS!

Open the door,15 minutes past, no one coming down the stair, 30-minutes and finally 3-4 people can downstairs. Then a few more and more until there was a waiting line at each machine!  Whew!  Well after a few weeks of cash revenue of close to a $1000 per week, I again did what every smart  Wayne State University Graduate with a Teaching Degree would do, I quickly changed career path from being a Science Teacher at a Detroit Elementry school, to become the owner and operator of Wizards.  10 years later we had well over a thousand machines on college campuses around the country and even Andrews Airforce Base and Fort Mead in Washington DC.  The best yet...we had a game in the US Senate's lounge area for Senators to play when they had time.   There is more to this story as my partner and I walked into the oval office and sat down in Ronal Reagan's chair and took some jelly beans out of a jar he had on his presidential desk.    Okay, this was going to be short but since I never wrote it down before ....sorry about that!                               FYI  I never regretted operating and repairing pinballs machines instead teaching elementary school.   

If anyone is interested, there are more related pinball adventures that again looking back....quite interesting!  There are a lot of perks being young and owning arcades.....                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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23 days ago
Sounds great, keep them coming.
22 days ago
Great story! Congratulations on your success. It’s fantastic when you can turn your love into your vocation and not lose your love for it! :-)
16 days ago
That's got to be up there with the best stories. 1969 - wow. You are the real deal. What color jelly beans did you take? More tales please!
14 days ago
Recently went to the Asheville Pinball Museum, and own one machine at home. The APM has 80 arcade level machines and they limit attendance to 80 players at a time. No coins, all free play. I think this is ideal. Your thoughts? By the way, I’m retiring at the end of 2019 and have been contemplating opening an arcade or free play operation in Montgomery Alabama. Please advise. Thanks.
14 days ago
We need more pinball entrepreneurs! The new generations are missing out on all the real live action fun (and skill)!
11 days ago
Great story - thanks for sharing. Must have been cool to be in the White House. Did you actually get to meet Ronald Reagan?
10 days ago
Enjoyed your story. I grew up about 15 years after you in Cleveland & Fremont, OH, and my sister now lives a stones throw from Michigan, so I can imagine what it was like. Thanks!
4 days ago
Great story. Please tell us more!
4 days ago
A great story!
3 days ago
Awesome story,keep goin....
1 day ago
Years later the near criminal ARNOLD BROTHERS bought Flipper McGee's, Crosseyed Moose, Tommy's Holiday Camp and rebrtanded them PINBALL PETES, expanding into Ann Arbor overnight. Even today there is STILL a Pinball Pete's in Ann Arbor, hiding in shame in a basement, stealing innocent children's lunch money. Pinball might be LEGAL now, but somehow that takes the thrill out of it.....

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