Gambling and pinball, part one: roulette

Gambling and pinball, part one: roulette

Written by robin, published July 19th, 2008. 13 comment(s).

In this first story of a series of three on "gambling and pinball", we take a look at roulette themed pinball machines. From the early electro-mechanics to the recent Sterns, the game of roulette has always been a hot theme in pinball. We'll study 5 machines from different times to look for their "roulette wheel coolness". In our following series we will look at the influence poker games have had on the genre. Some forms of the game like Texas hold em have been so popular there are pinball machines dedicated to it.

Similarities between pinball and roulette? Huh?

Pinball and roulette are loosely related. This is not totally coincidental: although some of you may now flinch as I suggest this, I think there are loads of similarities between the two games, if you think about it: Both games revolve around a little ball, around luck, around skill, both have been banned at places around the world, both cost you money (well okay, roulette probably is the priciest of the two) and both games are highly addictive.

Roulette goes back more than three centuries (quoted from wikipedia):

"The earliest description of the roulette game in its current form is found in a French novel 'La Roulette, ou le Jour' by Jaques Lablee, which describes a roulette wheel in the Palais Royal in Paris in 1796."

Pinball, and this will probably surprise you, has been around even longer than roulette, in the form of the game of Bagatelle (quoted from wikipedia):

"The existence of table-based games dates back to the 15th century. While some games took the wickets and balls of Croquet and turned them into the pockets of modern billiards, some tables became smaller and had the holes placed in strategic areas in the middle of the table."

Williams presents: "The Captive Ball Spinner"

A roulette wheel assemly has a pretty cool nickname in pinball: The Captive Ball Spinner, invented by Norm Clark. The IPDB describes it pretty well:

The captive ball spinner in williams a-go-go: an industry first!

"A scoring device consisting of a large metal wheel and a small steel ball enclosed in an area not accessible by the ball in play. The wheel has small trap holes all along its outside edge. When activated, the wheel spins around its central axis, causing its captive ball to randomly roll around with it. The wheel generally stops abruptly, and the rolling ball eventually falls into one of the trap holes to award the indicated hole value."

Williams "A-Go-Go" (1966)

Righty, enough for todays history lesson. Let's have alook at some pinball machines featuring roulette in one way or another:

We first find the Captive Ball Spinner on Williams 1966 electro-mechanic game "A-Go-Go". This game's theme has nothing to do with roulette but it is recognised as the first to feature a roulette wheel nonetheless.

This must be the first picture of an em machine on the pinside!

A friend of mine has this game in his basement in great playing condition and the roulette feature is absolutely awesome. You keep wanting to get the ball-in-play in a saucer which activates the wheel. This can earn you anywhere from 50 to 500 points, the bonus or even an extra ball. Basically the whole game leans on the feature and strangely enough it doesn't get boring very quickly at all.

With a theme that's not really about gambling and a roulette wheel that really isn't a roulette wheel, but some credit for inventing the assembly of a "Captive Ball Spinner", we give this machine a "Roulette in Pinball" score of 7 out of 10 points.

On a side note: Gottliebs 1967 game "Super Score" must have been either an absolute rip-off of A-Go-go or an eerie coincident; It has the same assembly (obviously not properly patented by Williams) in the same location with just a slighly different layout. Hmm.

Gottlieb "Monte Carlo" (1987)

A game that does have a gambling theme (in fact its even located in one of Europe's finest casino sites) is Gottliebs 1987 "Monte Carlo". Pure roulette beauty... in a pinball machine!This four player game featured the great "10,000,000 Point Shot", a three ball multiball and ... a real roulette wheel! The wheel, numbered 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 00, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 is a bit smaller than the real deal (and should mathematically speaking) have had only one green area but it spins and it rattles and it's cool! The backglass also breathes roulette in every way, with some prominent very rich snobs and a red and green feel to it.

The roulette wheel is the real deal here and the snobs on the backglass are a great touch. We give this machine a "Roulette in Pinball" score of 9 out of 10 points!

Williams "Millionaire" (1987)

Gasp!It took Williams 5 years to realise the coolness of Gottliebs Monte Carlo. But when they did, they did well! "Millionaire" is a machine that I first played when it just came out (I was around 9 years old then) and still have some fond memories of. I vividly remember the Broadway lettering of the (sorry if the designer reads this) absolutely horrendous backglass. I love the looks of this playfield. some of these were even diamond coated, i kid you not.A limo, a guy with a cocktail, some snobby woman in a purple gown. A villa, a jet, a cliche everywhere you look. 

The playfield, however is amazing! Everywhere you look are dollar bills and coins and in the centre.... A roulete wheel! This wheel does not have the cool numbering like the one on Monte Carlo, but the diamonds surrounding it partly make up for that. The text on the flyer is an hilarious example of some of Williams' best over-the-top marketing talk on a flyer and for that alone we must be gracious in our"Roulette in Pinball" score. The backglass does the rest for us: we give it 8 out of 10 points! You can "bank on that!"

Always a smart combination. gambling and pin-up ladies. where's the booze?Williams "Riverboat Gambler" (1990)

Ah, only 3 years later and another roulette wheel meets the pinball machine: A full blown casino themed pin is "Riverboat Gambler", which is all about gambling and high stakes! This time though we see another wheel placement: up in the backbox. A wheel with 16 faces, 5 inches across, with alternating black and This man must have his lucky day! playing on the riverboat and be in a pinside story!red (and two green) slices (but without numbers on them). Like in real roulette, the wheel in this game is totally, completely, shamelessly random. Yep: even the worst players could pontentially beat the best ones with this great 'feature': Unbalanced gameplay at its finest! There two great speech cues:"play roulette!" (female) and "play roulette for jackpot!" (male) that are just too cool not to mention here. All in all we give this machine a "Roulette in Pinball" score of 8 out of 10 points.

Stern "High Roller Casino" (2001)

The clever roulette wheel contraption in high roller casino.

Sterns first roulette wheel in a pinball machine was on "High Roller Casino", a fun machine that is fully casino-themed. This game is cool for various reasons, but let's start with the ball plunging skillshot: it goes straight into the roulette wheel. Yeah you heard it! Prominently hovering over the upper right part of the playfield, like a UFO over -ahem- something, this is one fine contraption. Wow, john youssi must have made a small study out of this whole casino business. Anyway, the game looks striking both on the out- and inside, the latter being absolute filled with casino gadgetery. You've got to see it to believe it, artist John Youssi must have made a small study about casino's to have come up with so many fitting elements. We'll be honest with you, if you love the gambling theme then you'll love this machine! The amount of time the plunged ball can stay in the roulette wheel is amazing. But also a bit too long sometimes. We give this machine a "Roulette in Pinball" score of 8.5 out of 10 points.

The verdict...

Okay, there you have it! 5 pinball machines featuring a roulette wheel - or to name it by its cooler name, a "Captive Ball Spinner".

Ow, honey could you please go and buy me a pinball machine with a roulette wheel in it?

The game with the most convincing wheel and therefore our winner is .... drum roll... "Monte Carlo"!

Did we miss a wheel? Are you in total dissagreement with our findings? Leave a comment below!

Next time we'll look at another gambling theme that is often found in pinball machines: Poker!


6 years ago
Actually there should be a Part 0 since you've missed out on the 1800's...

I recall coming across machines in the 1870s or 1880s which featured the spinning roulette wheel in an upright wooden cabinet. These were not pinball machines, nor were they bagatelles. They fell more into the category of early slot machines.

(^ And no, I don't think she will buy him a pinball machine, with or without a wheel no matter how much he begs her).
6 years ago
great story,
never played a machine with a roulette wheel yet but now looking to try one.
6 years ago
Indeed, you missed a wheel... or more! After the success of A-Go-Go Gottlieb came with 4-player "Hi Score" and 2-player "Super Score" (1967) with a roulette wheel. Williams mounted a roulette wheel under the playfield, visible through a plexiglass window, in "Fan-Tas-Tic" (1972)
6 years ago
Oops, I forgot a roulette wheel... Williams Suspense, 1969!
6 years ago
Excellent comment! Thanks for your expertise Henk!
6 years ago
Great story! I only played the HRC which I own since recently and I must say that it is really a fun game. My daughter loves the slots multiball...
6 years ago
You also forgot Speakeasy by Bally. (There's one at Shorty's). You get a spin after each ball and for saucer shots when lit. You could possibly lose one of your game balls this way.
6 years ago
And in responding to the "Best Year for Pinball Machines" thread in the Forum, I see we forgot Tee'd Off in the list. The Gopher Wheel in the middle awards a G-O-P-H-E-R letter.
5 years ago
I am trying to find out any information anyone might have regarding a nickle pinball machine. If you added more nickles the odds got better. It dealt with color panels and the board had numbered holes corresponding to the color panels. You had to get at least 3 balls in a certain color to win.

I played this machine from 1963 - 1966 in Leonardtown, Md. Thanks in advance.
4 years ago
Does the Cyclone's backglass mystery wheel count as a potential spinner? It probably should!
4 years ago
I think the BEST roulette wheel is on Who Dunnit! Not because the toy is very special, but the feature of being asked if you want to bet your points (the spinner turns decide the amount of the bet and it could be up to ALL of your points!!!) and if you lose (red/black), you lose or gain those points! I don't know of another game where you can gamble so many points.
3 years ago
Check out Bally TARGET ROLL, from 1957. Don't seem to be many of these
around. Got mine years ago but have only heard of two others. Built in the
era when Bally was almost exclusively building bingos.
2 years ago
Does WHO Dunnit count? Interesting article, thanks!

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