How one shot helped save pinball’s future

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — Roger Sharpe, an aspiring journalist, was asked to write an article for a trade magazine, later known as GQ, on pinball in 1975. Sharpe couldn’t find any books about it, so he did some research and became hooked on pinball.

“It’s based on skill, there’s geometry involved,” Sharpe said. “That was the part that became compelling for me and I wound up becoming a very, very good player — probably the best in world at a time.”

Through his research, Sharpe found that pinball emerged during the Great Depression in Chicago. There were a few concerns about pinball: early games were games of chance, they were a cash business and they had connections to criminal organizations.

Pinball was considered immoral and was illegal. Pinball companies made parachute harnesses during WWII instead of pinball machines. After the war, the restrictions still stood.

Eventually, the pinball industry did push the government to take away the restrictions. In 1976,  the government asked Sharpe to prove pinball was not a game of chance, but a game of skill.

Sharpe called his shot in New York’s City Hall, getting all five balls down the center lane. He did it.

The pinball ban was overturned in New York, then Chicago.

Sharpe has 25 pinball machines at his home in Arlington Heights. He also created the video game Sharpshooter in 1979.

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