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Having Solved All Other Public Policy Issues, Oakland City Council Turns to Pinball Legalization

Scott Lucas | June 20, 2014 | Story Politics

Oakland is an amazing place—there's no doubt about that. But its politics have always been a touch, well, troubled.

But that's all changed, it seems, because every pressing public policy issue facing the city has now been solved. That must be true, because why else would Oakland's City Council be considering a proposal to legalize pinball machines?

A little backstory: 80 years ago, the city, like many other municipalities, outlawed pinball machines, because back in the day, the games were less about notching a high score in Elvira and the Party Monsters or Sharkey's Shootout, and more about gambling.

Actually, they just were gambling machines. The old version of pinball lacked flippers, and for a nickel, players would plunge the ball into the field of play, and get paid out according to where it landed. Basically it was a horizontal slot machine. Much like Prohibition, the criminalization drove the games underground—and also to the lightly-regulated island of Alameda. (If you've never been to Alameda's pinball museum, go this weekend. It's wonderful.)

Fast forward to the present time, where next week the public safety committee of the city council is poised to reverse the ban, which has remained on the books ever since.

An incomplete list of other issues that appear to have been fixed: long-standing court oversight of the police department, a dead dog left on the sidewalk for a month despite calls to Animal Services, Heather Holmes robbed while reporting in front of the police headquarters, 41 homicides as of June, and a City Hall in disarray.

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