An Interview with Tim Arnold, Pinball Hall of Fame

Pinball Hall of Fame: Tim Arnold, proprietor of the Pinball Hall of FameOff the Vegas strip, just a few miles away from the noise, the alcohol, the girls, and the shows, lies one of Las Vegas’ treasured destinations. It’s not a casino. It’s not a strip club. It’s not even anything that would or should even remotely exist in Sin City, but it does. I’m talking about the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame Pinball Museum, a place where you can sample some of the most highly rated and the rarest pinball tables on the planet. This museum is different in that you can literally play history and actually experience it right infront of you. It’s sort of like time traveling where, akin to the opportunity of seeing someone like say Lincoln do the Gettysburg address, you’ll find pinballs from the 30s all the way to current times, all in the blink of an eye, all ready to be played with just a few quarters to spend.

Its proprietor, Tim Arnold, is no stranger to interviews. He’s been interviewed plenty of times by a ton of different people about the Pinball Hall of Fame, which houses his collection of pinballs, and his choice of location. But none of these interviews, I felt, really captured Tim’s passion for what he does and, after meeting the man, some journalists may have even have censored some of his statements. I sat down with Tim Arnold to not only talk to him about the Pinball Hall of Fame, but also a little bit about what they do, his extensive knowledge of pinball, and his understanding of the hobby, in order to see if there’s anything that gamers and developers can learn in order to not follow the path of pinball’s demise. Keep in mind, however, that much of the interview is uncensored to properly reflect Tim Arnold’s demeanor, a man who’s very passionate and uncompromising about what he does for pinball and his enthusiasm to share his knowledge of pinball to the rest of the world.

What is your relation to this place?

I’m the director of stuff and things! It was kinda like my idea. Most of this is my equipment. And a lot of the work is mine. I get help, lots of help, but I guess I’m the one responsible, kinda sorta.

How did you decide to actually start this place?

Because I had a lot of games, (I thought) it was stupid to have this much equipment and not do anything with it. Lots of people collect pinballs, and then they stick them in their garage or their basement. They invite their friends over once in awhile and that’s it. I figured there was a higher purpose, which is to let the public in. “Uninvited people you don’t know.”

“Uninvited people.” That’s an interesting way to put it!

Well they come into your space and touch your stuff!


So that’s kind of what we did. And this has been ongoing since 1990.

Pinball Hall of Fame: One of the pinballs from the 1960sSince I’m a total ignoramus when it comes to pinball, I have to ask: when did pinball officially start?

It started in the 30’s, if you look at this “World Fair Jigsaw,” that’s a bagatelle. They used to sit on the counter in a candy store/cigar store. You used to put a penny in, you shoot some balls, they bounce around on pins… that’s why they call it pinball… and they land in pockets. And if you total up the pockets and you get a certain score, the bartender would give you a beer or a cigar, so it was gambling in disguise.

Then, as the 30’s went along, they grew bigger and bigger and bigger until ‘37 when they became electric and the size we recognize today. And then, they kinda took a breather during the war. Then after the war, they came up with flippers… so much of the 50’s was spent exploring what to do with the flippers and the 60’s was more of the same. 70’s, digital controls came in, which freed the designers to do things other than “ABC = double bonus, get 15 bonus, collect at the end of the ball.” There’s limits to what you can do creatively with mechanical logic, and one chip can do what 100 old pinballs could do.

So then the Golden Age, a lot of people feel, was the 80’s and 90’s when the designers were turned loose by the factory that spent the money, Williams. (Pointing at a game) This game here has two talking heads, where you put the ball in their mouth and that cost a lot of money to tool that up and the people on the second floor at Williams were smart enough to let the designers basically be creative and spend a little extra money for gizmos and rules and cool sounds and stuff, and the whole thing just took off in the 80’s and the 90’s and just grew huge! Then it shrank back down again, and now they say it’s growing again.

Thanks for the primer! I noticed you have newer machines here too.

Yea. That’s part of it. We’re not restricted in any way like the old movie channel or the 50’s music channel. You know, it’s more like the games we think are good are the ones we put in here… and a few bad ones.

What would you say is the worst game in this whole place?

There’s some bad ones. Some of the two player mechanical games from the 50’s and 60’s that were designed for export to Europe and had really wide flipper gaps. Because the thing in Europe was they would play them in cafes. They would put in the equivalent to an American nickel and they would play a game to see who bought the next round.

So it’s one of those things where the ball time was brutally short and there was really nothing to shoot for and it was more like a random occurrence and less like a game of skill. So those kind of games suck, and each era has great games, good games, and bad games. We try to go heavy on the great games and good games and very light on the bad games. But then again, everybody’s got a different opinion. We have the luxury of having enough space for about 400 games… we’re at about at 250 right now.

Pinball Hall of Fame: Addams Family is the most circulated pinball game of all time

So yea, then there’s the question if we can keep that many going. Unlike video games, they take constant maintenance and cleanup. That’s what our thing is! And we’re not for profit. Technically, we’re a men’s social club, like an alliance club. None of us are paid. We all work for free and after we pay the minimal expenses we have here, we give away about 80 cents on every dollar to local social service charities. We would like to think that we’re trying to make Vegas a little less shitty!

A lot of people go here for the night clubs and all the “Sin” but I find like that this place is a little piece of Heaven.

It’s like Vegas’ version of sin is like Disney’s version of sin: It’s safe, it’s controlled, it’s dispensed in metered amounts and only for money.

It’s “pseudo-Sin.” You go to those stupid night clubs and it’s the same girls who ignored you in high school and they’re going to ignore you again. So what’s the point? I don’t understand that, I don’t understand the gambling thing. I don’t understand why you would play a game where there’s no skill involved.

And it’s all based on “luck.”

Right. I mean if I wanted to sit there and press a button, I’d get a job as a data entry clerk!

And I go into these casinos and I see these pathetic old fucks sitting there pushing a button on a game and they don’t appear to be having any fun. And they’re like zombies! Then you look at anybody in here and they’re jumping around and moving, they’re concentrating, they’re going, “Ohh!” “Ahh!” “Ohh!” “Ahh!!” yelling, screaming. They’re at least doing something! I don’t understand the whole strip.

The reason why we ended up with this in Vegas was I need the tourists. If it was just locals, this thing would die in a year or two. But this way, we can leave the games here, have the tourists change every week instead of having the same amount of people who will get sick of the games then we couldn’t change they every week.

Pinball Hall of Fame: Recognize any brands here?

Where are you from originally?


And you just moved specifically… expressly… to do this?

Right. I loaded all the games on trucks and moved them out here. Originally it was a building this size in my backyard and I’d invite all my friends over and we’d just turn everything on and play games. And that kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger to the point there were a lot of strange people in my house and I didn’t like that so I said, “We’re either going to have to move this into some cheap commercial space or we’re gonna have to stop doing it.” So we moved into a ratty shop that’s centered down that way aways (points toward a direction on the street) and did that for four years, banked up enough money to buy this place, so now we’re down here and it’s a nicer building, it’s got better parking, it’s easier to get to from the strip but it’s not on the strip so the locals will come here. Locals won’t do anything on the strip ‘cause of the traffic and the tourists.

So we’re kinda in that magic zone where we can get both. The main challenge here is technical because these games were designed to run about 5 years and then fall over dead.

Now is that really the case, like that’s the whole truth?

Oh absolutely. The parts are manufactured only to last so long.

If they made them last forever, you’d never buy a new one. So we’re fighting against wear and parts that you can’t get anymore and everything! Light bulbs, rubber rings, all has a limited life and then they conk out. if you’ve got one or two games in your house, it’s no big deal. But if you’ve got 250 games that’s open 82 hours a week, you’re going to have every game in here have a flaw. If I start this end and manage to get through that end by the end of the week, I would have to start again over here because things have gone wrong again.

A lot of people have thought of doing something like this, but they run into the technical issues, and also these things take up a lot of very expensive floor space. And since we don’t rent, we own the building, we can afford to have stupid old games like this that really don’t make any money just ‘cause we like ‘em! If this was a commercial thing and we ran a spreadsheet, it would say, “Take out the bottom 20% and replace them with pool tables. You’ll make more money.” And pretty soon you’ll have fighting games and pool tables and dance machines and you’re not a pinball museum anymore, you’re an arcade.

(At this point in the interview, a patron approached Tim asking to break a $20 bill. Tim says to use the machine across from us, which will give bills and coins, as if he’d rehearsed this plenty of times before.)

So what do you think is the rarest machine that you have here?

Oh there’s that one down there (pointing to the direction of a pinball machine that’s almost the size of a full arcade cabinet) there’s only two of them! And of the two, that’s the only one that’s finished. That was the one that was in their lunch room at the factory. The one that sticks out that looks like a video game cabinet. “Pinball Circus.”

They made two samples. The German distributor looked at it and said, “That’s too expensive. I can’t sell a $6,000 game. Rework it.” So they put it back in engineering and, because of internal politics and other issues, it just kept getting pushed back and back and back. It was never officially cancelled. And then the factory closed. And this ended up in the garage of the head of design who was 94 years old and (who was) selling his house and going into a home. So we asked one of the designers (who said) I’ve got this crazy pinball in my garage what should I do with it? And we said, “Well, you can probably sell it for a lot of money, or you can sell it for less money to the Pinball Museum and the public would see it and play it.” So that’s what he decided to do and there it is!

And you gotta remember that’s the stupidest thing I can do to a one of a kind, the rarest pinball in the world is to let people play it ‘cause they’re gonna get their hands on it, things are going to break, things are going to wear out. It’s like if you had the first comic book with Superman in it and you let people come in and touch it. That wouldn’t be a very good idea. But nothing about this place makes sense! So there you go.

How much was the circulation for one machine typically?

They would build as few as a couple hundred all the way up to 20,000 which is Addams Family, the most produced pinball ever. So it’s somewhere in between. Right now, they’re not building much of anything.

There’s only one factory left and it’s just barely hanging on because all the places you used to put pinball… the corner store, the candy store, the corner bar… have all been turned into chain stores or just closed. Everytime you see a new Walmart thats 5 or 10 other stores where you could put a pinball that were owned by a human and would tell you, “Yea you can put in a pinball machine.” Walmart won’t even talk to you about pinball. There’s just no place in public to play them anymore. And I keep telling people at some point this whole thing is gonna to end. If I get too old or too sick or lose interest in it, it’s going to have to close. And there’s nobody else coming up that’s young enough to take it over that knows how to work on these things. So if you’re thinking about coming and seeing this, you should do it sooner rather than later.

How difficult is it to maintain some of these machines?

The problem is you’re not just dealing with one thing. You’re dealing with mechanical games where the numbers flip over and you’re dealing with early 8-bit computer systems and newer 16 and 32-bit systems and each manufacturer has their own quirks and their own wiring changes and they’ve also laid systems on top of other systems and, a lot of times, it’s a clusterfuck and unless you know all the tricks it’s pretty hard.

There’s also parts. I’ve got 40 years worth of parts I’ve been hoarding. I also used to go around and just buy up games that were in these floods and fires and stuff and dismantle them and stock the parts away. So if I need a gizmo, I’d go to a bin and there’s a gizmo. So someone just starting out wouldn’t have that advantage. So yea you might be able to do this with 10 normal people doing the work of me and him (points at his assistant behind him, fixing what seems to be a racing themed pinball), me and somebody else, doing the work of two people, but then you get into the economics of paying people $10/$15/$20 an hour and, taking in a quarter a game, that’s no way to make money. I just don’t see anyone else be able to pull it off.

Pinball Hall of Fame: The workbench

Have you ever had people come up to you and ask you to intern?

Oh yea, I get help all the time and I can teach people to do minor cleanup. But when it comes to actual repair and re-building stuff (looks back to his assistant) How long have you been doing this?

Assistant: 23 years.

23 years. So it’s one of those things where I just can’t hire a kid off the street and say, “Do what he’s doing right now.”

It’s intimidating I’ll tell you that.

Nobody wants to apprentice anymore because they can’t give 5 years of their life with no pay to learn something. They all want to get a job right now because they want a car and a girl and a life. And they’re not going to say “Well I’ll work for free for 5 years,” and we can’t really pay people. That’s not fair to the people who worked for free. So the advantage of not paying people and being all volunteer is that it’s a very pure thing and the downside of that is you don’t get long term the kind of retention and training you could get if you were paying people.

How do manufacturers determine how much to make for each game?

The distributor will send out a sample and some operator in your town will buy the sample and he’ll report back, “This game sucks don’t build them anymore,” or they’ll say, “This game is making big money make a bunch.” Then the operator gets on the phone to his other operator buddies and says, “Don’t buy XYZ game it’s a turd,” or “Buy ABC game because it’s great and it’s making twice what the other one was.” So you get that thing just like in the movies where some of them, for some reason, are great. It’s the same 5,000 feet of film on a good movie as it is on a bad movie, and a good pinball is the same box as a bad pinball. So it’s hard for the factories because one or two dud games and it could end them. Y’know, if they’re paying to run a factory and make parts and stuff, if they don’t sell much for 2 or 3 games in a row they’re in deep shit.

So yea they’re down just to the one factory now, Stern. There was three or four factories, traditionally. You’d have your choice of 8 to 12 games a year, now you’re down to 2. So it’s hard for the fans to get enthused when they only get something new every six months. Movies, you get new movies every week. There’s people that talk about making pinballs but, until sales pick up, it’s gonna to be a vanity project or a money loser.

What are the rarer games here that didn’t get larger production runs?

Well we’ve got engineering samples, which they make 1, 2, 3 and 4 of, so that they can get the bugs run out of them. Sometimes they don’t even paint the play field so they just have plain white wood. The only one we have here is the “Pinball Circus.” I’ve got more in storage.

And then there’s low production games that didn’t hit with the public. They’ll be as few as 2 or 300 on those. We just had an NBA game… I moved it to the Riviera. It was a full production game they only managed to sell 300 of them because it was a horrible game and the economy was bad… this was right after 9/11… and nobody was buying anything so, rather than continue to produce them and have them sit in a warehouse unsold, they stopped the line. So we ended with one of those turkeys. There’s other games from the 50s and 60s that are extremely low production.

Pinball Hall of Fame: The "wedge heads"

The wedge heads were always popular and sold well… the single players. It was also (because) there was 4 factories traditionally and Gottlieb was always king of the heap. Their production numbers were always larger, but factories like Williams in the 50s, their factory wasn’t much bigger than this building and they would make routinely 2 or 300 of a model in the 50s and that was it. And the rule is stuff from the 40s and 50s, there’s probably 1% of it left. So if they made 400 of a game, that means there’s probably 4 left, which means there’s 2 that have been accounted for and 2 that are in somebody’s basement undiscovered. So I actually went out and got one of every Gottlieb game. 382 different games from 47 of the first flipper game through ‘96 when the factory closed. And it was hard 20 years ago to find/to fill in the 50s because it was very low production and most of them have disappeared. If I started today, I wouldn’t be able to do it.

I can remember going through warehouses at first and i’d find 20, 30, 40 games out of my list and just load them on the truck and go, and towards the end I was going through a warehouse going, “Got it, got it, got it, got it, got it, got it… There’s one I need! Got it, got it, got it, got it, got it.” I leave there with two or three games and I remember the last three games that I needed which were from ‘52 it took me a couple of years of looking before I found those. I don’t know what I’m going to do with a complete set!

Since a lot of these games require a lot of time for upkeep, do you manage to actually find time to play some of these games?

No, I’ve never played. I’m like a bartender who doesn’t drink. That’s the best kind of bartender to have! You got a job, you go home, the last thing you want to do is the job again. You don’t go home and take out your interview microphone and interview your cat about what you did today. If I get time off and away from here the last thing I want to do is pinball.

Pinball Hall of Fame: "Honey", the pinball machine in question(At this point, someone came up to Tim and apologized that he would be unable to buy a pinball machine that Tim had listed as for sale. Tim said it’s fine. He then proceeded to talk about the fundamental principle as to why the Pinball Hall of Fame is still around.)

We also subscribe to the theory here of “amusement anarchy,” which goes to the center of why people buy things to have fun. Media companies now seem to think that they can push a string, that they can tell people via huge advertising campaigns that their latest movie, video game, CD release is so great that you can’t live without it. That worked for a while, but it’s increasingly difficult for them to fool people with advertising, into buying entertainment. And the people that seem to be doing well in entertainment distribution tend to be the people that grow it organically, that don’t look at spreadsheets, that don’t try to niche market, that they just sit down and say, “What would you do if you were going to have an entertainment. How would you build it? How would you film it?”

And that’s the anarchistic state that’s always existed in entertainment. No one knows what makes a hit and you just have to keep throwing shit at the wall and eventually something sticks. That’s the exact opposite of what big media companies want to do, they want to play it safe, they wanna have a plan, a niche, a spreadsheet, and people are starting to rebel against that. That’s one of the reasons I think this thing has done well, is that this is something that doesn’t make sense, that shouldn’t exist, that if you ran the numbers on it, it wouldn’t pencil out, as they say, and it’s here anyways because the public likes it. And I don’t advertise at all, our signage isn’t that good, my personal people skills are shitty. I’m not here to sell people things, and yet they seem to keep coming in because it was grown from the bottom up. It wasn’t shoved from the top down and I think… you’re into video games?


Yea, you can probably pick a couple of examples of video games where the video game companies tried to advertise their way out of a turd and they just kept advertising it, pushing it, and as we say kids got a hold of it and hated it.

That actually happened recently where a new Aliens video game came out and the advertising just tried to push it on people and, when people got it, word spread really fast that it was terrible.

They’re trying to push a string and if they’re risking all this money to make these super expensive games that cost millions to produce, maybe what they oughta do is drop back a level.

In pinball, it’s all about the rules and the shots. That’s about half the game. The art and music is the other half. If they would concentrate again on great rule sets, where there’s a trade off between risk and reward, and where in the middle of the game suddenly you have to rethink your strategy because the game has changed on you, that’s the kind of mindfuck that the good game designers have always been able to do and the lame ass designers have never been able to get. So it’s one of those things where (looks to his assistant) which designers do you like?

Assistant: I like Ritchie.

He likes Steve Ritchie games because Steve Ritchie reaches out and fucks with your mind in the middle of the game! He’s 2,000 miles away, sitting at a desk in Chicago, and yet he has just blown your mind with the way this game is fucking with you. And there’s other ones that just weren’t very good because it was like, “ABC gives double bonus, get bonus to 15. Wow, that’s the same as the game you made last month!” The newer games where shots don’t go anywhere, where the rules… they’re starting to ship games now with the rule set half finished! And then they send you an update on the internet (that way) you don’t have to plug it in.

I saw that one of your Batman machines over in the corner had a note saying something like that!

Right, and players just get on the internet and they just savage these companies for shipping a product that isn’t finished. Where you get halfway through… like Batman, like you said, the Joker, you would dead end at the Joker! And you’d sit there and say, “I got to the Joker, what does it do now? It doesn’t do anything! What are you trying to sell me?” And you can’t fool the kids.

My attitude is I throw it all out there, particularly the new games. We buy one of everything, whether its good, bad, or indifferent. And if they buy it, they buy it. If they don’t, they don’t. We’re not putting big signs on our turds that say, “Wow. Great game. Play this!” because we know the minute somebody puts money in and realizes that it’s not a great game, they’re gonna get pissed at us for selling them shit! So what we do is just say, “Here it is. You play it. You decide.”

I’ve also had a problem lately with the themes of the games. If you notice the front row is about 75% super hero games based on recent Hollywood movies. And I complained to the factory endlessly that they’re turning off half the audience by ignoring females, because females aren’t going to play AC/DC, X-Men, Transformers. I won’t even play Transformers because it’s a nasty, hideous, ugly looking, ugly sounding game. And I paid $7,000 for that and I don’t like it!

Is that the going price for pinball machines nowadays?

Yea. The deluxe with all the bells and whistles is 7 grand. That’s why we gotta charge $0.75 and a buck for the stuff in front. These games back here cost me a couple of hundred bucks. I can sell them for a quarter. And this idea that every theme has to be tied with a Marvel super hero I really am sick up to here with it. We didn’t buy The Avengers, which is the latest game that came out… the first time in 6 years that we haven’t bought their game and I told them, “Look. I’m going to bring in Avengers, it’s going to kill the X-Men, it’s gonna kill AC/DC, and it’s the same game! It’s same macho 14 year old boy death fantasy that you’ve been selling over and over and over again. Why don’t you get something for the girls? Why don’t you get something for the kids? Why don’t you get something for somebody other than a 14 year old who masturbates and thinks about killing things?” I think they lost their way.

Pinball Hall of Fame: A few of the games they have up front

Go up and play Family Guy and Shrek… exactly the same game, to the millimeter. Same rule set. One is young male, Family Guy, the other one is cute and kinda female, Shrek. One is a black, sleek machine and the other one is pretty and green. And that to me is the yin and yang that you need, is alternate between violent male themes and cute girl themes or throw in something down the middle that appeals to everybody. And you talk to the people at the factory and they go, “Oh, well, Marvel super heroes is proven a license success!” They’re getting conned in by these media companies too. Back in the day they didn’t use any licenses… pool themes, basketball themes, clowns… a lot of public domain clowns… and I kinda miss that.

I do find that a lot of the older tables have a lot more imagination and, as far as the (newer) boards go, I tried Rollercoaster Tycoon up in the front and the game’s quality felt cheap.

Well you don’t want to get into the problems we’re having lately with metal work and parts coming in from the orient and what used to pass for quality metal and plastic parts is a fraction of what it used to be. The reason everything comes in from the orient cheap isn’t that they work cheaper over there because by the time they finish freighting it across the ocean, it’s not really that much cheaper. The reason why everything from the orient is cheap is because they make it out of pudding instead of steel and it just kills us around here to have to keep replacing the same parts over and over and over again because they designed them with only one thing in mind: Cut the bill on material. Save a penny. Take the corner off. And, my favorite one: Take every second screw. And they’re just cutting their throats and I don’t understand it.

They used to have three coin chutes on every coin door, if you wanted different prices, if you want nickel/dime/quarter, quarter/dollar/quarter, whatever you wanted then it shrank down to two. And then, on TRON, they tried giving me a one chute door. The problem with that is if someone puts a Canadian coin or a slug in there, the machine is stopped dead. They can’t just use the other chute until I can get there. And I screamed bloody murder and I said, “What did you fuckers save? Fifteen dollars? Taking my second chute away?” Why did you go from a stainless steel door that can take a kick with a metal scavenger knob, to a stamped mild steel door that bends every time somebody puts their Dr. Marten boots on it, with plastic scavenger knobs that could kick the part the first week? What were you trying to do? And they all say, “Well, we have our cost analysts savings department and they have to stress test and everything gets tried a million times.” No, they’re just incredibly fucking cheap! It’s got me bummed out.

So we keep doing it, we got the new stuff. We got the 90s, the 80s, lots of the 60s stuff… ‘cause I like that…

You said earlier that some people were saying that pinball is making a comeback. Can you elaborate on that?

There’s a lot of people opening pinball bars, where you have 6, 8, 10 of them in a bar and it’s a sideshow to the big tent, which is the drinking and you’re just there to kind of to help out. I’m all for it. There’s also several smaller versions of pinball museums popping up… one in San Francisco, one in New Jersey on the Boardwalk, one in Baltimore just closed. And there’s a lot of little private clubs that collectors have. They’ll rent some cheap industrial space and put all their games in there. Then, every Friday or Saturday night, they have their friends over. So yea, that’s happening.

Until you solve the basic problem that the locations where you used to put these pinballs, the corner shop, the beer joint, and the mom and pop groceries, the donut store, things like that, unless those things start making a come back, you’re not going to see a $7,000 pinball machine on every street corner.

It’s like you said earlier… it’s just not economically feasible.

Pinball Hall of Fame: Could Pinball Arcade be ushering back pinball interest?

Recently, there’s been a company in Big Bear that actually developed a game called Pinball Arcade. Something different that they’re doing is, other than mimic the physics and the gameplay, they’ve tried to explain why each pinball is such an important part of history and I felt that was actually really interesting to see.

We do that here, but we’re handicapped here because our guests have a limited amount of time and I don’t really want them reading more than 20 or 30 words of history because that would cut into their play time. If we were charging an admission fee at the door, where you pay $20 and you got in to do whatever you want while you were in here, that would make sense. But because we let people in free, we kinda have to depend on them not thinking this is a library and they should be dropping some coins in and actually experiencing it themselves. If you want history, that’s where you got Google for. You can find anything you want on the internet. If you’re here, don’t waste your time reading and play the games!

I agree with the history thing, and we could do a lot more history. I’ve got file cabinets full of factory stuff that nobody else has, that I could do history that would blow everybody else out of the water! But, I choose not to because then we get what we call “lookee lou”s. People who just want to wander around, soaking it all in and then they’ve been here an hour and realize they’ve only spent $0.50.

This whole movement that Pinball Arcade started is interesting because I’m finding people who’re coming from video games actually discovering and wanting to discover pinball. It’s almost like a backward thing… it’s kind of what you told me prior to this interview, like playing pinball in video games is like kissing your sister.

A lot of times, I get a lot of collectors who come in and say, “I played this game on virtual pinball,” because they have PinMAME, which is an unlicensed version of what you’re talking about. And they say that they, “tried it on PinMAME and I liked the game, now I want to play it for real to see if I want to buy the machine.” And I don’t think it’s ever going to be anything other than a starter for the real thing and I don’t think, no matter what you do to cleverly program it, it’s never going to be a ball on a piece of wood.

I agree, even playing Theatre of Magic on just a phone or something, which they have it on, the physics of the ball just doesn’t feel right. It feels like it’s glued to the board and that it’s just moving around because there’s a magnet underneath it.

(Another person approaches Tim and asks for change. Like clockwork, Tim mentions that there’s a change machine right behind the person and points them the right way)

Part of playing games is the social aspect of leaving your fucking house, getting off your ass, unplugging your Xbox, going out to the bar, experiencing real live music, getting into a fight, getting your car keyed, and having fun instead of sitting on your couch and getting everything virtual. I look at these little fat dough boys that come in here that are 16 years old that don’t get out and do anything! Their whole life is a fucking Xbox and I say, “Grow up, become a man, play a man’s game, play pinball!” It’s masturbation for 14 year olds and I don’t understand why you would limit yourself to only playing games on a computer. Go out and join a chess club! Go out and at the park where they have timed chess matches. If you’re not into basketball, if you’re not into full physical sports, at least get up off your ass and go out to a bar and experience night life as it was meant to be experienced instead of this sitting around in your house shit. The musicians tell you the same thing, the reason why the whole music industry is dying is that everybody gets it for free online and you’re not going to get any more breakthrough bands because nobody’s going out to the bars! I guess that’s just what the public wants.

Do you want to impart a message to the people out there who have tried the virtual versions of these pinballs and who are kinda curious about actually playing these?

First thing is I gotta put in a plug for this place… if you’re coming to Vegas, come see this. It’s not just a money thing because, one way or the other, as long as I want to keep doing this, it’s going to happen. It’s not like I’m pleading people to please come in here, “we’re gonna go broke,” but again, you may not have this the next time you come to Vegas so if you’re coming to Vegas this time, you should try to make an effort to try this because it might not be here forever.

And then, seek out other pinball groups. There’s one in Detroit. A bunch of guys had all their pinballs together, put them in some industrial space, they got about 100 games, you pay a flat fee to come in for the night and you hang out. They got illegal beer and it’s just fun! And you can find this stuff in the underground. There’s more of these groups popping up all over the place. Go out and find bars that have pinball. A lot of bars are putting pinball back in! And yea, support it, and it will grow! Otherwise this is going to be a bunch of pathetic old fucks like us trying to relive our youth.

(Someone approaches Tim yet again and asks for change. He does his deed and points the person back to the change machine nearby)

Pinball Hall of Fame: Modern pinballs!

One of the reasons economically we can do this is this whole place is largely automated. You don’t have to make change. Some people want to come in here and talk to us about pinball for an hour and, generally, we spend about less than a minute talking to them because they’re not doing their job which is to play the games and we’re not doing our job which is to fix the games. And there’s literally some of these old guys that are retired and are lonely that literally come in here and slowly spend all day yacking to you about how they used to the bowling alley and stick ashtrays under the pinball and get 15 free games and it’s like, “Yea, I’ve heard that four times today. What do you need? I gotta get back to work.” So yea, it’s different strokes for different folks I guess.

And if you look on Yelp, which is very hard to game, I could not pay somebody to game Yelp, they would catch on right away… out of 382 different entertainment attractions in the world’s largest entertainment city, guess what our rating is out of 382 people? Number 2! We used to be number 1, but the Bellagio fountains got on top of us. And again, it’s the kind of thing where all the reviews, if you go on Yelp and read them, “Well the place is kinda hard to find there’s not a lot of signage it’s not very fancy and it’s just great because it’s just an old auto parts store filled with pinball machines!” That’s what it is! We have a signage on the wall that says, “It’s the games, stupid!” We don’t want to have chandeliers or talking tigers or animatronic pizza reviews or any of that Chucky Cheese shit all we want to do is a big dark room filled with pinballs.

Just the fact that we don’t have it overlit here the players appreciate that because, when I used to play when I was a kid, the thing I hated was going into a place and having a spotlight right down on the glass. In here, the tables are clean, they’re all balanced, all the numbers work, it’s hard to find a game in here where the numbers don’t work. And it’s like you come in here and say, “Wow. This place is kinda fucked up and ass backwards, but they really take care of the games. I like that.” And that’s all we do! We don’t have pizza, we don’t have a bar, y’know, we could make a lot of money putting in a bar with 15 video pokers, we’d have people in here all the time, drinking and gambling, but then we would look at that and say, “well, 15 video pokers made more money last week than all the games, let’s have a ladies night!” or “let’s have a drinking promotion!” and pretty soon, “oh, I don’t have time for that pinball shit I gotta disco now!” We want to do one thing really good and if you want that other shit, if you want pizza, go to the pizza. If you want to the bar, go to the bar. So that’s our plan.

We’d like to thank Tim Arnold for graciously agreeing to our interview. If you would like to visit the Pinball Hall of Fame, the address is 1610 E. Tropicana Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89119.

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One thought on “An Interview with Tim Arnold, Pinball Hall of Fame

  1. As a young boy growing up on the “beaches of Santa Cruz” I often would collect returnable deposit bottles on the beaches and with the money, run over to the boardwalk and play literally hundreds of pinball games. for a nickel a machine. Just wanted to thank you for your PinBall Hall of Fame in Vegas. Simply amazing and authentic. And a relaxing place off he hustle of the strip. Thanks for all of your donations to charity from your machines and thank you to all the volunteers that help keep it open. This should be on your list of things to do in Vegas, perhaps even your top 10.


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