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Paul Coates: Confidential File

November 12, 2007 |  5:01 pm

Paul_coatesNov. 12, 1957

I have never met a man who dropped $4,000 pitching pennies. But I guess it's possible

Because last week I talked to a man who estimated that he has lost, in the last four years, nearly $20,000--gambling on nickel pinball machines.

He did it, he told me, within the limits of Los Angeles County, in towns like Azusa, Bell, Compton, Gardena, El Monte, Maywood and South Gate.

All of the machines he played had "For Amusement Only" signs pasted on them.

But all, he assured me, paid off. (At least, occasionally).

To prove his point, he took Confidential File Staffer Frank Petty on a brief tour of the bars and cafes which he regularly patronized.

The tour lasted about 2 1/2 hours.

1957_0214_pinball_3 And here's a breakdown on Petty's losses:

Club Balboa, 402 W. Garvey Ave., El Monte, $9.

Pioneer Club, 329 W. Valley Blvd., El Monte, $12.20.

George's Place, 4213 Tweedy Blvd., South Gate, $5.40.

Petty said that he was playing "conservatively." Yet he dropped, on the average, about $10 an hour.

The man whom he accompanied told me that he can remember many nights when he himself was out $90 or $100.

This he has done on a simple nickel machine--a machine which in most instances has the coin slot plugged and is operated by the bartender.

(The procedure being to give the bartender a dollar bill or a five and he pushes a button to register 20 or 100 "free games" on the machine. Then, if you appear to have a good chance of collecting a payoff, you can start pushing your "free game" button--at a nickel a push--to increase your payoff odds and/or chances).

Petty's "guide" on the tour, incidentally, showed us credentials proving that he's a sales representative for a large manufacturer in this area.

His income bracket isn't a low one.

So, while his losses hurt, they haven't crippled him.

But that's not the point.

The point is that state law prohibits use of the machines for gambling purposes--but damn little is being done to enforce it.

I checked with a member of the sheriff's vice squad on this.

"You won't find any pinball machines in unincorporated areas here," he assured me, "because we've got a county ordinance which prohibits the possession of them. And we enforce it."

"What about the cities within the county?" I asked.

He explained that many towns have passed ordinances to supersede the one of the county--"to permit pinball machines as skill games only. No payoffs."

"But there are payoffs," I argued. "Can't you move in?"

The officer explained that the problem was a delicate one of inter-agency politics, so to speak.

"When we get complaints of payoff machines within incorporated towns," he told me, "we forward them by registered mail to the police chiefs of the towns themselves, requesting that they investigate."

He added that most police chiefs take immediate action and inform the Sheriff's Department of the results.

I asked him about El Monte. "Ive been told that there are 22 payoff machines there," I said. "all operating openly."

"I know," he said. "For quite a while now we've been forwarding complains to the El Monte police.

"So far we haven't gotten a reply from them."


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