LAS VEGAS—When we weren't pounding the pavement at last week's overloaded CES trade show, we at Ars Technica took whatever opportunity we could to nerd out in uniquely Vegas style. That didn't mean dumping our spare quarters into a Lord of the Rings-themed slot machine; it meant hitching a ride to the Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame.
This collection of roughly 260 working pinball, electromechanical, and video games has been open to the public for over a decade, with its 2006 opening followed by a size-boosting relocation in 2009 to a venue two miles down Tropicana Avenue. It arguably includes the most varied and valuable open-every-day collection of pinball and pinball-like games in the United States, if not the world—but you'd never know it by simply passing the building.
The warehouse's nondescript exterior only stands out thanks to a shopping-center marker and a single yellow sign above its front door. Walk in, and you may very well wonder if it's technically open, considering the full room is unlit and there's nobody acting as a greeter, taking a cover charge, or explaining how the venue works.
But what this room lacks in glitz or presentation, it makes up for in sheer pinball fandom. Every machine includes an index card covered in misspelled, chicken-scratch handwriting, with all kinds of details about a particular game's general-interest trivia and minutia about the VPHoF's edition in particular. (A few information cards appear in the above and below galleries.) The venue's staff, meanwhile, keeps busy. Rather than work the door, they typically manage ongoing machine repairs and game swaps, as the venue frequently swaps its roughly 260 playable games out from a nearby warehouse with another 800-plus machines. Newer pinball games, along with the VPHoF's rarest and most popular classics, are the inventory-swap exceptions, enjoying near-permanent status in the playable collection.
"As machines go off to that big arcade in heaven, they lose their value," a staffer told us while showing us around the collection. This is only made more complicated by the lack of new replacement parts existing for a lot of machines, the staffer added. "If the tech dies, the [game in question] either winds up in the Smithsonian or our backyard."
VPHoF prices its games individually at 25 or 50 cents a play—hence, why it houses so many change-making machines, including a block of four side-by-side. That's it for cost; visitors don't have to pay a cover fee on top. These coin-catch mechanisms are specifically used, instead of being set to free-to-play, as part of the preservation process, in fact. "If the games aren't played, they will say, 'fuck you,' because they dry out, and they get corroded," the staffer told Ars. "They need to be played."
Thus, while VPHoF, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit, will gladly accept donations to maintain operation and repair costs, the owners and operators say they're actually more interested in visitors coming to the place and going hands-on with the collection. If the above galleries (split into pinball, first, and electromechanical, second) aren't hint enough, please accept our assurance that the venue is absolutely worth the detour during a Vegas trip, roughly eight minutes' drive from McCarran Airport.
Listing image by Sam Machkovech