Date: 2nd May, 2014

San Francisco and the Bay Area is not exactly renowned for the scarcity of pinball machines in bars, shopping malls, diners and laundromats. Indeed, many of them are featured in our Sites section.

However, an archaic law from the 1980s designed to prevent crime and disorder amongst the teaming crowds of video game players has held the city back from emulating the success of large-scale barcades found in cities such as Seattle, Chicago and Portland, Oregon.

The SFPD Police Code put a limit on the number of arcade machines any one establishment could operate. The maximum permitted was ten, and even that meagre number was further reduced if the floor area of the premises was below 4,501 square feet:

Floor area (sq. ft.)

Number of machines
4,501+ 10
4,001 - 4,500 9
3,501 - 4,000 8
3,001 - 3,500 7
2,501 - 3,000 6
2,001 - 2,500 5
1,501 - 2,000 4
1,001 - 1,500 3
301 - 1,000 2
0 - 300 0

Instrumental in working to get the cap lifted has been Matthew Henri of printing business Free Gold Watch, located at the eastern end of Golden Gate Park. He has been operating 34 amusement machines at his business and even hosted the SFPD - that's the San Francisco Pinball Department - league each fortnight, but faced a visit from the other SFPD unless the law could be overturned.

Now though, thanks to the efforts of City Supervisors London Breed and Scott Wiener, a meeting of the Board of Supervisors on 22nd April, 2014 repealed the legislation, meaning San Francisco business owners no longer face restriction on the number of amusement machines they can operate.

Free Gold Watch weren't the only one's hoping the law could be overturned. The provisionally-named Project 22 gay barcade can now push ahead with their plans to open in The Century at Market and 15th Street in the Castro district.

San Francisco certainly has the pinball passion, energy and machines to create the kind of barcade scene currently thriving in other major cities. With the biggest restriction holding back such ambition removed, we look forward to reporting on even more great places by the Bay to play the silver ball.

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