Date: 15th-17th March, 2019
Location: Museum of Pinball, 700 South Hathaway, Banning, CA 92220, USA

It’s been two years since we were last at the Museum of Pinball in Banning for an Arcade Expo show. In that time there has been a number of changes to the building and the collection, but the essence of the show remains the same – an amazing collection of pinballs of all ages combined with an equally impressive range of video games, all available to play over the event’s three days.

The hills surrounding the Museum of Pinball
The hills surrounding the Museum of Pinball

The Museum of Pinball is located in semi-desert around 75 miles East of Los Angeles, at the foot of a mountainous landscape. It may be March, but there is still snow on the peaks and while the daytime temperatures might be warm in the sunshine, they drop away quickly once the sun drops behind the hills.

New signage at the entrance to the compound
New signage at the entrance to the compound

The Museum doesn’t open to the public daily, weekly, or even monthly. Instead, it hosts four major events each year – Arcade Pinvasion and INDISC Pinball Festival in January, Arcade Expo in March, and Pinball Madness in October.

The reason we are here
The reason we are here

Tickets for Arcade Expo could be pre-purchased online, or bought on the day from the ticket desk. A purchased entry got you a coloured wristband with which you could come and go as often as you wished.

The ticket desk
The ticket desk

Friday and Sunday entry cost $50 each for an adult, while Saturday is $65. Kids entry is priced at $15 per day, while a three-day adult pass is also available at $130 ($35 for kids). These are online prices. On the day prices are $5 higher.

The show began in the courtyard outside the Museum building where food vendors had set up. On Friday there were two stalls selling hot dogs, ice creams, burgers and other ‘street food’.

The first food vendor
The first food vendor
The second food vendor
The second food vendor

Food items purchase in the courtyard had to be paid for with tickets bought from a special stand. All food was priced in tickets, with each ticket costing $1.

Food and beverage was priced in tickets
Food and beverage was priced in tickets

With no food allowed inside the Museum, there is an outdoor seating area in front of the food stands. At night the area is warmed by living flame heaters.

The seating area
The seating area

There was a bar area inside the Museum with a serving window into the courtyard. Here, cash was used.

The bar adjacent to the patio
The bar adjacent to the patio
Some cocktails with your cocktails?
Some cocktails with your cocktails?

A little further down the hill from the Museum building we find a shooting gallery with electromechanical gun games along with a seating area where live music would be performed later in the day.

The gun games collection
The gun games collection
Seating for the live music audience
Seating for the live music audience

There was also a Funhouse facade which is presumably used for some of the other events held at the Museum.

The entrance to the Funhouse
The entrance to the Funhouse

Back up the hill, we return to the main entrance to the Museum.

Arcade Expo rules to enjoying the epicness
Arcade Expo rules to enjoying the epicness

On the wall is a large white space where visitors are invited to make their mark using the pens provided.

It was early in the day when we took this picture - the wall soon received more visitor contributions
It was early in the day when we took this picture – the wall soon received more visitor contributions

Beyond that is a display case showing some items found inside pinballs which arrive at the Museum, as well as the collection’s oldest exhibit.

Some of the few exhibits not available to play
Some of the few exhibits not available to play

As you enter the Museum you have two main choices – turn left for pinballs, or turn right for videos.

This way to the pinball collection
This way to the pinball collection
This way to the video games
This way to the video games

There is a third choice, and that is the Museum’s gift shop which has a selection on T-shirts, posters, patches, coasters, and other pinball and gaming items for sale.

The Museum gift shop
The Museum gift shop
More items from the gift shop
More items from the gift shop
More shirts just outside the gift shop
More shirts just outside the gift shop

Entering the pinball hall, you immediately appreciate the scale of the collection, with rows upon rows of games from all eras. For anyone experiencing this for the first time, this is often a jaw-dropping moment.

The central rows of machines
The central rows of machines

The newest machines are at the front of the hall, while the machines in each row are broadly determined by the manufacturer.

Bally dot matrix machines
Bally dot matrix machines
Williams solid-state machines
Williams solid-state machines
Bally solid-state games
Bally solid-state games
Data East and Sega titles
Data East and Sega titles
More Data East Pinball games
More Data East Pinball games

There is also a shorter row showcasing the latest (or sometimes, last) titles from other pinball manufacturers Dutch Pinball, American Pinball, Heighway Pinball, HomePin and Spooky Pinball.

Recent machines from assorted manufacturer at the back, Sega pinballs at the front
Recent machines from assorted manufacturer at the back, Sega pinballs at the front
The Big Lebowski, Houdini, Alien and Full Throttle
The Big Lebowski, Houdini, Alien and Full Throttle
Thunderbirds
Thunderbirds
Spooky Pinball titles - Alice Cooper's Nightmare Castle, Domino's Pizza, Rob Zombie's Spookshow International, America's Most Haunted, The Jetsons and Total
Spooky Pinball titles – Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle, Domino’s Pizza, Rob Zombie’s Spookshow International, America’s Most Haunted, The Jetsons and Total Nuclear Annihilation

The other newest titles are from Stern Pinball and they are found on the other side of the hall in the Stern zone.

Players on some of the Stern Pinball machines
Players on some of the Stern Pinball machines
Stern Pinball games
Stern Pinball games
A second row of Stern titles
A second row of Stern titles
Some of the more recent releases
Some of the more recent releases
Newer Stern games
Newer Stern games
The current title - The Munsters - in LE form, along with Gold and Platinum The Beatles machines, Deadpool and more
The current title – The Munsters – in LE form, along with Gold and Platinum The Beatles machines, Deadpool and more

Jersey Jack Pinball have their own dedicated area with three of their titles featured. Only Pirates of the Caribbean is not in this collection.

The Jersey Jack Pinball collection: Dialed In!, The Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit
The Jersey Jack Pinball collection: Dialed In!, The Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit

The machines were prepared for the show and kept running by a dedicated team of technicians who worked tirelessly throughout, doing running repairs to keep as many machines playable as possible.

The technicians could be seen working on machines all around the hall
The technicians could be seen working on machines all around the hall
Enjoying some classic '80s Williams pinball
Enjoying some classic ’80s Williams pinball

The only vendor actually in the main pinball hall was Moto Glass who had a display of his game-themed etched drinking glasses.

The Moto Glass stand
The Moto Glass stand

The back part of the hall is where the older games reside. The Museum’s collection goes back to the age of the wedgehead but not as far as woodrail machines.

Nine wedgehead machines by Gottlieb
Nine wedgehead machines by Gottlieb
Another row of classic Gottlieb machines
Another row of classic Gottlieb machines

The EM area is filled with rows upon rows of machines.

Some EM Bally titles
Some EM Bally titles
Rows upon rows of EM pinballs
Rows upon rows of EM pinballs
Two Bally Freedom machines - a prototype with a pop bumper between the flippers and the production one without
Two Bally Freedom machines – a prototype with a pop bumper between the flippers and the production one without
More of the EM pinballs
More of the EM pinballs
Our final look at the many rows of EM machines
Our final look at the many rows of EM machines

At the entrance to the pinball hall is a side room featuring a long ball bowler. This was used by Marco Specialties this year to showcase the latest Stern Pinball machines.

The Marco Specialties room
The Marco Specialties room
Free decals and plastic
Free decals and plastic

On Saturday, artist Dirty Donny Gillies set up a stand in the Marco room to meet the public and exhibit (and sell) some of this artwork designs.

Jennie and Donny
Jennie and Donny

If playing pinball wasn’t enough, you could pop into the theatre room to hear seminars about the game from those working in the business and those who document its development.

In fact there was a packed schedule of talks taking place throughout the weekend, but the full list was only available to view if you were at the show, as the website only listed a few of them.

The schedule of events over the three days
The schedule of events over the three days

Riley Beres presented her history of pinball talk on Friday and Saturday.

Riley Beres spoke about The History of Pinball
Riley Beres spoke about The History of Pinball

On Friday, Mike Vinikour and Mark Guidarelli spoke about life ‘behind the scenes’ at Stern Pinball.

Mike Vinikour and Mark Guidarelli tell the audience about various job roles at the company
Mike Vinikour and Mark Guidarelli tell the audience about various job roles at the company

After describing their individual responsibilities at Stern Pinball, Mike and Mark talked about the many different job roles which go into making a pinball.

Mike and Mark talk about the different roles needed to create a pinball machine
Mike and Mark talk about the different roles needed to create a pinball machine

Rather than talk about the well-known designers and artists, they looked at the behind-the-scenes positions such as Mechanical Designer, the bill-of-materials manager, and the people responsible for the board mapping, cable design and manufacture, certification, building up the initial whitewoods and prototypes, the Hardware and Software Engineers, the game and production artists, and the IT, website and game manual designs.

There were several technical talks on how to fix pinballs, with a plethora of Pinball 101 and 102 talks alongside movie screenings of Pinball 101

Albert Wong gave Pinball 101 and 101/102 talks on Saturday and Sunday
Albert Wong gave Pinball 101 and 101/102 talks on Saturday and Sunday
Eric Neff gave Pinball 102 talks on Saturday and Sunday
Eric Neff gave Pinball 102 talks on Saturday and Sunday

Probably the most popular talk was by Museum of Pinball owner John Weeks who teamed up with Kenny Hardy to talk about how and why they created the Museum, why it is in Banning, where all the machines come from, and the way the events held there are organised.

John Weeks and Kenny Hardy
John Weeks and Kenny Hardy

The Museum of Pinball is also host to the Walter Day Trading Card collection, and the corridor to the seminars theatre are covered with framed sets of trading cards.

The corridor to the Theatre Room
The corridor to the Theatre Room
The entrance to the Theatre at the Museum of Pinball
The entrance to the Theatre at the Museum of Pinball

However, there is also a dedicated display room at the front of the pinball hall.

The Walter Day Trading Cards room
The Walter Day Trading Cards room
One wall in the room
One wall in the room

Of course, although it is called the Museum of Pinball, the event is Arcade Expo in recognition of the Museum’s huge video game collection which has a hall all to itself.

There are rows upon rows of video games
There are rows upon rows of video games
Some games are arranged in neat rows
Some games are arranged in neat rows
Others are arranged around the walls, with no space unfilled
Others are arranged around the walls, with no space unfilled
More of the videos available to play
More of the videos available to play
More of the videos available to play
More of the videos available to play
A row of upright cabs
A row of upright cabs
There are larger pieces too, from drivers to dance games
There are larger pieces too, from drivers to dance games
More driving games along this wall
More driving games all along this wall
The largest and most popular game was this simulator
The largest and most popular game was this simulator
These twelve Donkey Kong machines were used for the Kong-Off tournament
These twelve Donkey Kong machines were used for the Kong-Off tournament

You can see every machine in the pinball hall, a look in the video hall and a tour of the Museum of Pinball complex for yourself in our exclusive Thirty-Two Minute Tour of Arcade Expo video below.

Saturday morning brought the swap meet at the side of the building.

It was a modest affair with around half-a-dozen sellers, but if they had something you’d been trying to find, it was invaluable.

This way...
This way…
Some of the parts available at the swap meet
Some of the parts available at the swap meet
More parts, and a whole pinball too
More parts, and a whole pinball too

There was also a Bumblebee-style Chevrolet Camaro from the Transformers movies parked in front of the video game hall, joining a DeLorean which had been at front since Friday.

The Bumblebee car
The Bumblebee car
This stand at the front was selling cosmetics and toiletries
This stand at the front was selling cosmetics and toiletries
You could also buy T-shirts from previous Arcade Expos
You could also buy T-shirts from previous Arcade Expos

Also at the front was the prize in the $1 raffle – a Williams Jubilee pinball

The $1 raffle prize and ticket stand
The $1 raffle prize and ticket stand

Also on Saturday, numerous new vendors had appeared on the raised patio area overlooking the live music stage. These were mostly selling pin badges, patches and other designer decorative wear.

One of many arts & crafts stalls set up on Saturday
One of many arts & crafts stalls set up on Saturday
More decorative wear
More decorative wear
More patches and pins
More patches and pins
Game cartridges for sale
Game cartridges for sale
Game decorations
Game decorations
The view of the stage from the patio with Gaslight Express performing
The view of the stage from the patio with Gaslight Express performing

The picture above is perhaps a little unfair as there was a much larger audience for the bands playing than you can see here, with many of them enjoying the music from the patio, and everyone in the courtyard and beyond also able to hear it.

Midnight Peacemaker - another of the bands playing live
Midnight Peacemaker – another of the bands playing live

There were also some video and pinball games on the patio for visitors to play at night – the ‘Starcade’.

Starcade video games
Starcade video games
Two Starcade pinballs - thankfully there was no rain all weekend
Two Starcade pinballs – thankfully there was no rain all weekend

We showed you the sign-in wall next to the Museum entrance earlier, but by Saturday morning there was little space left to make your mark.

The wall is almost full
The wall is almost full

At 11am on Saturday the qualifying for the main Spring Classics Pinball Tournament began, using machines located in the back-right corner of the pinball hall.

The main tournament qualifying
The main tournament qualifying

Entry to the tournament cost $15 which bought a single game on any six of the twelve machines available. There was unlimited qualifying until 5:30pm, with additional entries costing $2 per game or six games for $10.

Qualifying in the Spring Classics tournament
Qualifying in the Spring Classics tournament

The machines used were:

  • Air Aces
  • Aztec
  • Dolly Parton
  • Doodle Bug
  • Dragonfist
  • Eight Ball
  • Free Fall
  • Scorpion
  • Tag Team
  • Warlok
  • Wyld Fire
  • Wild Card
More qualifying games
More qualifying games

There were A and B divisions, and the top twenty players in each progressed to the play-offs. Prizes included gift vouchers for Captain’s Auctions and cash awards, with 100% of entry fees (minus IFPA charges) going into the prize pot.

In addition to the Spring Classics, a separate Belles N Chimes women’s tournament was run on Sunday morning at 11am.

Trophies for the Spring Classics A and B divisions
Trophies for the Spring Classics A and B divisions

At opening time of 11am on Sunday morning the number of visitors was lower than Saturday, but there was still a long line of visitors waiting to be one of the first to get in and have their choice of machines to play.

The queue to get in to Arcade Expo in Sunday morning
The queue to get in to Arcade Expo in Sunday morning
The first guests of the day
The first guests of the day

The sign-in wall was fully populated by Sunday morning, although that didn’t stop several kids trying to add more marks to the wall.

The sign-in wall on Sunday morning
The sign-in wall on Sunday morning

There were second showings of some seminars on Sunday, but all-new was the Belles N Chimes pinball tournament for women players.

The Belles N' Chimes women's pinball tournament
The Belles ‘N Chimes women’s pinball tournament
Prizes and tiaras for the top players
Prizes and tiaras for the top players

Having spent three hours driving the 77 miles from LAX airport on Thursday evening, we opted to say our goodbyes and start the journey back to LA around 4pm, missing out the final of the Belles ‘N Chimes tournament.

The Museum of Pinball is a one-of-a-kind destination and a great venue to host a pinball or arcade show. If there’s any game you have been longing to play – either new or from your younger days – you will almost certainly find it here, and it hasn’t had to be packed up, transported, set-up again and perhaps not levelled properly.

Of course, with so many machines to prepare and maintain, keeping them all in top-notch condition is an near-impossible task despite having a large team of technicians. One suggestion would be to have an easy way to report any problems found – maybe a central desk – and to put numbers on each machine to make them easier to identify.

Although visitor numbers exceeded those of 2018, the huge pinball hall never seemed crowded or uncomfortable, and there were always plenty of free machines to play, even if getting your hands on the most popular titles might have involved a short wait.

Even at the busiest times, it was never too crowded
Even at the busiest times, it was never too crowded

Probably the biggest issue with shows held at the Museum relates to its remote location and the lack of any nearby accommodation.

Most major shows are tied to a large up-scale hotel, allowing visitors to return to their room for a break or to catch up with other family members at any time. Banning lacks any quality accommodation, pushing show visitors out towards Palm Springs and making it harder to dip in and out of the show.

Fortunately though, the location of the 18-acre plot allows the housing of an unprecedented collection of pinball and video games, and the ability to dedicate all the facilities to shows such as Arcade Expo.

If you’ve never been, you owe it to yourself to experience the jaw-dropping moment when you first see the massive collection in person. With the Museum only open to the public four times a year, Arcade Expo is an ideal opportunity to visit and play to your heart’s content.

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