Chuck he be pushin some old games

Fairground Coin Pusher - Great Fun Gadget new model

Do you ever wonder what happens to old technology?  What happened to the cassette players, phonograph machines, spring driven clocks and the thousands of other devices, gadgets and machines that once filled the world?   I just watched Real Steel and got a Hollywood answer to my question; in the movie an 11-year old boy finds the perfect robot in the junk heap, cleans it up, adds some new programing and some tender loving care – suddenly up jumps a robot to beat all robots – sort of.  However, that imaginary technology is not the technology I had in mind.

Today, we had a small birthday gathering at Chuck-E Cheese for my great niece – tomorrow will be her fifth birthday.  Except for her birthday last year I have not been to Chuck-E since my granddaughter switched from Chuck-E to a bowling-entertainment center; it was clearly a statement about maturity – she was too old for Chuck-E (I think she was 11 or 12 at the time) and ready for some more sophisticated entertainment and thus we adjourned her parties to the new venue until she became too mature and sophisticated for that also.

But back to old technology, the burial of old robots and Chuck-E Cheese; Chuck-E Cheese specializes in children’s birthday parties – it offers gobs of cheap food and arcade games that are not cheap.  One of the games at Chuck’s place is a fossil, the fossil of a slot machine which long ago became extinct.  The earliest version that I ever saw of that game were gambling games distributed by Si Redd, the famous founder of IGT, in the 1970s and 80s; we called them flipper or pusher games.  It was a simple game with several flat platforms covered with coins. When a player inserted a coin in the slot, the “pushers” of the game pushed against the coins lying on the platforms.  Whatever coins fell off the platform were delivered to the player through a shoot – those coins were the players “winnings.”

No one ever played the game very long because it was almost impossible to win anything – but if the games were placed near the entrance of a busy casino sometimes they got lots and lots of play. How much play?  Well, at the height of their popularity Si charged $50,000 a piece for them – Caesars Palace in Las Vegas at one time had 3 of them in the entrance.  That means Caesars paid $150,000 to put that little distraction in the path of incoming customers, but still made a handsome profit from those visitors who paused to play for a moment or two.

The games have long since disappeared from the casino floors in Nevada – but they still live in the heartland of the country, in Bloomington, Illinois at Chuck-E.  Chuck-E, has its own version of that extinct animal, smaller and I assume much cheaper, but no more generous with its rewards than its predecessors.  The children play for tokens – each a 25 cent value – not much value and not much entertainment – but the children are not very sophisticated so the games still does its work for the corporate business model.   A far cry from Si’s games, but maybe this is the last gasp from them – which still begs the question, when they finally die completely where will they go to be buried.


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October 2011
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