The Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas used to be a little hard to find. Now you can’t miss it. I mean, just look at this photo: you could play a regulation game of basketball on that sign.
It’s not just a huge new sign that’s made Tim Arnold’s Sin City shrine to pinball easier to find. The first time I visited the Pinball Hall of Fame (and the second, and the third, and the fourth… I’ve been to this place a lot) it was a few miles off the Strip, in a generic, featureless building surrounded by a strip mall and a storage center, and across the street from a huge, empty lot. From the outside it looked like it should be a dentist’s office, or a telemarketing call center. It wasn’t something you could just stumble upon during a trip to Vegas; you had to know it existed, you had to really want to go there, and you had to get a car to make that possible.
The Pinball Hall of Fame sat in that building on Tropicana Avenue for years, drawing the pinball faithful and explorers looking for Vegas’s “quirkier” offerings. It was missing out on a huge chunk of Vegas’s tourist bonanza, though: the many, many people who come to town and don’t ever think of leaving the Strip for even a second. Arnold had eyed a move to the center of the city’s tourism ecosystem for years, and finally made it happen during the pandemic.
The new Pinball Hall of Fame, which opened this past April, and is twice as large as the previous location, is near the bottom of the Strip. You’ll find it at 4925 Las Vegas Blvd South, right across the street from Mandalay Bay (whose family-heavy clientele will no doubt love having a massive arcade in walkable distance), and a block or two away from the iconic Las Vegas sign. If you make a pitstop to grab a photo of one of the most famous signs in the world, you’ll be just a half-mile from the Pinball Hall of Fame—or roughly a couple dozen PINBALL sign lengths away.
Inside the new 25000 square feet building you’ll find hundreds of pinball machines from the last 60 or so years. Machines released over the last decade by Stern and Jersey Jack sit just a few rows over from games released in the early ‘60s. Whether you prefer the fast-paced, gimmick-laden, multimedia fantasias of today, or the electromechanical simplicity of pinball’s golden era, the Hall of Fame will have dozens of games for you to enjoy. And, as has always been the case, it’s all in the name of charity, with the Hall operating as a non-profit.
If you’re a diehard pinball fanatic, you owe it to yourself to visit the Hall of Fame, and not just because of the sheer volume of machines on display. Arnold’s collection includes two of the rarest and most unique pinball machines ever made. I’ve written about them before, but Pinball Circus and Goin’ Nuts deserve to be mentioned again.
Goin’ Nuts, a prototype that never went into production, flips standard pinball rules on their head. It starts you off with multiball, building up time on a clock the longer you keep at least two of those three balls alive. Once you’re down to a single ball, the clock starts counting down, and you have however much time is on it to rack up points. The flippers die when the clock hits zero. Pinball’s normally stressful, but Goin’ Nuts is stressful in its own idiosyncratic way. Arnold’s unit is one of 10 Goin’ Nuts prototypes that Gottlieb built in 1983, making this one of the rarest pinball games ever made.
Pinball Circus, meanwhile, was an early ‘90s attempt to prop up pinball’s decreasing presence in arcades. Arcade games were more popular, were easier to install and maintain, and took up less room, and throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s the floor space devoted to pinball continuously shrunk. Pinball Circus is a prototype that fits a pinball machine into an upright arcade cabinet, with four horizontally-stacked playfields that build up to a boss battle-like confrontation with a clown. It’s like playing a game of real, physical pinball, only in the same kind of box you’d play Mortal Kombat in. Only two were ever made, and the only one that’s playable to the public is at the Hall of Fame.
You don’t need to appreciate the rarity of those two specific machines to enjoy the Pinball Hall of Fame, though, or even be a fan of pinball. All you need is to have an interest in the world around you. It’s a fascinating deep dive into a curious, one-of-a-kind culture, one that’s as fundamentally and characteristically American as jazz, comic books, and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s also a great way to kill an afternoon in Vegas without gambling or drinking. Whether you’re a pinball expert or an absolute beginner, it’s worth a visit.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.