Do you like playing the machines when you go to Vegas, but don’t like how fast your money goes through them? Have you ever found yourself down $20 in 5 minutes at the slot machines and thought you might as well light your money on fire for all the value you’re getting out of it? Well, I have a solution to this frustration: It’s called pinball. Yes, pinball. Remember when you were a kid and you could have hours of fun on just $10 in quarters at the arcade? You still can, at the Pinball Hall of Fame.
The Pinball Hall of Fame (also known as the Pinball Museum) was founded in 2006 by Tim Arnold (former owner of Pinball Pete’s in Lansing, Michigan) with his own personal collection of pinball machines. Proceeds from the pinball machines go to charity, most often the Salvation Army of Las Vegas. I first heard about the Pinball Hall of Fame a couple of years ago, but didn’t have the opportunity to visit until my last trip.
This pinball museum is located at 1610 East Tropicana, a couple of miles off the Strip and across from where the Liberace Museum used to be. This makes it an easy drive, bus or cab ride from the Strip. It is housed in a nondescript, white building that could easily pass for a warehouse. But don’t judge a book by its cover. Inside is the fantasy of kids and overgrown kids everywhere: Row after row of working pinball machines, over a hundred of them. And unlike most museums, which insist that you look and not touch, here, you’re expected to touch. For the incredibly low, low price of 25 to 50 cents per game, you can spend hours playing the games you grew up playing, or newer games based on hit TV shows and movies, like CSI and Iron Man.
Don’t worry if you didn’t bring quarters with you. There are change machines on site that dispense a variety of quarters and bills for change (for instance, if you want to get just $5 in quarters out of a $20 bill, it will give you three $5 bills back and $5 in quarters.) And if you feel hungry while you’re there, you can grab some popcorn from the popcorn machine. I purchased $5 in quarters and wandered up and down the rows, sizing up the machines to see what was there before diving in. Some of these machines are very, very old; I didn’t even recognize the names of them. Others are clearly very new, as they’re fashioned after recent movies and TV shows.
My favorite game was CSI, which I had to play twice. Aside from the fact that I love the show, it had a multi-ball bonus. Every time you hit the bonus, several balls are set in play at once, which makes it fast and furious to keep up with. Fun stuff! There were a few games like that. I also enjoyed Indiana Jones, Iron Man, and Star Wars. I tried Kiss, but that one was a big disappointment to me. I thought it would play Kiss songs. It didn’t. As a hard-core Trekkie, I really wanted to play Star Trek: The Next Generation, but for some reason, I couldn’t get it to work, no matter what buttons I pushed or triggers I squeezed. Oh well. (Next time.)
I have never had this much fun playing machines in Las Vegas before, and I have played a LOT of slot machines over the past 10 years. Part of the fun is knowing how little money I have to spend to have a good time compared to the casinos. Sure, you have no expectation of winning your money back, but trust me, I never win at the slots, either. At least with pinball machines, my money lasts longer. The added bonus is feeling like a kid again. During the time I spent at the Pinball Hall of Fame, I felt like I was reliving my childhood (the good part). And, of course, it’s nice knowing that the money collected from the machines is going to a worthy charity, rather than into some casino mogul’s already overstuffed pocket.
For inexpensive fun and an off-the-beaten path activity in Las Vegas, try the Pinball Hall of Fame.
How to get there:
- If you have a car, just drive a couple of miles down East Tropicana until you see it on your left. It’s across from where the Liberace Museum used to be. There is a sign on the building in plain black lettering that says Pinball Hall of Fame. (Be sure you’re in the left lane already, you don’t want to have to cross 5 lanes of traffic at the last minute, like my cab driver did. I thought we were going to die.)
- Cab fare to and from the Strip will cost approximately $12 before tip each way, give or take.
- The bus is much cheaper than a cab at around $2 each way. Catch the 201 bus at the corner of MGM Grand-Tropicana-New York New York-Excalibur headed East. Get off at the 7 Eleven at the corner of Tropicana and Spencer. There is a light at this intersection so you can cross over and get to the Pinball Hall of Fame. To return, there’s a bus stop past the empty parking lot next to the Pinball HOF, near another 7 Eleven (which makes it easy to remember).
- One word of advice: This is a working class neighborhood. If you’re going to take the bus, don’t wear your fancy Vegas bling. You’ll stand out like a sore thumb.