A bingo or a pinball? - di Federico Croci

Bally "BEAUTY CONTEST" (1960)

A bingo or a pinball?

In the early 1950s a law called the "Johnson Act" was passed in the USA which made it illegal to ship gambling equipment from one state to another unless the state to which it was shipped allowed such equipment under it's laws. It was not until several years later, however, that the Supreme Court declared that bingo pinballs were considered gambling equipment and hence subject to the Johnson Act. This law not only applied to complete machines but also to spare parts and documentation connected with the machines. It was therefore illegal to ship bingo parts, schematics or manuals for that matter, into states in which bingos were illegal. So Bally created a series of similar games, most with the word "Queens" in the name, such as BEAUTY CONTEST, BEACH QUEENS, ISLAND QUEENS, TROPIC QUEENS, BEAUTY QUEENS. The story goes that Bally created these "Queens games" using bingo parts, and since these games did not fall under the gambling equipment definition of the Johnson Act, the parts could also be shipped and the operator could use them to fix bingos which they were still operation even though they were illegal in that area.

So I have been told by Russ Jensen, the renowned American pinball collector and historian, in his last letter; interesting indeed! I decided it was time for a closer look at my BEAUTY CONTEST (1960 Bally, game number 641) and to share my knowledge with others. After all, it seems I'm one of the few lucky people to own one of these games! Luckily enough, I obtained some time ago, a copy of the schematic and manual from Dennis Dodel (former editor of the "Pinball Trader"- thanks, Dennis!) Now let's look at the game.

The cabinet is different from those normally used in pinballs; almost all of the mechanisms are in the back cabinet, accessible by a swinging door, just like the one used in bingos. Inside, although much more empty, it looks like a bingo; all the parts used are the same as you find inside those gambling games!

Even the coin door is of the bingo type. There is only one red button on it which is used to play the credits (apart from the one used for slug rejection). The front wooden moulding (which is removed to pull out the playfield glass) is of the more conventional type and has no button. But, wait a minute! There's another door which is smaller than the coin door on the left side! And what is that coin unit inside the cabinet which is otherwise empty, except for the usual tilt assemblies to the right of the main switch? A quick look at the diagram uncovers this mystery.

The operator can choose a percentage of coins which, through a solenoid-operated diverter placed in the coin chute, (called "Auto-Mission coin-divider" in the flyer), fall inside an extra cash-box inside the left door. This percentage may vary from one coin for every two inserted, up to one for every six inserted.

The backglass shows a modern (by 60s standards) looking hotel, with the windows showing the scores from 1,000 to 9,000 and from 10,000 to 90,000. The scores are back-lighted, as is usual in the games from that era. There are 11 girls wearing swimsuits in the backglass, standing by a swimming pool placed in front of the hotel. Two palm-trees are in the background.

A bingo-type, three digit replay counter is also present. The backglass is completed by the usual "Tilt" light but there are no match numbers or ball-to-play indications. The "Game Over" lamp is linked to a light on the right of the playfield bottom arch which says "Deposit Coin". Otherwise, if you have at least one credit, another label says "Push Red Button to Play Replays".

The playfield graphics are very nice, reflecting the backglass, showing a closer look at that swimming pool with three girls taking a dip with an inflatable sea-horse. There are no flippers, one thumper bumper, nine "dead" bumpers (numbered one to nine).

Also, there are two strange slingshots which use two coils instead of one. They work in this way: the main coil (115 volts) is energized through the usual playfield switches, providing the slingshot action and remaining latched; but quickly the other coil unlatches the first. These slingshot assemblies are more powerful than the normal ones we usually find in a flipper-type pinball. They are capable of shooting the ball to the upper zone of the playfield. Not bad, in a game without flippers! An eject-hole is present in the center which is the type usually found in Bally games built some years later, with automatic ball-return. Yes, this game actually HAS automatic ball return! And not a motorized ball lift like on Bingos, there is a normal ball-return eject hole, identical to the one described above!

Hitting any of the numbered bumpers lights the corresponding girl on the backglass. A close look at the inside wiring discovers that girls 10 and 11 are tied together (kinky, eh!) so in truth, there are only ten girls to be lit. These two figures (10 and 11) can only be spotted by entering the eject hole in the middle of the playfield. In fact, this eject hole can spot any two of the 11 girls. You can change the current "girl to be spotted" by hitting any contact on the playfield. Only trouble is the eject hole is aimed directly at the out-hole and, as you have only one ball per play, this is something to beware of!

Now for a look at the scoring. Four rubber rebounds score 1,000 as does the thumper bumper. The dead bumper and the eject hole score 5,000. These points can be useful for competitions, but no award is basÚd on the scoring. What you really need to do is to spot the girls. At the end of the game, a minimum of six girls lit, awards two replays. If you have seven lit you get four replays, eight awards eight replays, nine girls awards 20 replays and all 11 girls lit awards 100 to 180 replays!!

Replays can only be played. It's not possible, like on bingos, to buy extra balls, change the odds, etc. Note that turning off the machine resets all the remaining credits. Considering that usually no one would have the will to play something like 180 games, this is obviously provided for the benefit of the operator, to permit him to pay to the player the value of the remaining credits and then subtract them from the machine.

The left side door can be very useful in this context. The owner can give the operator keys to the left door only, to permit payment of credits with coins taken from this secondary cash box without having to give access to the main cash box and the inner mechanisms.

Considering the whole game, it plays very fast, due to the fact that there is only one ball per play and no flippers. I don't think Bally built it only for providing spare parts for bingos: BEAUTY CONTEST is very well thought out. It is a real gambling machine, very different from the usual bingos or slot machines. I believe it was only by chance that these kind of games were permitted in countries where other gambling machines were not allowed. These games were built, mainly with bingo parts, to allow the operator to indirectly order replacement parts for their unauthorized machines by ordering spares for the "queens" games. If Bally really wanted to send forbidden spares (or complete games) to other countries, I believe they could have found a more efficient way.

First of all, a game built with this in mind should have had many more parts inside of the same type used in bingos. There should be more motors, for example, like the motorized ball lift on bingos. Along this line there should not be two eject holes, a device that wasn't even installed in normal pinball machines. Another system Bally could have used is the one used today by Tecnoplay (Republic of San Marino, inside Italy). In 1988 they sold a pinball called SPACE TEAM. If you notice, there are more buttons on the cabinet then are found on simple pinball games. In fact, by simply changing the backglass and making some minor adjustments the game could become a real bingo, forbidden to be sold in Italy!

My final argument in favor of my thesis is that I found my BEAUTY CONTEST here in Italy, where it was normally distributed as a gambling machine. Okay, in 1960 in Italy, every gambling machine was theoretically forbidden (as they are today), and even normal pinballs were fighting for survival. (Later only no-replay games were allowed). But it was possible, if necessary, to order any spare parts needed. So why send a game here, only to allow access to Hforbidden" spare parts, parts which were only outlawed in a few states of the USA?

This is what I think, but I would really like to hear the opinions of other readers; email me and let me know what you think about this strange game!