He would have his work cut out for him, though, due to the legacy of the notorious gangster, Al Capone, who embedded an underworld of violence, crime, and gambling that would take decades to unravel. Gambling had already become a big industry in Illinois, going back to the Black Sox Scandal in 1919, and even before.
Pinball Wizardry in Logan County
To get started, Stevenson ordered the State Police to make periodic raids throughout Illinois, and in 1950 directed them to raid the taverns of Logan County and Lincoln in an effort to shut down illegal gambling activities in Central Illinois. A local group called the Lincoln Pinball Association went to trial and fought to maintain possession of the confiscated pinball machines, and to keep them operational. They claimed the machines were simply “amusement devices, though the State Police had determined the pinball machines operated with incredibly intricate wiring that allowed the machine owners to turn automatic payouts on and off. To complicate the case, the Logan County Sheriff testified that the pinball machines were not really gambling devices, because the automatic payout buttons were turned off. The case identified an ongoing theme in Stevenson’s battle to suppress gambling and other crimes: in public and private arenas, Stevenson's appeals and initiatives against pinball machines were met with resistance from a diverse group of civic leaders, including city mayors, chiefs of police, state prosecutors, and county law enforcement agents.
Twelve years earlier, In 1938, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that even if the machines were designated “for amusement only” and their tokens marked “of no value,” the machine was a device intended for gambling, and its use under any circumstance constituted an act of gambling. It was this prior ruling that, though rebuked by Lincoln law enforcement and government officials, led the court in 1951 to order the destruction of the pinball machines, and to fine the members of the Lincoln Pinball Association. Pinball had gained a reputation for being associated with hooligans, drinking, cigarettes, and gambling, largely in part because Chicago was still at the time synonymous with organized crime and Al Capone.
Most folks don’t know that pinball machines were designated illegal by Illinois Attorney General John E. Cassidy in 1937, and retained that designation for the next 40 years. In January, 1977, pinball machines became legal in Chicago.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Logan County, feel free to send us a message! We would love to hear from you!