(originally publsihed in Skill Shot 28)
Have you noticed how pinball has totally exploded in Seattle and the Northwest? The question quickly shifted from “I wonder if there’s any pinball near me” to “I wonder if I have enough time to play all the tables near me.” Unfortunately, there is one group of pin enthusiasts for whom little has changed: the under-21 crowd.
Sure, there are awesome places to play in Seattle that are all-ages venues (AAVs) –— Full Tilt Ballard is home to some of the best maintained games in all of Seattle, downtown is 100% all-ages for pinball (the only neighborhood in Seattle that can make that claim), and the Seattle Pinball Museum (SPM) holds a fantastic collection of games. Just 45 minutes south is Dorky’s, which has the largest selection of pins in Washington open to all ages. However, the city of Seattle has only 27 out of 91 locations (by Skill Shot’s last count) that are open to minors.
From talking to some of the underage players in the area, I’ve learned that the issues go further than solely being denied entry to bars; it also prevents them from entering tournaments where alcohol is served. Raymond Davidson (age 20) is a major player in the Northwest and the world, but he has experienced his fair share of frustration being under 21.
“The most obvious example of the 21 rule screwing me over was the Rose City Showdown,” says Raymond. “It was one of the final stops on the PAPA [Pro-Am Pinball Association] Circuit, and if I had been able to go to it and place decently, I’d be able to participate in the PAPA Circuit Finals.” The cut-off for the Circuit Finals is position 20. Ironically, Ray is currently ranked #21 in the PAPA standings.
Other players like Kevin Birrell (age 20) and Bri Stewart (age 13) speculate that there must be a way to participate in all tournaments, regardless of their age. “I can’t see why they don’t allow children in, so long as they’re not ordering alcohol,” says Bri. Recently relocated from the East Coast, Bri points out that in Maryland kids can go to bars and everything is easier. There are places that mix pins, alcohol, and are all-ages, so there must be a certain permit that businesses can get.
Kevin points out that “SPM’s tournaments are open to all ages, but they also serve beer. Same deal applies to Full Tilt.” Charlie and Cindy at the SPM said they have the same Snackbar License from the Liquor Control Board (LCB) that Full Tilt has, allowing them to stay all-ages. The Seattle Pinball League is dedicated to inclusiveness as well and proved it at their tournament in March of this year. Originally scheduled at Add-a-Ball, the monthly match was moved at the last minute to Rod’s house because the LCB denied their private party permit application. In fact, these examples are the only local tournament hosts to allow minors to participate.
Personally I got into pinball after I was 21 and had not considered these issues. There are some seriously good players out there who are under age and dedicated to mastering their game, though most pinheads are not exposed to them. Raymond says, “If we had more all-ages places, it could start roping in younger kids. As it is now, mostly we just have bars, so kids never get exposed to pinball.”
Another factor is how people perform while drinking. Some won’t touch alcohol if they’re competing, while others swear they’re much better when imbibing. Kevin, for one, is not interested in drinking at tournaments when he comes of age. He explains that some people have conditioned their muscle memory and response time under the influence, but his skills have been developed sober, so that’s the way they’ll stay.
For now, these minors are tearing it up at the AAVs. I’ve seen their names on machines at Beth’s, the Hurricane, Full Tilt and more. While I sympathize with their dilemma, I am not looking forward to getting my high scores bumped off of all the machines they don’t have access to yet! Once the time comes, a few places they’re really looking forward to visiting are Shorty’s, Add-a-Ball, John John’s, Narwhal, and, of course, all the tournaments — top of the list being the annual Shorty’s open, followed by the weeklies at Add-a-Ball and John John’s. Kevin is enthusiastic about all the places in Portland to visit since nearly all their machines are in bars.
We here at Skill Shot support our younger players by making it easy to find all-ages pinball machines, as well as encouraging challenges like “The One to Beat”, which is often at an AAV location. When you’re checking Skill Shot’s List in the print edition, all-ages venues are highlighted in a contrasting color from the 21+ venues. All-ages venues are also marked at list.skill-shot.com.