Roger Sharpe, the Pinball Wizard

The man who saved pinball.

Roger Sharpe is a well-known figure in the world of pinball, with a career spanning over four decades. He is a player, writer, historian, and advocate for the game of pinball. He has contributed to the growth and development of pinball through his various roles in the industry.

Sharpe is perhaps best known for his role in the legalization of pinball in New York City in 1976. At the time, pinball was illegal in the city, and considered a form of gambling. While working for GQ Magazine, he was recruited by the Amusement and Music Operators Association[1] to testify before the City Council to demonstrate that pinball was a game of skill and not chance. He successfully made his case by playing a game of pinball in front of the council, showing that he could control the ball and aim for specific targets.

Look, there’s skill, because if I pull the plunger back just right, the ball will, I hope, go down this particular lane.

Roger Sharpe – speaking at the hearing

In 2021, MPI Original Films announced they were developing a film based on Sharpe entitled “Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game”.

The origins of pinball can be traced back to the 18th century when it is believed to have originated in France as a game called bagatelle. This early version of the game consisted of a table with pins arranged in a random pattern, and players would use a cue to shoot balls toward the pins. The game evolved over the years, and by the 1930s, it had become a popular pastime in the United States.

Pinball machines were produced in large numbers, and their designs became more intricate and advanced. However, the popularity of pinball was not without controversy. In the 1940s and 1950s, there was a widespread belief that pinball was a form of gambling and was associated with organized crime. As a result, many cities and states passed laws that made pinball machines illegal.

Aside from his work on the legal front, Sharpe has also made significant contributions to the world of pinball through his writing. He has authored several books on the history of pinball, including “Pinball!” and “Pinball Machines.” He has also written articles for various publications, including “Playboy,” “GQ,” and “The New York Times.” Sharpe has also been an active player in the pinball community, participating in tournaments and competitions around the world.

He has won several championships, including the first World Pinball Championship in 1976 and the Pinball Expo Flip-Out Tournament in 2015. In addition to his contributions to the pinball industry, Sharpe has also worked in the video game industry. He was a designer and producer for several video games, including “Super Mario Bros. Pinball,” “Indiana Jones Pinball Adventure,” and “The Addams Family Pinball.”

Before he became a star in the pinball world, Sharpe studied marketing at the UW, where he and his Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity brothers would kill their free time playing pinball at hangout spots such as The Pub or the old Kollege Klub. The turning point, Sharpe says, came as he watched a friend expertly balance a burger, fries, soda, and a cigarette as he played. He still plays competitively, and his sons have followed his lead.

Zach and Josh Sharpe are ranked fifth and eighteenth worldwide, according to the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA), and they compete often in tournaments sponsored by IFPA and the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association, which their father co-founded. Despite a very early influence — Sharpe recalls rocking them to sleep as infants in one arm while he played an Evel Knievel game with the other — he says he never expected them to pick up where he left off. People have since joked about them as the “first family of pinball.”

I saw Roger Sharpe on the MeTV show “Collector’s Call”. He was brought on as the expert to evaluate a pinball collection. The show stars Lisa Whechel (Facts of Life) and comes on Sundays at 6:30 EST. Part of the show is for the expert to make a trade with the collector and Roger traded this Sharpshooter pinball machine for one he had been wanting.



Footnotes
  1. The Amusement and Music Operators Association (AMOA) is a trade organization representing companies involved in the coin-operated amusement and music industry in the United States. Founded in 1948, the AMOA is committed to promoting the interests of its members through advocacy, education, and networking opportunities. The organization hosts an annual trade show and conference, known as Amusement Expo, which provides members with the opportunity to showcase their products and services, attend educational seminars, and network with industry professionals. In addition, the AMOA publishes a monthly magazine, “The AMOA News,” which features news and analysis on the latest developments in the industry. [Back]

Further Reading

Sources
  • “Pinball! Hardcover – January 1, 1977” Amazon
  • “Roger Sharpe” Pinball Wiki
  • “The Man Who Saved Pinball” OnWisconsin
  • “Roger Sharpe Made History for Tilting New York’s Infamous Ban on Pinball” Dallas Observer
  • “Film Fest Presents ‘Pinball: The Man Who Saved The Game’ April 21-27” Kudos AZ
  • “Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game” IMDB
  • “Roger Sharpe (pinball)” Wikipedia
  • Sharpe, Roger. “Pinball!: The Lure of the Silver Ball.” Abbeville Press, 1977.
  • “The First Family of Pinball: Meet the local wizards behind the Game’s huge resurgence” Reader
  • Sharpe, Roger. “Pinball Machines.” Bantam Books, 1978.
  • Sharpe, Roger. “The History of Pinball.” GQ, November 1993.
  • Levy, Steven. “The Accidental Revolutionary: How Roger Sharpe Won the War on Pinball.” Wired, November 2013.
  • AMOA website: https://www.amoa.com/
  • “About AMOA.” AMOA. Accessed 23 April 2023. https://www.amoa.com/page/AboutAMOA

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

One thought on “Roger Sharpe, the Pinball Wizard”

  1. From my friend Barry,
    Thanks for sharing this article, Doyle. It brought back some memories.
    In my teens, I spent WAY too many hours playing pinball machines, mostly at the local bowling center, where I bowled and worked part time.
    I was “pretty good”, but my favorite machines were the ones known as “Bingo” or “Racehorse” machines — the ones with 25 numbered holes, and one or more “cards” on the back glass that resembled a Bingo card. The object was to light up three or more numbers in a row on one of the cards, in order to win free games (replays). Those numbers light up whenever a ball lands in the hole with the corresponding number. The “Bingo” reference is obvious, but the “racehorse” reference comes from the option to put in more money in order to increase the odds of winning (to get higher odds/payouts, special options, free lighted spots, more cards activated, extra balls, etc.) — similar to betting on a horse race.
    Some pinball “purists” would argue that those Bingo machines are the only true “Pinball” machines, and that the games with flippers and features that increase a player’s score — such as electronic bumpers, gates, bottons, slots, etc. — don’t qualify. That argument is based on the fact that the numbered holes are partly blocked by stationary “pins”, so the only real action of the game is bouncing the balls off of those pins (pins + balls), while trying to guide a ball into a desired numbered hole.

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