Collecting Treasures: Pinball Machines not kids’ play

Vintage games like arcade pinball machines are rising in popularity with the gamers of today as well as the gamers of old

vintage games (Photo: Sue Kern-Fleischer/Special for The Republic)
(Photo: Sue Kern-Fleischer/Special for The Republic)

In today’s fast changing world of arcade and video games, it seems like gamers want more high-tech gadgets that make their interaction with games even more realistic.

Just look at the explosive growth of augmented and virtual reality. I just read an article that the global video game industry is worth $93 billion.

Yet, vintage games like arcade pinball machines are rising in popularity with the gamers of today as well as the gamers of old. In fact, a Bally’s 1976 Captain Fantastic pinball machine can put a large dent in your wallet. Quite a shock, when you consider how advanced the gaming industry has become.

During the height of pinball’s popularity, I was a typical class-ditching teenager. I hung out at the local 7-Eleven, guzzled Slurpees and dumped my quarters into a Captain Fantastic game (instead of attending biology class). Who would have known that some 30 years later the machines would be in such high demand and would be worth so much?

Of course in those days, the technology was amazing for the times, and I was always looking for the next coolest game, like Galaga, Centipede or even Frogger.

But, my friends and I always went back to zapping the large steely, trying to score the elusive free play.

In today’s market, most vintage pinball or video games are going to hit your pocketbook more than you might expect. For instance, a Bally’s 1976 Captain Fantastic game recently sold at our auction house for more than $1,250 with some other late 1980s and early 1990s pinball machines selling for well over $2,000.

An even bigger surprise was that a used Nintendo console from the early 1990s with a few games fetched close to $200 at the same auction. That doesn’t sound like much, but when compared to a new, state-of-the art Nintendo at $299, it’s not much of a bargain.

Humans have an instinctual desire to go back in time and relive those moments we had as teenagers that brought feelings of freedom and fun. That nostalgic feeling is part of the reason we’re seeing the value of vintage games go up.

As I wrote this column, I began to reflect on my own teenage years, and then it hit me. With the advent of today’s technology, it’s no longer necessary to cut class to play an arcade game. All you have to do is open up your phone and you instantly have a choice of thousands of video games to play right at your fingertips.

The 7-Eleven Slurpee will never be the same.

Erik Hoyer co-owns EJ’s Auction & Consignment in Glendale and J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in Scottsdale. Reach him at, or @EJs_Auction on Twitter.

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