Marshfield banned coin-operated video games in the 1980s for fear of crime


On the rare occasions that Marshfield receives national news attention, storms typically hit the city shores and inundate the coastal streets. For a brief period in the early 1980s, however, the national spotlight was on Marshfield – this time for a storm entirely of his own accord.

Like something out of the movie “Footloose”, (which told the story of a town that banned dancing) At a June 1982 town hall meeting, voters approved measures both banning coin-operated arcade games in Marshfield and criminalizing their possession, considering it a sinister way to corrupt the children and the charm of the city – the first city in the country to do so.

Rick Pelland, who in 1982 was an owner of Marshfield Family Skateland, said the move looked “ridiculous” at the time.

“People who were in favor of the regulation were trying to link it to drug use in children and gambling problems in children,” he said. “What a stretch it was, I thought it was outrageous.”

Supporters of the alleged gambling ban were responsible for many social and moral ills, ranging from violence and drug use to counterfeiting and prostitution. The business owners who hosted these arcade games, skeptical of the accusations born out of firsthand experience, disagreed and fought back in court.

“I can’t explain what people were thinking,” Pelland said. “I think they were driven by the opinions of a few, and when people started to say how it related to drug use, it just sparked something in people’s minds. They didn’t. had no done to confirm it. ”

Court challenges, including those from video game rental companies, lasted a year and a half until he reached the Supreme Court of the United States, who voted in at the end of 1983 not to hear the call of the challengers.

At the time the precedent-setting law was overthrown by town reunion by 2014, the arcade craze of the 1980s was long gone, with home gaming systems taking over.

Not allowed, but “here anyway”

Prepaid gambling had been banned in the city since 1975 after voters approved a measure banning gambling halls from setting up. As video arcade games began to take the country by storm, places like Marshfield Family Skateland and the city’s bowling alley installed machines.

Recognizing their presence, city officials presented two articles in 1982 to the municipal assembly, one aimed at legalizing “prepaid amusement devices” and a second at modifying zoning by-laws to allow their possession.

Editorial cartoon from the July 20, 1983 issue of the Marshfield Mariner.

“They’re not allowed, but they’re here anyway,” then Planning Council chairman William Finn said. “Let’s get a vote and if the people don’t want it then let’s let the Selectmen apply the current rules. “

Perhaps predicting the debate that would follow, advisory board member William Zirpolo told the Mariner at the time that he believed parents were responsible for their children.

“Controlling machines doesn’t control children,” he said. “Legalize machines and let parents use their judgment.”

An informal poll conducted by Mariner staff ahead of the town hall vote showed support for the ban, with 14 of 20 residents questioned against video games, four in favor of them with restrictions and two unaware that ‘they were already illegal.

Voters go beyond

After a heated debate on both sides at the city assembly, the majority of voters disagreed with the planning and advisory councils. The article to legalize the machines had to be rejected first.

Thomas Jackson, then head of the city’s vandalism committee, who would become a staunch supporter of the ban, introduced an amendment adding a by-law prohibiting and criminalizing the possession or use of games, instituting a fine of $ 200 per machine .

“Jackson defended his proposal by saying it would prevent Marshfield from developing a ‘honky-tonk’ atmosphere,” wrote the Mariner. “It will also reduce the temptation to use drugs and theft.”

Only 210 voters were present for the final vote. The amended article passed, setting Marshfield on a path that would lead to the United States Supreme Court and the attention of “People” magazine and nightly news anchor Dan Rather.

Following:1982-1983: Mariner readers speak out on video game bans

Following:What do you miss most about old Marshfield? We asked our readers and here’s what they said

Vote for a “wrongdoing”

Tom Vetra, owner of Seaside Grocery, had installed three video games in his store after the town hall vote, after contracting with the video game company earlier in the year.

Vetra called the vote “wrongdoing” and said he didn’t think it was fair that the small number of people present at the town meeting dictate what others can do.

“When a business has had a hard time sledding and tries to put up something that doesn’t cause a problem for the police or a bad image, I don’t think the city should say it can’t. not have it, ”Vetra said.

Vetra said he spoke with then police chief Charles Chaplin, who told him “that no police cars were sent to a company due to improper use or ‘bad behavior where the machines were installed’.

Editorial cartoon from the July 28, 1982 issue of the Marshfield Mariner.

Violence, drugs, fake checks, prostitution?

Jackson, described in an interview with Mariner as “Marshfield’s most assertive adversary of video games,” has made statements about the alleged moral evils of video games, from the promotion of violence to a purported “direct connection” to drug use and abuse.

He suggested that children would turn to theft, check forgery and prostitution to get money to beat the games. He told the Mariner that “sex offenders roam the arcades, making video violence more salacious.”

“Some people have said it is up to parents to watch their children,” he told the Mariner. “I believe that, but in Marshfield, about 50% of the children in school come from single parent homes or homes where both parents work. They are not able to supervise their children.”

Marshfield MA case goes to Supreme Court

In late July 1982, Marshfield vendors joined with the Coin Machine Industries Association in formally challenging the city’s new bylaw, and by October few companies had phased out the games, anticipating possible litigation over the matter.

In February 1983, the matter reached the state Supreme Court, with Judge Paul Liacos trying out the games, presented as exhibits.

Editorial cartoon from the August 11, 1982 issue of the Marshfield Mariner.

According to reports, the Liacos asked “if people are really paying them” and Marshfield Town lawyer Robert Marzelli “classified games as a source of social ills, such as massage parlors and bowling alleys” .

U.S. Supreme Court Judge William Brennan Jr. said the city cannot enforce the ban until the lower court decides whether or not to hear the case.

Article from the Thursday, December 8, 1983, issue of the New York Times.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court upheld the settlement, with June 27 set as the day the machines should be retired before fines begin to be imposed.

At the end of November, the judges voted 7-2 not to hear appeal arguments and a week after the start of December, the games were gone from Marshfield.


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