Where To Buy A Pinball Machine (2024)

Many people are looking to buy their first pinball machine, but where exactly do you find a pinball machine to buy and how can you be sure you're getting a fair price? In this article, we'll take a look at places where you can purchase a pinball machine, questions you should ask prior to completing the transaction, and the pros and cons to buying from certain vendors or marketplaces.

Editorial Note: Views expressed are our opinion or based on our own experience. No liability is assumed by the author or Pinitech LLC for use or misuse of information presented. Additionally, from time-to-time we may link to products we like and recommend, that if clicked may earn us a commission (at no costs to you), which both supports the content we write and the products we produce.

What Are You Looking For

Are you looking for a particular game? Do you want to relive your youth and purchase a game for your home use that you played as a kid in the arcades. Or do you not really know what you want at this time? Depending on the answer, that will help define where to look for pinball machines for sale.

New Games

New games are typically purchased from local dealers or distributors. If there are none local to you, or if you don't want to drive to pick a game up for whatever reason (no vehicle to transport, no desire to rent a truck, etc) then there are companies that will deliver a pinball machine to curb. Remember though, curbside delivery means just that! You'll be responsible for getting the game into your house and setup.

An issue with having a game delivered is they soemtimes arrive damaged by the shipping companies. Be sure if you do have a game shipped that the pinball dealer you bought the game from offers a guarantee it will arrive in brand new condition and has a good reputation for handling issues with shipping damages to games.

Used Games

Used games can be purchased from pinball / arcade machine dealers, local Craigslist / Facebook Marketplace ads, online forums like Pinside, eBay or from ads in local newspapers.

Probably the biggest issue with used games is that every seller has a different definition of the term "shopped out". Usually a pinball machine that is "shopped" means that it has been gone through (top-to-bottom) and all switches, lamps, electronics, mechnisms including coils, flippers, pop bumpers, slingshots, playfield toys, etc are working. New LEDs may have replaced the old incandescent lamps. New rubber rings and flipper rubbers were installed.

But that's not always the case.

You see, "shopped" to someone without much knowledge in electronics could mean they wiped the playfield down quick and replaced the incandescent bulbs with LEDs to make it look prettier. They may have no knowledge of switches not working, or boards that were hacked by a previous owner or mechnisms that aren't working properly.

Pinball Dealers / Distributors

There are hundreds of not thousands of pinball machine dealers in the United States. Some are rather large companies with big showrooms you can drive to and see the games. Some are very small mom-and-pop type businesses, without a storefront. Regardless, these businesses either purchase brand new games from the manufacturer at wholesale pricing or they refurbish used games. The games are then offered to the general public for a higher price so the business can make a profit.

There are some great advantages to buying from a dealer, especially a dealer that's local to you. Depending on your level of experience with electronics though, that may or may not be important to you.

Advantages Of Buying From A Dealer or Distributor

  • Distributors Can Be Local. Depending on what area of the country you're in, there may be a business nearby that has a showroom of games that you can see or try out. If you're looking for a brand new game, the Stern website has a Find A Dealer section that allows you to search for a dealer.
  • They May Offer Their Own Warranty Or No-Lemon Policy. Usually there's a manufacturer warranty on a brand new game regardless of what company is selling it to you. Some dealers or distributors may in addition to this offer their own warranty coverage or no-lemon policy on new or used games. When brand new games can cost upwards of $6-8k, it's nice to have a little extra piece of mind.
  • You may be able to see the game in-person to try it out BEFORE buying it. We'd highly recommend this regardless if you're buying a new or used machine. Some games really aren't that fun to play, or they might not be your cup of tea. Don't buy a game without playing it first!
  • Customer Support. Along the lines of an extra warranty if something breaks, some dealers are also able to service the machines themselves and can help walk you through setup or technical issues. Some may even help to set up the machine when its delivered.

Disadvantages Of Buying From A Dealer or Distributor

  • Used Machines Will Be At A Premium. Looking for a good deal on a used machine? It's not likely to happen with a company that sells pinball machines. Games can sometimes cost 2-3x or more what they would if purchased from another collector (ie. someone on Craiglist or Pinside).
  • You Might Still Be Stuck With A Lemon Paying a high price for a used game or even just buying a new game from a reputable dealer doesn't guarantee you won't be stuck with a lemon. Pinball machines have circuit boards, moving parts and dozens of mechanisms -- they break. It's just their nature. And a pinball dealer may only want to help you so much, because time is money and they've already sold something to you. In the end, you could still be stuck with a game that has problems.
  • Sometimes There Are Less Than Stellar Distributors Like every product or service with businesses for it, there are some really good and honest people running them, and some not-so-great ones. It's best to do a lot of upfront research on the company you're buying from before spending thousands of dollars with them. Online forums can be a great resource, as reputable dealers often get praised and businesses that aren't that great get exposed.

Buying From a Collector

It can be rewarding and fun to buy from other pinball collectors in the hobby. It can also be a real PITA! That's because there's all walks of life and personalities buying and selling games. Some are just polishing a turd and flipping the game for a profit. Some of the collectors are a great to talk to, a blast to hang out with and may even become great friends or contacts down the road.

There are many places to buy a pinball machine from if you're buying used or second-hand..

  • Pinside is a great forum / venue because people can leave reviews based on their experiences buying/selling games with different members. If someone is honest and awesome, they'll get praised either in their feedback or in forum posts. If someone is shady, they'll get called out. Like anything, you have to do your own due diligence to ensure you're getting a fair price and the machine is as-described, but it's a good place to look for games for sale.
  • Some people will list their games on Craigslist. The problem with Craigslist is there's no feedback mechnism and there are some scammers out there. Never wire money or send money to anyone. It's actually probably best to just leave Craiglist alone and find someone with a good reputation on online forums like Pinside rather than respond to random Craigslist ads for machines where you don't have a clue what the seller's reputation is.
  • Ebay sometimes gets pinball machine listings. Not the greatest place as machines will often be marked up heavily and the sellers aren't always the most reputable or knowledgeable folks. But on a positive note, its a marketplace with Buyer Protection so it does offer some advantages over Craigslist.
  • Facebook Marketplace is another place you might find machines. It's going to have the same issues as Craiglist though, unless you get hooked up with a Pinball Group on Facebook that has people listing games and comments from individuals that have dealt with those sellers to get an idea of their reputation.

Bottom line when buying from other collectors or hobbyists, only buy from people that already have a good reputation -- or make sure you correspond enough with the seller to get a sense of their character. You don't want to waste your time with someone attempting to hustle you or someone that can't answer a few questions about the game. And it goes without saying, but never buy a game sight-unseen or arrange delivery with someone that you don't know the reputation of.

Tips For Buying Used Games

Oh boy, do we have a few tips. Anyone that's been in the pinball hobby long enough has "seen it all". Some sellers are good technicians or even electronics engineers, very knowledeable and have gone through a game top and bottom. Then there are folks that have no business being around a circuit board. There's really super honest and friendly folks. And there's people you wish you'd never met and don't want to ever see again!

You'll do yourself a HUGE favor if you buy from reputable collectors in the community instead of attempting to buy a game from someone that has zero reputation. It may require a bit of extra work on your part to search forum posts for their username or to look through feedback on a marketplace, but it's worth the hassle. You want to see comments about someone being honest & the game being sold in the condition described, or better yet "better than described".

It's especially important if you're brand new to pinball and don't have much of a clue yourself about electronics or how a pinball machine works to buy from someone reputable.

Condition is an opinion. Remember that. Some people call these used games "restored to like-new" or say a game is fully working. It could very well be in the condition described, but it's all relative to the seller's knowledge of electronics or what their version of "Clean" or "Great Condition" or "Good Condition" or "Player's Machine" is.

Additional Tips

  • Ask to see some pictures. There should be a dozen or so pictures of a machine that's up for sale. If not, ask for some pictures. Sellers don't really love hearing that, but it's not worth driving any significant distance only to find a pinball machine was sitting in a barn or out in the rain for years.
  • Play the game before handing over money. You should play the game before handing over money. You might not like it. Or you might immediately see an issue with how it's working.
  • Ask to see the circuit boards. Any honest or reputable seller will have no problem showing you the circuit boards are clean and without hacks. Check near the battery holder on the MPU board for any white or green powder/residue indicating batteries had leaked on the board. If you don't know what an MPU board is, it's the main board in the machine that runs things & you're going to want to learn what it looks like so you can look for issues when buying used games. Really though, if there are any major board issues, the seller should point those out when asked if there are any issues with the boards.
  • Learn to inspect a game yourself. Think of the game's parts from a high level. There's a wooden pinball cabinet, there's circuit boards, displays, a playfield with a ton of wiring and mechanisms, playfield plastics and ramps. You can break each game down into these larger areas to quickly glance over any time you buy a game and in short time develop a good eye for spotting problems. Before you drive to check out a game, look at pictures on IPDB.org for the game and get an idea of what it looks like to aid in spotting issues. Of course, try not to be a PITA with the seller, especially ones that have a great reputation, because no seller wants you there for 6 hours looking over a game in with a magnifying glass. The point is, it's really not too hard to create a "plan-of-attack" to look over a game, once you know what you're looking for.
  • Ask the seller questions about issues with the game. Does the ball get stuck anywhere? Do some mechanisms have problems? Are there any hacks on the board? Is there battery corrosion damage on the MPU board? Is the backglass in good shape? Is there anything I else I should know about? Again, it's up to you to ask. Honest sellers should gladly be willing to answer any questions you might have.

What's A "Fair" Price For A Pinball Machine?

It depends. Brand new games that were released in the last year or two are pretty much going to have prices set from the manufacturer. Used games are where you'll find a wider spectrum of prices.

A fair price of course is where both the buyer and seller are happy. A seller is likely happy if they're able to get what they've asked for a game out of it. So that's where you, as the buyer, have to do your own "market research" to figure out if what you're paying is fair -- or overpriced.

You can research game prices on Pinside Classifieds and there's even an option for looking at past sales of machines. Another option is Bostin Pinball's eBay Sales Summary, even though the latest updates were from 2020. This doesn't mean that the prices you see are the prices you should be buying at though. It's relative to the condition of the game! That's where being able to look at a full listing of a machine that sold, with pictures of the condition of the game, and the price it sold for is helpful. You'll want to use resources out there with a handful of sales for the game you're interested in to determine what a fair price is.

Transporting A Game

If you're buying a used game from another collector, chances are they WON'T deliver it to your door and set it up for you. The transaction is generally over when you hand them cash and get the game loaded in your vehicle, which is hopefully large enough for the game (SUV or Truck).

A few other things to keep in-mind..

  • Pinball machines can weigh upwards of 250-300 pounds. You need a handtruck and often will need some help getting a machine in and out of your vehicle and into your house. If you're inexperienced moving something large and heavy around, there's no shame in hiring a professional or seeking out some help. Especially if there are any stairs involved. Weight can shift awkwardly and these machines can seriously injur you if they fall on you or drag you along with them down a hill or stairs.
  • Pinball Machines WILL Break. Sorry to break the bad news, but your machine will break. Doesn't matter if it's a brand new $9000 machine or an $800 used game that was fully gone through and worked when you bought it. It's just the nature of machines with moving parts and circuit boards. Playfield rubbers or flipper rubbers wear out, or dry out and break down. Mechnisms wear out over time. Playfield plastics can break. Electronics can have components wear out from heat or age. If you want maintenance-free, then you probably don't want to own a pinball machine.
  • Repairs Will Cost You. Having someone out to service a machine or sending circuit boards out for repair can add up in costs. Generally these services are billed at $50-80/hr, sometimes more. If a pinball machine you buy is a real basket-case, and you don't know how to fix it yourself, you might be shocked at a quote for repair. Even if you know how to repair a game yourself, there's still a cost of time.
  • Inevitably You Need To Learn How To Fix Things Yourself. Do want to have to call out a service tech every time you have a small issue? If not, you're going to have to learn some basic troubleshooting and repair when owning a pinball machine. If that doesn't sound like fun, then you might be better off with a virtual pinball machine that has less moving parts or finding a different way of spending thousands of dollars ;)

In Conclusion

There's a lot of choices of where to buy a pinball machine. You can save yourself a lot of time, money and hassle by dealing with dealers or collectors that already have a solid reputation. Keep in mind that pinball machines can and will break, no matter if they are brand new or were sold as fully working -- that's just the nature of games with many moving parts. Be sure that you are ready for any maintenance and repair costs, or that you're prepared to learn how to troubleshoot and fix the games yourself!

Where To Buy A Pinball Machine (2024)
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