Forty-seven years ago, the Harford County Sheriff’s Department, along with state and other local police agencies, conducted one of the largest gambling raids in the county’s history.
Slots were phasing out in the state of Maryland. However, the temptation of gambling remained. In order to fill this new void, pinball machines became a new medium for gambling. Pinball machines were set up in bars for the purpose of “entertainment.” If a person was in the right establishment and knew the right people, they could collect money on their winnings. Free games won could be converted to dollars.
Word of this illegal activity eventually made its way to the Harford County Sheriff’s Department. An undercover task force was established to collect evidence. For weeks, undercover agents went into bars and played the pinball machines. After winning, they would try to collect a payout from the bar. If they were successful, they would write down names and descriptions for future warrants. Eventually, the agents were able to collect enough evidence, obtaining over 80 arrest warrants.
On May 27, 1964, at 10:00 a.m., 150 police agents raided over 90 bars in Harford County in an effort to obtain suspects in the illegal pinball machine case. The raid resulted in 80 arrests and the seizure of 50 pinball machines. The arrested suspects were held in jails across Harford County, and all posted $250 bail and were released until they could go before a judge. Many of the bar owners received suspensions from the Liquor Board, prohibiting them from opening after the raid.
A few days after the raids were conducted, the prosecution of the suspects began. The state decided to test the waters and only prosecute one suspect before the rest, in order for precedent to be established. This chosen suspect was Peter Wolfe. The court found Mr. Wolfe guilty of conducting an illegal gaming device and handed down a 90-day jail sentence, along with a fine. In addition, Wolfe was to be placed under a $1,000 bond, which he would lose if he violated the gaming law.
After the Wolfe case, the majority of the 80 cases had similar verdicts. In addition, the Harford County Liquor Board imposed additional fines and suspensions.
At the time, the 1964 pinball raid was one of the largest gambling raids conducted in Harford County. The problem of the illegal use of pinball machines was not exclusive to Harford County. In 1968, a major raid was conducted across the state of Maryland in attempt to rid the state of the illegal gambling.
Tune into WAMD 970AM Friday between 7 and 9:30 a.m. to hear Dagger history columnist Adam Rybczynski discuss the 1964 Pinball Raid.