Thoughts on money in pinball events?

I haven’t really seen this topic discussed by the tournament-types, apologies if this has been hashed recently elsewhere.

What do people think about entry-fees/prizes in tourneys? Both in local weekly events and bigger regional/national/etc events? Would no entry/prize pool change your attendance in these events? Do you think overall more or less people would participate? Do you think the prize pools of big events are good for publicity? Does that publicity really help get anyone involved that wouldn’t otherwise?

I’m not trying to dog on the pump n dump formats, I think that argument has been beaten to death. More want to discuss the weeklies with a $5 or $10 buyin, or Pinburgh, or flat-entry-fee regional events. What do you think?

Personally, I think I’d prefer if pretty much any event I participate in had no money involved. This isn’t because I can’t afford it, and I would guess on average I make money from events, I just personally don’t see the need and know that the fees are a disincentive for others. If they money is an incentive for others to show up (i.e. the good ones), I’m not sure that I care that much unless attendance would tank severely. Of course, the money on the line for really big events, like Pinburgh, adds an interesting stress to the matches, but if people end up splitting the money anyways regardless of outcome, that’s less of a factor.

Of course, unlimited qualifying attempt events wouldn’t really work without money, but I prefer limited qualifying, anyways.

Do you think that a significant number of people are kept away from a tournament by a $5 entry fee?

I like to have at least a modest cost to participate for the simple reason that people tend not to value things they get for free. Asking players to make a small investment in the event ensures that the people who sign up actually have an active desire to play. I’ve done a few free-entry tournaments in the past, and every time the same thing happens - people sign up then disappear, don’t pay attention to the rules and have to constantly be reminded what’s going on, walk off in the middle of games, and so on. It’s annoying to manage for me as an organizer, and makes the experience less fun for the people who showed up because they really wanted to play in a pinball tournament.

I’ve had the same experience with my league. I used to allow anyone play as a guest for free at one meeting, just so they could try it out. We’d get random people every meeting showing up late, taking off early, wandering outside for smoke breaks in the middle of games, having to be hunted down constantly because they’d leave the pinball area between every ball to go hang out with their boyfriend or whatever. It wasn’t fair to our members. I want to create as few barriers to participation as possible, but not at the expense of the people who show up week after week. This season I added a $10 guest fee, and those problems have entirely disappeared.

What’s considered a reasonable fee for participation in a weekly or monthly event also probably depends on where you live. In my area, you’d be hard pressed to find a more economical two-three hour entertainment opportunity than a $5 pinball tournament. Even going to a movie without buying any concessions costs twice that.


I think first-timers can be, and it’s also a deterrent for people who might want to participate every week, as that money can add up on top of coin drop.

I hadn’t really considered the effect of people blowing it off more, which obviously can be an issue.

Yeah the investment in the tourney is the key and $5 is five games worth at $1 a game which is standard at the location I play at most. We do live in an expensive city so $5 might not even get you a beer (unless you drink Olympia). But freebies is too much hassle for the reasons Echa stated. Most people don’t play for the money, although some folks want the entry to be higher so the pots will be higher. I think Echa had one tourney where the prize pool was like $1000(?) and that one drew a lot more folks so it can draw certain types but if we’re talking about growing casual and newbies more then I think a low buyin is great.

1 Like

I’m sympathetic on the first-timers issues. New players might come in nervous, not knowing what to expect, whatever. One option for addressing this is to find alternative ways to offset the risk for losing your entry fee.

My operator has these vending coupons that work like dollars on all the machines at the venue with bill acceptors. Anyone who enters our Tuesday night tournaments and has never played in a pinball tournament before gets $5 worth of coupons at the end of the tournament, which basically refunds their entry fee in the form of free pinball. Getting these makes new players SO HAPPY! A venue that wanted to support tournaments could offer something similar in the form of gift certificates/drink coupons/some kind of discount.

For regulars, I have less sympathy. If someone were coming to an event I put time and energy into organizing every single week and doesn’t think it’s enjoyable enough to be worth $5 ($5!) - uh…I don’t know what to say. Stay home, I guess. That feels so disrespectful to the organizer.

I don’t mean to sound heartless. Money (at that level, anyway) isn’t an issue for me at this point in my life, but there have been times in the past when I’ve struggled. If I had a player who really wanted to participate and I knew that it was a genuine financial burden, I’d try to work something out with them. Maybe give them an opportunity to help out with administrative aspects of the event in exchange for comped entry or something? I’ve waived league membership dues in the past for players I knew were going through a rough time. But I have a hard time believing true hardship the case for the majority of people who don’t want to pay an entry fee. (Again, at least in the area I live.)

1 Like

I may be wrong here, but it feels like it’s the minority that cares about high stakes in tournaments for the most part. I don’t have anything against an expensive tournament but it’s definitely doesn’t draw me in as much as the thrill of competition.

It’s possible that a culture has been created in pinball where attendees just expect there to be an entry fee with a cash payout. I would support a tournament that has a small entry fee with no cash payout just so that the organizer has some money for prizes/trophies.

If it’s a small tournament where you’re trying to draw in first timers then keep the entry fee low. If it’s a large circuit event that requires a lot of time and effort from many people then a larger entry fee is justified and probably expected. Just charge accordingly.

1 Like

Although I haven’t competed much lately, money was definitely a consideration when I competed regularly. Basically, it boiled down to distance. Do I have to drive 100 or more miles to get there (and back)? If yes, there needs to be a decent prize pool. If I fly somewhere to compete, then it pretty much has to be a big money tourney. Exception being Vegas. Always fun to compete there, prize pool or not.

In my view, the $5 weeklies are actually attracting first time competitors. They may have previously been to a big show with a pump and dump and figured they didn’t have a shot because so may world class players were there. But at a $5 weekly, there are less players and less higher ranked players. Which means they have a better chance of finishing in the money. Although the $5 entry fee is low, it gives the tourney legitimacy. Anyone can enter a free tourney. I need to register and kick down some cash to enter a ‘real’ tourney.

If you would prefer no money is involved, stick to league. Although they have entry fees, you typically get a lot more flips per dollar in league than you do in tourneys.

The other big consideration is that most of the tourney circuit regulars are all friends. There really is no rivalries. (Dubs crushed the Clips last night d:^) If you can’t hate the guys you’re playing against, money makes it interesting.

If its a friend or local event running a free to enter tournament I would attend to help support it. I would try to mentor/coach the new players and do what I could to help. I’ve traveled 4-5 hours each way for charity events to be with friends and enjoy the competition. I do like events where its $5-$20 to enter and one could win money as it helps cover some of the travel expense and gives one a bit more motivation. I made another thread about a high entry fee event. I was thinking along the lines of $500 x 100 people but the purpose would be to get that event broadcasted on cable with it being live or prerecorded. We’re fortunate with the ifpapinball site and its calendar that we can see what events are around the area. I don’t think there is a one size fits all approach though…

Side pots are a great way to keep entry fees low/free, and still have an interesting payout for the folks who want that incentive. I have skipped some tournaments or abandoned when it felt like the entry fees were excessive and mostly there to fund a massive prize pool for the top 3 that I felt I had little hope at collecting even if I performed at the top of my game. I think free entries for unranked IFPA or Rank less than X is a great way of bringing in new players. The free play coupons seem like they accomplish the same objective.


At the Ann Arbor Michigan pinball show we run a single fee $20 tournament with no cash payback, only trophies. We are trying to finance the museum for the year so that’s why there’s no payback. It’s a three strikes you’re out, head-to-head competition, type format. We also do this tournament on EM’s, because game times are shorter and newbies seem to be less intimidated by EMs.

What we found is a lot of newbies like to enter in this style of tournament because it’s not about the money. But on the other hand we don’t get any big players because there is no cash prize. So take that for what it’s worth. But my take is that the big players do pinball for money, where a lot of other “regular” people do it for just fun (perhaps because they don’t think they will ever win money.) yet It’s hard to conclude much of anything else from our experiences in regard to money.

Again our experience, but money just seems to complicate things. And makes people piss and moan about small details. And basically robs the fun out of the event. Do we get top players? Absolutely not. But were OK with that. Will our tournament ever be very big? Probably not. I’m sorry to say but money is what makes the world spin. Many people won’t admit it, but money is what drives a lot of competitive pinball players. We find the lack of money also brings in more first time competitors, which is cool.

I don’t know what the answer is, but this is our experience.


They won’t admit it because it’s not true. There’s not enough money in the sport to make money the primary consideration. Simple as that.

My gimmick with first-timers at my bi-weeklys was to give them a raffle prize. At a bar where I ran events, the manager gave me 5 - 10 tickets (depending on attendance) that were good for a $5 drink or appetizer. If a first-timer showed up, they got one automatically, so they “broke even”/“won” something. That made them feel welcome and also took the pressure off so they just relaxed and had fun, and probably played better.

The other thing for new players is to have a prize for top “novice” (however you define it), or for larger events, a B or novice division.

To be blunt, the “fees being a disincentive for others” at only $5, as you say, is in my experience an excuse not to play. Either they’re not competitive, too scared, etc. There’s only such much incentive and arm-twisting you can do.

“They won’t admit it because it’s not true.”

I call bullshit on that.
As someone that has been running tourneys since 2008, money is always a concern. For example, at the last Ann Arbor michigan show/tourney, the two guys, 1st and 2nd, would not leave me alone about getting prize money. They knew up front there was no cash prize. Yet when it was all over, they wanted something. The trophy just wasn’t enough. Heck they thought they deserved dough. Maybe they did, maybe they were right, but it was stated up front there would be no prize money.

I personally don’t compete in tourneys, i just run them. So i see it from a different angle. And yes, money always seems to be an issue with the “winners”. I’m sorry, but we live in a capitalist world. Everyone wants to be donald trumph…

Money is not always a concern… its a concern with a small select group of players in Michigan.

I’ve ran the 6 biggest tournaments in Michigan this year and the biggest one last year. I got a couple comments about money when I switched the Pinball at the Zoo tournament to charity, but that was before the event and not during. We offered gift cards and homemade trophies as prizes. Not a SINGLE person complained about money at the event. 100% of the profits went to various charities (MS Society of Michigan and the State Games of Michigan).

The response to charity tournaments has been overwhelmingly positive and I intend to ONLY run tournaments for charity in the future. It takes a lot of pressure off of me and I think it makes the event more fun. We have had between 65 and 140 people come out to each event we’ve ran and pulling people from all over the state of Michigan. We do pump and dump at $1 a game even at our biggest tournaments.

I don’t see money as a motivating factor for me at all. My decision to go to a tournament goes like this…

  1. Fun factor.
  2. Cost to enter.
  3. Travel time.
  4. Prize money.

And the prize money at number 4 is pretty distant. I’ve won plenty of money in tournaments but that isn’t what is fun for me. This is primarily a hobby and when you start worrying about money all the time it quickly becomes a job. Money is a nice bonus, but I play pinball for fun. I’m 100% in it for the competition.


Are their any IFPA points on the line for the Ann Arbor pinball show? If not, I’d say that’s the reason why there aren’t many big players. I find that WPPRs will draw more players than money will. I haven’t seen much of a difference in turnout for free events, charity events, or events with money on the line in Cleveland.

1 Like

Great point. Forgot to add the information about IFPA points. Its huge in Michigan for the state championship series.

Prize money in local events is usually small but it’s like playing poker with your friends with quarter antes - it just spices things up a bit. And it’s like that line in Color of Money: “Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.”

I actually feel the opposite - a no-entry tourney would be a turn-off to me because a significant portion of the field simply wouldn’t be trying.


Who needs real currency when you can have fake currency! :smile:


I’ve never experienced lack of trying in an event without entry fees. The only difference I’ve noticed is that they tend to attract more new/casual players who don’t like paying to enter because they just feel like they’re giving their money away to the better players.

Personally, dedicating a day of my time to attend an event is worth more to me than whatever the entry fee might be. So if I’m taking the time to compete, I’m playing to win regardless of any cash prizes.


And that’s where we can agree to disagree. Random non-pinball people are less willing to pay into something that they have no chance of winning and money is paid out. Instead we take the money and donate it to charity and we get random people all the time who then keep coming back to events. Its a lot easier to convince someone to donate $10 bucks to a charity, instead of giving $10 to the winner. I’ve found that WPPR points make it competitive enough for our area.

(Basically I agree with jdelz. I didn’t see his post till after I hit send)