Reporters document visits between pinball king Ben Cichy and King County Prosecutor Charles Carroll on August 20, 1968.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 3/21/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 1546

On August 20, 1968, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and KING-TV record nocturnal visits by "pinball king" Ben Cichy (1898-1969) to the home of King County Prosecutor Charles O. Carroll (b. 1906).

The stories result in a flood of indignant letters to the P-I in support of the Republican politician who has been in office 20 years.

Cichy was president of Farwest Novelty Co., a non-profit organization that held the master license for approximately 1540 pinball machines, pool tables, and bowling games in Seattle and King County. The games operated mostly in taverns. Pinball players could win money from the machines despite a state law prohibiting such devices.

Carroll was a powerful Republican politician who controlled many public offices in Seattle and King County. As prosecutor, it was his responsibility to decide to prosecute or not to prosecute criminal cases, including those involving official corruption. Office holders who opposed Carroll, including County Commissioner and Governor John Spellman, worried about being investigated and prosecuted for minor infractions of law. It was a legal opinion by Carroll that allowed Farwest to extend control over coin-operated pool games.

The story came at a time when a payoff system in the Seattle Police Department was being exposed in the press and in official reports. Officers were taking money from gamblers and tavern operators to stay in business. Carroll refused to meet with reporters who were investigating the payoff system. The Seattle P-I also documented the profitability of the pinball business and at least one operator's failure to pay taxes owed on the machines.

On May 30, 1969, Cichy accidentally drowned next to the dock of his Lake Washington home. Carroll was defeated for reelection in 1970.

In 1971, Carroll was indicted by his successor in connection with the police payoff system. He was accused of being present at a meeting in 1963 with Cichy and the King County sheriff to arrange an extension of Seattle's gambling tolerance policy into unincorporated King County. In 1973, Carroll was found not-guilty of the charges because the only witness against him was an admitted perjuror

In 1986, Carroll told journalist Don Duncan of The Seattle Times that he never condoned the "tolerance policy" that allowed small stakes gambling:

"I said bring me the facts for a case (abuse of the system) and I'll file it. I always worried that there might be payoffs to permit the stakes to go higher and higher. And that's what happened. The names of some good people were dragged through the mud."

Sources:

William J. Chambliss, From Petty Crooks to Presidents, 2nd Ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 118-120, 130; Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 259; Don Duncan, "Husky Hero Carroll Made His Case in Republican Politics," The Seattle Times, August 10, 1986, p. K-5; Larry Brown and Lou Corsaletti, "Judge Rejects Defense Plea To Dismiss Conspiracy Charges," Ibid., May 1, 1973, p. A-9; Shelby Scates, "A Study of Carroll Power," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 21, 1968, pp. B, C, D; "A Torrent Of Money Into Pinball Games," Ibid.,; Louis R. Guzzo, "Why The Big Dodge?" Ibid., p. D; Peter Bunzel, "Curious Conduct," Ibid., pp. C, D; Joseph Strayan, "Who Is Pinball King Ben Cichy?" Ibid., p. C; "Rites Set For B.W. Cichy," The Seattle Times, June 2, 1969, p. 36; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Grand jury hands down indictments in wide-spread police corruption scandal on July 27, 1971," (by David Wilma) http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed May 20, 2001).


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