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How Delaware Has Become a Hotspot for Pinball

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Peter Tsipouras, defending state pinball champion, left, and Chad Hastings, president of First State Flippers, help keep pinball alive in Delaware through the International Flipper Pinball Asociation state tournament./Maria DeForrest

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Chad Hastings has always been on the ball.

Back in 1992, he was Delaware’s Youth Bowler of the Year, eventually moving on to bowl competitively in Professional Bowlers Association Tour events, where he maintained a 230-game average before retiring nine years ago.

Eventually, though, his love affair with the bowling lanes landed in the gutter.

“I didn’t enjoy it anymore,” says Hastings, now the president of First State Flippers, organized to boost the popularity of pinball in Delaware. “In pinball, the ball bounces where it wants to bounce. There’s randomness to each game. You could be on fire all day long, and then…”

It’s this delight in the randomness of pinball that he shares as state tournament director of the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA). He’ll host the 2020 Delaware State Pinball Championships—the state’s third—on Jan. 18 at his home in Magnolia.

Hastings, 45, comes by his love of pinball naturally—his mom ran three arcades in the 1980s. But in the ’90s as home gaming took hold, the arcades started disappearing from strip malls and boardwalks. He played again a few years ago at a throwback Rehoboth Beach arcade and realized how much he missed it, then began purchasing pinball machines of his own. His personal collection now totals 16.

At the time, Hastings was unaware that Delaware was one of only six U.S. states to not have its own IFPA tournament. He set out to change that. Throughout the year, each state can host as many open-advertised IFPA-sanctioned tournaments as it wants. Delaware now manages six or seven. A rating system ranks the top 16 players by year’s end. That field advances to each state’s championship, which are all held the same weekend. The prize for the national champ is a new machine—usually by manufacturers Jersey Jack or Stern—valued at around $5,600.

When Hastings got the ball rolling in the First State, he thought he’d be lucky if 20 competitors showed up. His initial tournament attracted 42 players. “It was overwhelming,” he says. “We hit the ground running full throttle. Delaware is a hotbed for pinball right now.”

Peter Tsipouras, 45, is Delaware’s defending state champ. An owner of 12 machines, he practices at his Wilmington home or pizza shop, and plays in leagues two days a week. He claimed more than $600 in prizes and fundraised travel money for last year’s state title and his subsequent trip to the North American Championship Series in Las Vegas. The state prize pool is bigger in Pennsylvania (upwards of $1,800 for the winner) where he could also compete, but Tsipouras sees no need to drive to Pittsburgh when Hastings’ basement arcade is only an hour away.

“This year, I have to play Chad in his own house, though, so my chances might not be as good,” Tsipouras says.

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