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Why Was 9 Pin Bowling Banned Across America? The Forgotten Sport

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Bowling is a beloved pastime enjoyed by people of all ages around the world. While the classic 10 pin bowling format is the most widely recognized version of the sport, there was once another popular variant known as 9 pin bowling.

For generations, 9 pin bowling halls were gathering places where friends, families, and communities would come together to test their skills and socialize.

However, the rich history of 9 pin bowling came to an abrupt end as the sport was ultimately banned in many regions. What led to the downfall of this unique bowling format? In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the origins of 9 pin bowling, uncover the reasons behind its ban, and examine the lasting legacy of this once-popular pastime.

The Origins of 9 Pin Bowling

The roots of 9 pin bowling can be traced back to the early 17th century in Germany, where the game was known as “Kegel,” derived from the German word for “skittle.” The objective was simple – knock down as many of the nine wooden pins arranged in a diamond formation as possible using a heavy ball.

As German immigrants brought the game to the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, 9 pin bowling quickly gained popularity, especially in the Northeast and along the East Coast. By the mid-1800s, 9 pin bowling alleys had sprung up in cities and towns across America, becoming central hubs of social activity.

Unlike the more standardized 10 pin bowling, 9 pin bowling allowed for more regional variations in terms of pin arrangement, ball size, and rules. This flexibility contributed to the game’s widespread appeal, as communities could adapt the sport to their local customs and preferences.

The arrangement of the 9 pins also presented a unique strategic challenge for players. Rather than the linear setup of 10 pins, the diamond formation required bowlers to carefully aim their shots to knock down the maximum number of pins. This added an extra layer of skill and excitement to the game.

For decades, 9 pin bowling remained a beloved pastime, with thriving leagues, tournaments, and dedicated enthusiasts. However, the golden age of 9 pin bowling would not last forever, as the sport would soon face a series of setbacks that would ultimately lead to its demise in many parts of the country.

Gambling and Organized Crime Involvement

One of the primary reasons behind the banning of 9 pin bowling was its association with illegal gambling and organized crime. As the sport grew in popularity, many 9 pin bowling alleys became hubs for illicit betting and other unlawful activities.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, gambling was a widespread issue plaguing various forms of entertainment and recreation. Unscrupulous individuals would often set up illegal betting operations at 9 pin bowling establishments, capitalizing on the excitement and competitive nature of the sport.

These gambling activities attracted the attention of organized crime syndicates, who saw an opportunity to expand their influence and profit. Mafia groups and other criminal organizations began to infiltrate and take control of many 9 pin bowling alleys, using them as fronts for their illegal operations.

The connection between 9 pin bowling and organized crime proved to be a significant liability for the sport. As law enforcement cracked down on these gambling and racketeering activities, the reputation of 9 pin bowling became irrevocably tarnished.

Authorities and government officials, under pressure from concerned citizens and moral reformers, began to view 9 pin bowling as a breeding ground for vice and criminal behavior. This perception ultimately led to increased scrutiny and calls for the sport to be banned altogether.

Safety and Regulatory Concerns

In addition to the gambling and organized crime issues, concerns over the safety and lack of standardized regulations in 9 pin bowling also contributed to its eventual downfall.

Unlike the more regulated 10 pin bowling, the 9 pin format often lacked consistent rules and safety protocols. The size and weight of the balls, the placement and construction of the pins, and the overall playing conditions varied significantly between different 9 pin bowling establishments.

This lack of standardization posed significant risks, as players could be exposed to potential injuries or unsafe playing environments. Accidents, such as wayward balls or collapsing pins, were not uncommon in 9 pin bowling alleys, further fueling concerns about the sport’s safety.

Furthermore, the decentralized nature of 9 pin bowling meant that there was no governing body or set of universal rules to ensure the sport was being played in a responsible and controlled manner. This regulatory void made it challenging for authorities to monitor and address safety issues effectively.

As the public became more aware of these safety concerns, pressure mounted on lawmakers and regulators to take action. The perceived risks associated with 9 pin bowling, combined with the growing stigma surrounding the sport’s connection to gambling and crime, ultimately led to widespread bans and the gradual decline of the 9 pin bowling industry.

The Rise of 10 Pin Bowling

While the factors of gambling, organized crime, and safety concerns were instrumental in the downfall of 9 pin bowling, the sport also faced increasing competition from the growing popularity of its 10 pin counterpart.

The 10 pin bowling format had been steadily gaining traction in the United States since the late 19th century, spurred by the efforts of organizations like the American Bowling Congress (ABC), which was founded in 1895. These groups worked to standardize the rules, equipment, and playing conditions of 10 pin bowling, making it a more appealing and accessible option for the general public.

As 10 pin bowling gained mainstream popularity, it began to overshadow the 9 pin variant. Bowling alleys and establishments found it increasingly profitable to cater to the growing demand for the 10 pin format, as it offered a more consistent and regulated experience for players.

Furthermore, the bowling industry and associated organizations actively promoted the 10 pin format, viewing it as a more viable and sustainable option for the sport’s long-term growth. This concerted effort to prioritize and popularize 10 pin bowling further marginalized the 9 pin variant, making it increasingly difficult for 9 pin bowling to maintain its foothold.

The shift towards 10 pin bowling was also driven by the perception that it was a more “modern” and “standardized” version of the sport, better suited to the rapidly changing social and economic landscape of the 20th century. As the United States became more urbanized and industrialized, the 10 pin format’s emphasis on consistency and regulation aligned better with the emerging values and preferences of the time.

Ultimately, the rise of 10 pin bowling, combined with the other factors mentioned earlier, sealed the fate of 9 pin bowling. As the 10 pin format became the dominant and widely accepted version of the sport, the 9 pin variant was gradually pushed out of the mainstream, leading to its eventual ban in many regions.

The Legacy of 9 Pin Bowling

Despite the banning of 9 pin bowling in most parts of the United States, the legacy of this unique variant of the sport lives on, particularly in certain regions and communities.

In some areas, particularly in the Northeast, 9 pin bowling has managed to persist, albeit on a much smaller scale. A few dedicated enthusiasts and local organizations have worked to preserve the 9 pin tradition, keeping the sport alive through small tournaments, leagues, and specialized alleys.

These pockets of 9 pin bowling activity serve as a reminder of the sport’s rich cultural and historical significance. For many communities, 9 pin bowling was not just a recreational activity, but a way of life that fostered a sense of shared identity and camaraderie.

The banning of 9 pin bowling had a profound impact on these local communities, as they were forced to adapt to the dominance of the 10 pin format. However, the enduring passion of 9 pin bowling enthusiasts has ensured that the sport’s legacy continues to be celebrated and preserved, even if on a smaller scale.

Beyond its physical presence, the legacy of 9 pin bowling can also be seen in its influence on the evolution of the sport as a whole. The unique strategic challenges and regional variations of the 9 pin format likely contributed to the development of new techniques and innovations in bowling over the years.

Furthermore, the history of 9 pin bowling serves as a valuable case study in the complex interplay between sports, social dynamics, and regulatory frameworks. The sport’s rise and fall offer insights into how factors like gambling, organized crime, safety concerns, and industry trends can shape the trajectory of recreational activities.

As the world continues to evolve, the story of 9 pin bowling serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of preserving and celebrating the diverse histories and cultural traditions that have shaped the sports and pastimes we enjoy today.


The banning of 9 pin bowling was a complex and multifaceted event, shaped by a combination of societal, economic, and regulatory factors. From its origins in Germany to its widespread popularity in the United States, 9 pin bowling had a rich and vibrant history that ultimately came to an abrupt end.

The sport’s association with illegal gambling and organized crime, as well as concerns over safety and lack of standardization, led to increased scrutiny and ultimately the decision to ban 9 pin bowling in many regions.

Additionally, the rise of the more regulated and mainstream 10 pin bowling format further marginalized the 9 pin variant, contributing to its downfall.

While 9 pin bowling may no longer be a dominant force in the world of sports, its legacy lives on through the dedicated efforts of enthusiasts and the cultural impact it had on the communities it once served.

The story of 9 pin bowling serves as a poignant reminder of the complex interplay between sports, societal values, and regulatory frameworks, and the importance of preserving the diverse histories that have shaped the recreational activities we enjoy today.

As we look to the future, it is crucial to reflect on the lessons learned from the rise and fall of 9 pin bowling, and to ensure that we continue to celebrate and preserve the rich tapestry of sports and cultural traditions that make our world a more vibrant and engaging place.