In the 1800s, ten-pin bowling was invented as a way to circumvent the ban on nine-pin bowling that was placed by all states except Texas. However, ten-pin bowling was not banned by any state. I don't see any difference in the two sports other than the number of pins and a few minor differences in the rules and equipment, so I think any reason applicable to one should be applicable. Why wasn't ten-pin bowling banned, for the same reasons as nine-pin bowling? If the reasons were no longer applicable after ten-pin bowling was invented, why didn't most states re-allow nine-pin bowling?

My reference is this video, and the part of it that applies to this question starts at 4:39 and ends at 4:59:

When the game made its way over to America, nine-pin bowling was banned because it promoted gambling. The legend goes that people cleverly came up with ten-pin bowling to get around the law. Whoa, totally different game. Today in the US, nine-pin bowling is only played in Texas because it was the one state that didn't ban it, instead charging it tax.

  • 3
    9-pin bowling is called Kegeln in Germany. Till about the late 90s, 10.-pin bowling was nigh unheard of here but 9-pin places can be found almost everywhere.
    – Trish
    Jan 19, 2023 at 23:04
  • As far as I can tell the premise of this question is untrue. Or at least, I haven't found credible evidence supporting it. Wikipedia says only that "several cities" in the US banned nine-pin bowling, and that "Ten-pin bowling is said to have been invented in order to meet the letter of these laws, even with evidence of outdoor bowling games in 1810 England being bowled with ten pins set in an equilateral triangle as is done today in ten-pin bowling" – i.e., it's a false urban legend.
    – benrg
    Mar 29, 2023 at 19:53

2 Answers 2


Moral panic

Nine-pin bowling was the violent video game of its age - the people who were in power didn’t like it, didn’t like the type of people who played it, linked it with vice - like gambling and laziness - and, therefore, banned it.

It’s a perennial that older people, who tend to be the ones in power, despair over the dissipation of youth and the disintegration of society that will inevitably result. Or rich people, who also are the ones in power, despairing over the recreational activities of working-class people.

It’s probable that there was gambling involved - people will bet on anything, and this was a game of skill and chance, a perfect vehicle for gambling. The games and gambling would not have been regulated, so there would almost surely be some criminals who got involved. However, the biggest driver was taking this grain of truth and then blowing it out of all proportion.

As other answers have pointed out, the laws usually did not specify the number of pins. Eventually, the moral panic declined, and the laws were repealed. However, times had changed, and the 10-pin form of the game is what came back backed by larger commercial interests rather than the artisan style of 9-pins. 10-pin bowling uses much bigger alleys with gutters and is suitable for mechanisation. a 9-pin alley can fit in a relatively small room, and standing the pins back up again is not much more demanding than pulling pool balls out of pockets.

It's not unusual that after government suppression is lifted, things come back different to the way they were before the suppression started. For example, prohibition fundamentally changed how Americans drank - before, men in saloons drank; after, it was an activity of all genders at home and in bars and restaurants. There was also proportionally more wine and spirits drunk compared to beer because these drinks are more alcohol-dense, so bootleggers got more alcohol per gallon smuggled, so they became relatively cheaper.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Jan 21, 2023 at 23:35
  • This seems to be more op-ed than answer. If any of it is actually true, you should be able to find a more scholarly source for it than "bowlingoverhaul.com".
    – benrg
    Mar 29, 2023 at 19:55

There was a law in Hartford CT which says

Every person who shall keep in his custody or possession, or in any house, or building, or its appurtenances, or in any place in his occupation, any ninepin alley, so called, or a place for playing bowls, skittles, or ninepins, whether more or less than ninepins were used in such play, shall be punished by fine, not exceeding $50, nor less than $7; provided that the selectmen, or a major part of the selectmen, of any town, may, by instrument in writing under their hands, authorize such an alley to be kept at any place in their respective towns

The premise was that gambling and crime could be curbed by this law. The ordinance actually outlaws bowling with any number of pins. There is no evidence that the number of pins was dispositive (e.g. a clause saying "fewer than 10 pins is prohibited"), and the disappearance of 9-pin bowling in the US is cultural rather than legal.

  • 1
    Then why aren't ten-pin alleys in Connecticut fined?
    – mathlander
    Jan 19, 2023 at 19:23
  • 5
    @mathlander The law cited is from 1873 and is presumably no longer on the books.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 19, 2023 at 19:28
  • 3
    The people who believe in a link between bowling and crime are all dead as far as I know, but perhaps there are some tracts preserved in a museum that explain the purported connection. Likewise pinball.
    – user6726
    Jan 19, 2023 at 19:47
  • 2
    Presumably because the law was specific to 9 pins, and they wanted to continue bowling. By nature people will find ways to maximize individual liberty while minimizing risk of punishment. Jan 19, 2023 at 20:17
  • 12
    The law as written isn't specific to 9 pins. It explicitly says the number of pins doesn't matter, applying "whether more or less than ninepins were used in such play". Jan 20, 2023 at 11:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .