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2005/60/1 Poker machine, 'Ballyhoo', steel / laminate, made by Bally Manufacturing Company, United States of America, modified by Jack Rooklyn, Australia, 1976-1977. Click to enlarge.

‘Ballyhoo’ poker machine

Made in Australia, Oceania, 1976-1977.

This poker machine was created by two of the most controversial names in the history of Australian gambling, the Bally poker machine company and its Australian representative, Jack Rooklyn.

Corruption of police and politicians is a frequent consequence of laws that are widely and enthusiastically disobeyed. In Australia and the USA, most forms of gambling were illegal for most of the twentieth century. Yet the gambling industry flourished through the activities of gambling entrepreneurs and th...


Object No.


Object Statement

Poker machine, 'Ballyhoo', steel / laminate, made by Bally Manufacturing Company, United States of America, modified by Jack Rooklyn, Australia, 1976-1977

Physical Description

A three-reel electromechanical poker machine for 10 cent coins. The machine has a chromed steel fascia and wood-grain laminate case. A steel handle is at right with black sphere grip.

Three screen printed acrylic panels are inset on fascia, featuring nautical symbols - signal flags, helm, bells etc. The lower panel depicts the racing sloop Ballyhoo with spinaker. The makers plate is at lower right of case. The serial number is 884-76. Case keys and power cord are extant.



1110 mm


500 mm


480 mm



The poker machine was manufactured by the Bally Manufacturing Company, Chicago, USA. It was modified in Australia by the addition of fascia panels featuring Jack Rooklyn's racing sloop Ballyhoo.

The Bally Manufacturing Company of Chicago was founded in 1932. Its first products were pinball and other arcade amusements. Bally's first successful product was the 'Ballyhoo' pinball machine.

In 1936 Bally entered the booming poker machine industry. The 1931 legalisation of gaming in Nevada created a new market for these formerly illegal machines in the casinos and hotels of Las Vegas and Reno.

During the 1960s, Bally became the major manufacturer of poker machines, supplanting the established firms of Mills and Jennings. This success was cemented by Bally's innovation of the electromechanical machine in 1963. This 'Money Honey' machine was the first to feature a power-driven payout hopper, capable of automatic payouts of up to 500 coins. The payout rattle became an element of poker machines' appeal.

As well as dominating the US poker machine market, Bally became a major exporter. During the 1950s Jack Rooklyn became Bally's agent in Australia and Asia. This relationship continued until the 1970s, when Bally Australia was alleged to have used intimidation and bribery to convince registered clubs in NSW to buy Bally poker machines. These allegations were investigated by a Royal Commission chaired by Justice Athol Moffitt, who recommended that Bally Australia be barred from trading. This recommendation was not adopted by Australian governments. However the Bally company severed its relationship with Jack Rooklyn in 1977.

At this time, Bally Manufacturing Company was widely described in Australian media and political circles as a company associated with or controlled by Mafia interests. There is no doubt that Bally USA dealt with prominent criminals; it may also have been managed by people with Mafia connections, as was claimed by Jimmy Fratianno, Mafia boss turned FBI informer.

However this was unremarkable in the US gambling industry, which was largely the creation of Mafia dons such as Meyer Lansky and Ben 'Bugsy' Siegel, major investors in Las Vegas' casinos and hotels. Indeed, Bally can claim to have pioneered the industry's recent move towards relative respectability, becoming a publically listed company in 1968 and in 1975 the first gaming company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. During the 1980s Bally purchased several casinos and hotels.





Jack Rooklyn (1908-1996) attracted public attention in two disparate fields: he was a leading racing yachtsman, who won the 1976 Sydney-Hobart race in his sloop Ballyhoo. He was also a successful gaming entrepreneur, whose activities were a focus of Royal Commissions in New South Wales and Queensland.

However Rooklyn's extraordinary life and career was not confined to these fields. Rooklyn was born in London, a child of Russian-Jewish tailors. His family migrated to Australia in 1921, and after working briefly as a miner in the Hunter Valley, Jack joined his two brothers in the entertainment business. He wrote comedy sketches for his bother Harry, a Tivoli performer, as well as others including Roy Rene. He worked in Hollywood as a scriptwriter during the late 1930s.

Rooklyn's career flourished after his return to Australia during the 1939-45 war. He organised entertainment and social facilities for US troops, including Australia's first bowling alley. This was part of Rooklyn's American Centre in Brisbane, which also featured restaurants, pool tables and poker machines. This experience alerted him to the popularity and profitability of poker machines and after the war Rooklyn visited the US, securing the licence to import Bally machines to Australia. He also gained the import rights to Asia, and spent much of the 1950s creating a poker machine empire in Singapore, Malaya, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Rooklyn's business also flourished in Queensland, although poker machines were illegal there - apart from those suppled by Rooklyn, who gained the connivance of the the police Licensing Squad to have a basic type of poker machine declared a legal entertainment machine. This subterfuge involved substantial bribes paid by Rooklyn to policemen including Inspector Don 'Shady' Lane and Commissioner Terry Lewis. Other poker machines remained illegal.

In New South Wales Rooklyn's Bally Australia profited through the registered clubs boom of the 1950s and 1960s. However allegations emerged during the 1970s that the parent Bally company had gained a strong influence in Rooklyn's subsidiary, that Bally USA was Mafia-controlled, and that it encouraged the use of intimidation and bribery against clubs who had not purchased Bally machines. These allegations were given credence by the visit of the Mafioso Joseph Dan Testa, allegedly to advise Rooklyn. (The 2002 feature film Dirty Deeds is based upon these events.)

The Moffitt Royal Commission recommended that Bally be barred from trading in Australia, but found only that Bally's presence had created the 'risk' (rather than the reality) of corruption in clubs. No governments acted on this recommendation, although Bally terminated Rooklyn's Australian franchise in 1977, reportedly paying him $8.25 million compensation. However Rooklyn's secretary was made managing director of Bally Australia.

Despite this controversy, Rooklyn's reputaton was at its peak during the 1970s, partly due to the exploits of his racing yachts Ballyhoo and Apollo. His brash public persona, exemplified by an ostentatious cigar, was more buffed than threatened by revelations that he paid for the notorious visit to Las Vegas by the corrupt NSW Police Commissioner Bill Allen.

However Rooklyn was unable to shrug off allegations that he bribed Queensland Police Commissioner Lewis to recommend the continued illegality of poker machines in that state, thus ensuring the continued profitability of Rooklyn's machines. The 1988 Fitzgerald inquiry into police corruption confirmed the allegations and in 1992 Rooklyn was tried and convicted of making corrupt payments. Rooklyn had undergone a heart bypass operation before the trial and was a shadow of his former ebulient self, collapsing in the dock on one occasion. In deference to his poor health, Rooklyn was fined rather than jailed.

Uncharacteristically, Rooklyn later admitted his guilt, claiming 'I shouldn't have done it'. Yet his Queensland scam alone had earned him millions, and his belated conviction did not threaten his wealth or his standing in Sydney society.

Charles Pickett, curator Design & Society.


Credit Line

Gift of Karen van Kretschmar, 2004

Acquisition Date

9 February 2005

Cite this Object


'Ballyhoo' poker machine 2017, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 21 January 2019, <>


{{cite web |url= |title='Ballyhoo' poker machine |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=21 January 2019 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}


This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.

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