How to open locks

So you bought somewhere a non-working pinball machine, or had a warehouse find and found 100 pinball and other arcade machines, but the keys are missing. What are your options to open the locks ?

First check my other page about opening pinball machines so you know where the locks are and how they operate (which way to turn, ..)

Most pinball machines don't have fancy locks. A lot of operators change the default installed lock, but this doesn't mean it is very secure. Security locks usually just require more time and a better drill..

Disclaimer: this information should only be used to open a game YOU OWN !
Do not try this on someone elses game (ie a game out in the streets).
Not only because it's illegal, but operating pinballs is not very profitable anymore, so please respect the operators who still put out machines and don't give them another reason to abandon pinball games !

Types of locks

As far as I know, every pinball machine came default with the same model of cheap lock. It was left up to the operator to install a more secure lock. Most operators use series of locks with the same key for all their machines, so they only have to carry one key around, and because leaving the default lock on would also mean that someone else who has the same key (combinations are limited) can open their machine. I even read on RGP that in the past some manufacturers shipped every machine with the same lock (so that one key can open every machine they produced of that specific type of game) ? So don't throw away old keys, they may be useful..
When I visited Tim Arnold in Las Vegas, he showed me his collection of keys. I believe he has every number of key for the default lock (of Gottlieb pinball machines), nicely numbered next to each other on a wall.

pinball lock

Here is a picture of a pinball lock. Almost every pinball machine uses a similar system: there's only one small metal plate at the back of the lock, which turns over the edge of the coin door. It's secured at the back of the lock with a screw. Because the cabinet wood isn't very very thick, the lock itself on a pinball machine also isn't very deep (3cm).

Most default locks have flat keys, some operators use locks with round keys as they're a bit more secure (we can't use our screwdriver method on them and picking locks may also requires special tools).

Lock Picking

The best way to open the door is to pick the lock. People who know how to do it, say it's easy to do on pinball machines as these have simple locks. This may be true, I don't know.. I can't do it..
If you want to learn how to pick a lock, search the internet, there are lots of websites about picking locks available, and you can buy lockpicking tools online.
Take care however as lockpicking tools are illegal in some places, so check your local legislation first !

Brute force

I saw an operator do this on a pin he sold me and didn't have the key with him (and yes in case you ask - he was the real owner and not someone selling a stolen game !) He said they used cheap locks so bruto force would work. And he started pulling the coin door. After a few minutes the door just opened ! The metal plate inside just bent enough so the door could open..
If you have a screwdriver or flat piece of metal then it's even easier, just force it between the edge of the coin door and the frame and pull hard..
This method will damage the door and/or frame (a bit) !

The screwdriver method

OK, picking locks doesn't work, we're going to use brute force, but you don't want to risk damaging the door frame. If the default lock is still on the machine and it's not a recent one, it is possible to open the game using a screwdriver. Usually a large flat screwdriver is all you need. Insert it into the lock and turn around.. This may or may not work for you, depending on how strong you are..
The pins inside a default lock are made out of a soft metal. When you apply enough force, these pins will bend or get damaged enough. A similar method is to hamme the screwdriver through the inner part of the lock. That way you will also break the pins so the lock can rotate.

Drilling locks

This is the way I open all locks. Use a drill with metal bit on it and drill right through the middle of the lock. This works for all types of locks, with flat or round keys. There are 2 things you can do:

1. Learn how a lock looks on the inside and only drill through the pins which make up the lock. Check the lockpicking guides. A lock uses small metal pins which the key has to align. Just drill and destroy these pins, and the lock can rotate free.. The drill bit doesn't have to be very big, it just has to fit the slot where you put the key in.

2. Use a brutal approach: drill the whole center of the lock out. As there's only a screw in the end which holds a metal plate, it's possible to drill right through the middle of the lock. You destroy the whole inside rotating part, and sometimes even the screw in the back. Sooner or later (usually soon) the screw falls out and the metal part falls into the cabinet;. door open :-)

Usually you don't have to drill until the end, but only half way and the lock will already open as it's sufficiently destroyed.

The inside part of a lock is soft metal btw. I once drilled a modern 'security' lock which had hard metal on the outside, but that's was only a very thin layer.. (it did take me some time and more than one drill head to get through the outer layer).

The good side of this method is that you only have to replace the lock, whilst the coin door itself (which is most expensive) will not be damaged.

Drilling a lock of a slot machine

One important warning: be very careful when drilling the lock of a slot machine !! (when you have bought a machine like me and didn't receive any keys with it, because else you shouldn't be drilling a lock ! :-)

Drilling a lock of a pinball machine is simple: drill straight through the lock, there's only a small metal plate in the back which will fall off, and the coin door opens.

There are several ways to drill a lock, they all work, some are a bit 'cleaner' then others.
- take a large drill bit and completely destroy the inner rotating part. This is maybe a bit of an overkill but it works..
- take a medium sized drill bit and drill all the way through the lock, until you get to the screw which holds the metal part which locks the door.
- finally the cleanest way, if you can't pick a lock, just take a small drill bit and destroy the small metal pins which make up the lock. Once these are broken you often can also turn the lock without any problem.

Slot machines and bingos usually have more cash in them then pinball machines and thus are better protected.. There is not only one small metal part, but also a whole metal latch which slides up and down and locks the door at several places along the whole side ! So do not drill through the lock and completely destroy the inside of it (the brutal approach mentioned above), you have to make sure there's a part of the lock left which you can turn. If you can't turn the lock anymore, it'll be impossible to open the front of the machine (without damaging it) !

Here's a picture of the outside of the lock on my slot machine, this is what you should try to get, leave a piece of the inner rotating part.

drilled lock

Note this was a lock which used round keys, usually they're a bit more tricky to open. I didn't know in advance how the inside looked (therefor I write this part, so you are warned) and am lucky to have kept a part, if I had drilled everything out I might not have been able to open the slot machine.. Now I know how the mechanism works, I'd drill more clean.. use a smaller bit and drill on strategic places, just enough so the lock will turn..

Btw the lock on my slot machine was also longer (deeper) than a pinball machine lock.. so if you drill through you may have to drill deeper.

Anyway, here are 2 pictures which show why a brutal drilling won't work:

lock inside lock inside

You'll notice there's not only a small metal part at the end of the lock, as in the pinball machine lock picture above. To this a long metal bar is attached. It goes from the top to the bottom along the side of the door. The left image shows the lock closed (down), the right image is open (up).

Notice at several places (left of the red lines in the left image) the bar locks itself in hooks. So if you drill a lock completely, you won't be able to move this bar up to unlock the hooks as it became separated. If you don't know exactly how this looks like, the only way to open the slot machine then is to damage its exterior :-(

pinball lock

Note this is information about my slot machine, made by Bally in 1966. I'm sure most slot machines will use a similar mechanism, although it may not be an exact copy of this. But at least you're warned. My Bally Safe Cracker pinball machine also has a similar mechanism in its coin door btw (see image below). It not only locks the coin door at the right side of the lock, but also at the top and bottom of the coin door frame.

Most vending machines (like Coca Cola machines) have a similar security. A large metal bar connects to the lock. This hooks in several places into the frame of the machine. When you drill the lock you have to make sure to leave a piece in the center of the lock that you can use to still rotate and thus open this metal security bar. If you destroy the lock completely and this security hasp becomes loose, it's impossible to open the vending machine without doing a lot of damage to the cabinet.