To see Sal Mazzeo’s living room—its walls lined with dozens of one-armed bandits, nickel slots and mechanized poker machines—you’d think his home was in the middle of the unrepentant heart of Sin City. No chance.
“I’ve been to Las Vegas,” he says. “Once.”
Mazzeo isn’t a player. He’ll keep his quarters and dollar tokens, thank you very much. Rather, the 1983 MBA graduate is more interested in the mechanics inside the machines than the largess and profit motive that once created them. He’s a collector. And restorer.
What began as mere infatuation, a whimsical garage hobby 35 years ago, has progressed into a lifelong love affair with the machines, not to mention becoming nationally recognized for his collection and restoration work. Twice he’s been on the cover of GameRoom Magazine and is featured in an upcoming article in the trade publication from the Coin Operated Collectors Association.
Lest you cry “vice” or “Al Capone,” it’s legal (in the State of Ohio, at least) to own slot machines, as long as you don’t try to operate your own gambling parlor.
Who knew, way back when, that a hobby like this could one day be in the cards? “There’s only a couple thousand of us in the world,” he says. “This is a pretty specialized interest.” Today, he’s virtually hit the jackpot with his collection. There’s one slot that takes only English sixpences. Another is a rare 1898 Mills Dewey gambling device, with its spinning reels and garish buttons. His collection expands outside of gaming machines into a blinking jukebox as well as a pair of gently used pinball machines.
In another new twist, Mazzeo is now taking on the restoration of machines owned by other collectors, retrofitting archaic turn-of-the-century amusements on a for-hire basis. “I may turn this into a business when I retire.”
Mazzeo, a tax projects manager at GE Aviation who spent two prior decades at Procter & Gamble, is only 54 years old, so retirement is still years down the road. And that’s fine by Mazzeo. He still has plenty in his own growing collection to keep him busy. “I’ve recently added three or four slot machines,” he says. “And my player piano isn’t working well. I need to make a few adjustments.”
Seems there’s always a payoff for those willing to tinker.