U.S. Supreme Court 

UNITED STATES v. KORPAN, 354 U.S. 271 (1957) 

354 U.S. 271



No. 596. 

Argued April 25, 1957. 

Decided June 17, 1957.

1. A coin-operated gambling machine of the "pin-ball" type, the operation of 

which involves the element of chance, as a result of which the player may become 

entitled to money, is a "so-called `slot' machine" within the meaning of 26 

U.S.C. (Supp. IV) 4462 (a) (2), and is, therefore, subject to the tax of $250 

per annum imposed by 26 U.S.C. (Supp. IV) 4461. Pp. 271-277.

2. Section 4462 (a) (2), as here construed, is not unconstitutionally vague. P. 

273, n. 2.

237 F.2d 676, reversed.

John F. Davis argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were 

Solicitor General Rankin, Assistant Attorney General Olney, Beatrice Rosenberg 

and Robert G. Maysack.

Robert A. Sprecher argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were 

Simon Herr and Frank A. Karaba.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The respondent, Walter Korpan, was indicted in a Federal District Court in 

Illinois for willfully failing to pay the $250 per device tax imposed by 26 

U.S.C. (Supp. IV) 4461 on any person who maintains for use any gaming device. 

For purposes of this tax, 26 U.S.C. (Supp. IV) 4462 (a) defines gaming devices 


    "so-called `slot' machines which operate by means of insertion of a coin . . 

    . and which, by application [354 U.S. 271, 272] of the element of chance, 

    may deliver, or entitle the person playing . . . the machine to receive 

    cash, premiums, merchandise, or tokens."1 [354 U.S. 271, 273]

The evidence at the trial showed that Korpan maintained on his premises a number 

of coin-operated gambling machines. These machines were played by inserting a 

coin into the machine through a slot. The player was then able to shoot several 

balls onto a playing surface which was interspersed with pockets or holes. If he 

succeeded in getting balls into certain holes he received a varying number of 

free games. He had the option of either playing the free games or of cashing 

them in at a designated rate. By inserting extra coins the player could 

sometimes secure additional balls or increased "odds" (in other words, increase 

the number of free games he could win). The machines were equipped with 

electrical devices which over a period of time controlled the number of free 

games won.

The district judge found respondent guilty as charged and fined him $750. The 

Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that respondent's 

machines did not come within the definition laid down by 4462 (a) (2). 237 F.2d 

676. On the Government's petition we granted certiorari because the case raised 

important questions in the administration of the revenue laws. 352 U.S. 980. The 

issue before us is whether the machines maintained by petitioner were included 

within the definition given by 4462 (a) (2).2 For the reasons stated hereafter 

we believe that they were within that definition and that the judgment of the 

Court of Appeals setting aside Korpan's conviction on the ground that they were 

not must be reversed.

It is clear that respondent's machines were operated by the insertion of a coin 

and that persons playing them could receive cash for any free games won. The 

machines also involved an element of chance sufficient [354 U.S. 271, 274] to 

meet the requirements of 4462 (a) (2), although skill may have had some part in 

playing them successfully. In short, they were "slot-machine" gambling devices.

Respondent argues, however, that when Congress used the phrase "so-called `slot' 

machines" in 4462 (a) (2) it intended to restrict the scope of that section to 

those "slot machines" gambling devices colloquially known as "one-armed 

bandits." He describes the latter as machines in which the insertion of a coin 

releases a lever or handle which, in turn, when pulled activates a series of 

spring-driven drums or reels with various insignia painted thereon, usually 

bells and fruit, and which automatically dispense coins to a player when certain 

combinations of these insignia are aligned. The Government, on the other hand, 

takes the position that Congress intended to cover all "slot machines" which 

come within the specific requirements of 4462 (a) (2). It argues that the 

qualifying phrase "so-called" was added because (1) the draftsmen were 

apprehensive that the term "slot-machine" might be a slang expression not 

accepted as proper English or (2) they wanted to cover every gambling device 

operated by the insertion of coins through a slot even though the device might 

go under a label other than "slot machine."

On its face the language of 4462 (a) (2) and related sections does not manifest 

an intent to limit the application of the otherwise broad terms of 4462 (a) (2) 

to any particular kind of "slot-machine" gambling device. The phrase "so-called 

`slot' machine" is, if anything, more consistent with the position advanced by 

the Government than that taken by Korpan. And the remainder of 4462 (a) (2), as 

well as 4462 (c), has language which affirmatively suggests that 4462 (a) (2) 

was designed to include all sorts of coin-operated gambling devices regardless 

[354 U.S. 271, 275] of their particular structure or the method by which they 

paid off players.

This interpretation is supported by the relevant legislative history. Apart from 

the amount of tax imposed, 4462 (a) (2) is substantially the same as its 

original predecessor, 3267 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1939, as amended, 55 

Stat. 722. Senator Clark, the sponsor of the amendment which became 3267, 

declared during the Senate debates on his amendment that his objective was to 

impose a heavy tax on "any machine which returns any sort of a premium, and that 

was the intention of the amendment, and it was the intention of the committee in 

adopting it."3 The Senate report which accompanied Clark's amendment stated:

    "The House bill places a special tax of $25 per year upon each coin-operated 

    amusement or gaming device maintained for use on any premises.

    "Your committee divides these devices into two categories. Upon so-called 

    pinball or other amusement devices operated by the insertion of a coin or 

    token, the tax is reduced to $10 per year. Upon so-called slot machines, 

    however, the tax is placed at $200 per year."4 (Emphasis added.)

Respondent contends that this report as well as similar language in other parts 

of the legislative history is indicative of an intent on the part of Congress to 

draw a distinction between "one-armed bandits" and other coin-operated gambling 

or amusement machines.5 We interpret this history, however, as demonstrating a 

congressional [354 U.S. 271, 276] purpose to place a heavy tax on all 

"slot-machine" gambling devices, regardless of their particular structure, and a 

substantially smaller tax on machines played purely for amusement which offered 

the player no expectation of receiving "cash, premiums, merchandise, or tokens."

The administrative interpretation of 4462 (a) (2) and its predecessors adds 

additional strength to this view. In 1942 the Treasury Department published 

interpretative regulations which included so-called "pin-ball" gambling machines 

under 4462 (a) (2).6 This administrative ruling was publicized in the trade 

paper of the coin-operated machine industry. In both 1942 and 1954 the 

representatives of that industry complained to Congress about the Treasury's 

interpretation, which is still in effect, and asked that 4462 (a) (2) be amended 

so that it expressly excluded "pin-ball" gambling machines.7 In each instance 

Congress left the existing provisions of 4462 (a) (2) standing, although, at the 

request of others in the industry, it did provide an exception for certain 

penny-operated gambling machines.8

If the respondent's position were adopted 4462 (a) (2) would be restricted to a 

peculiar type of gambling device - the so-called "one-armed bandit" - even 

though ingenuity, a desire to avoid taxes, and technological [354 U.S. 271, 277] 

progress provide a multitude of new devices which permit substantially the same 

kind of gambling but only with a different kind of coin-operated machine. We are 

convinced that Congress had no such purpose and meant only to distinguish 

between "slot-machines" operated as gambling devices and "slot-machines" which 

were used exclusively for amusement.


MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS dissents from the conclusion that here pin ball machines are 

games of chance within the meaning of the statute.


[Footnote 1] In full the pertinent statutory provisions read as follows: " 4461. 

IMPOSITION OF TAX. "There shall be imposed a special tax to be paid by every 

person who maintains for use or permits the use of, on any place or premises 

occupied by him, a coin-operated amusement or gaming device at the following 

rates: "(1) $10 a year, in the case of a device defined in paragraph (1) of 

section 4462 (a); "(2) $250 a year, in the case of a device defined in paragraph 

(2) of section 4462 (a); and "(3) $10 or $250 a year, as the case may be, for 

each additional device so maintained or the use of which is so permitted. If one 

such device is replaced by another, such other device shall not be considered an 


DEVICE. "(a) In general. "As used in sections 4461 to 4463, inclusive, the term 

`coin-operated amusement or gaming device' means - "(1) any amusement or music 

machine operated by means of the insertion of a coin, token, or similar object, 

and "(2) so-called `slot' machines which operate by means of insertion of a 

coin, token, or similar object and which, by application of the element of 

chance, may deliver, or entitle the person playing or operating the machine to 

receive cash, premiums, merchandise, or tokens. "(b) Exclusion. "The term 

`coin-operated amusement or gaming device' does not include bona fide vending 

machines in which are not incorporated gaming or amusement features. "(c) 1-cent 

vending machine. "For purposes of sections 4461 to 4463, inclusive, a vending 

machine operated by means of the insertion of a 1-cent coin, which, when it 

dispenses a prize, never dispenses a prize of a retail value of, or entitles a 

person to receive a prize of a retail value of, more than 5 cents, and if the 

only prize dispensed is merchandise and not cash or tokens, shall be classified 

under paragraph (1) and not under paragraph (2) of subsection (a)."

[Footnote 2] Respondent contends that 4462 (a) (2) as interpreted by the 

District Court is unconstitutionally vague. This contention is without merit.

[Footnote 3] 87 Cong. Rec. 7301.

[Footnote 4] S. Rep. No. 673, 77th Cong., 1st Sess. 21.

[Footnote 5] For the legislative history of what became 3267 see: H. R. Rep. No. 

1040, 77th Cong., 1st Sess. 60; H. R. Rep. No. 1203, 77th Cong., 1st Sess. 18; 

S. Rep. No. 673, 77th Cong., 1st Sess. 21; 87 Cong. Rec. 6476, 7297-7307.

[Footnote 6] 59 Treas. Reg. 323.22, as amended by T. D. 5203, 7 Fed. Reg. 10835, 

Dec. 22, 1942.

[Footnote 7] See Hearings before the House Committee on Ways and Means on 

Revenue Revision of 1942, 77th Cong., 2d Sess. 2055-2061, 2682-2688; Hearings 

before the Senate Committee on Finance on H. R. 7378, 77th Cong., 2d Sess. 

1132-1141; Hearings before House Committee on Ways and Means on General Revision 

of the Internal Revenue Code, 83d Cong., 1st Sess. 2505-2522; Hearings before 

Senate Committee on Finance on H. R. 8300, 83d Cong., 2d Sess. 1874-1879.

[Footnote 8] 56 Stat. 978-979. [354 U.S. 271, 278]

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