Beyond Big Gulps: 5 Other Bizarre Bans in New York History

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By Danny Gallagher

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's scuttled rule on jumbo sodas is just the latest in a long line of regulations on verboten goods.

1. Pinball

This amusement industry staple occupied some serious real estate in arcades across the nation during its heyday. But some of America's biggest metropolises enacted strict bans on the game tables. New York City was one of them. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia led an ambitious effort to rid his city of mob activity—including their well-established gambling rackets, which included pinball, since some machines would reward winners with money. In 1942, a Bronx court ruled that pinball was an illegal form of gambling, and police started rounding up the machines. Los Angeles and Chicago soon followed suit. The ban stayed in effect until 1976, when GQ editor and pinball aficionado Roger Sharpe helped demonstrate that pinball was actually a game of skill instead of chance by playing the game and successfully calling his shots in front of the New York City Council.

2. The words "burlesque" and "strip-tease"

LaGuardia's crusade to clean up New York didn't stop at the arcade. He also went after the city's legendary chain of burlesque and strip shows, practically putting them out of business. The mayor enacted laws in 1937 that banned the use of words such as "burlesque" and "strip-tease" from occupying any space on club or theater marquees. The ban stayed in place until 1955, when a State Supreme Court Justice approved a court order to lift it.

3. Beekeeping

New York City never explicitly spelled out a ban on beekeeping, but its health code does prevent citizens from keeping animals that are "wild, ferocious, fierce, dangerous or naturally inclined to do harm"—and city officials once considered bees to be in that category. The New York City Beekeepers Association led a long campaign to get the city's Board of Health and Mental Hygiene to let them keep and cultivate their hives on the city's rooftops, and they got their wish in 2010, when the law was amended to allow beekeeping.

4. Pet ferrets

Thank former Mayor Rudy Giuliani for this one. In 1999, he amended the bee-encompassing code on "wild, ferocious" animals to include a ban on ferrets. The city and its mayor quickly felt the wrath of ferret owners, including the New York Ferret's Right Advocacy group, whose president called in to the mayor's weekly radio show to discuss his concerns. The two got into a short but legendary shouting match, leading Giuliani to remark that "there is something really sad about you and you need help... This excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness."

5. MMA fighting

It may be one of the fastest growing spectator sports in the country, but the state of New York still has a strict ban on mixed martial arts. The law, enacted in 1997 by former Gov. George Pataki, who once called the sport "barbaric," prohibits any MMA bouts and remains in place to this day. The legislature tried and failed to overturn the law in 2011. That led to a lawsuit from UFC, which called the ban unconstitutional. But this ban may not be long for this world. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently said he enjoys watching the occasional fight, and feels that lost revenues from ticket sales might change some politicians' minds about repealing the ban.

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March 19, 2013 - 5:00pm
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