John Wyldes from Newark tells of his experiences in importing a container of Bingo's from the USA


Transatlantic Bingo Machines  

I have imported Bally Bingo machines twice from the USA. The first time I brought two, the second time 24 in a container. Here are some details of how I did it. If anyone needs more information, help or advice, please feel free to drop me a line at

Finding a supplier 

Before resorting to importation I tried several ways to find machines. 

  1. Contacted every UK amusement machine operator I could find, asking whether they had any machines or knew where to get them. I came up with one overpriced six card machine which was not of any real interest.
  2. Contacted Bingo Guru Jeffrey Lawton and several other prominent bingo people, asking whether they had any contacts in Europe. After exchanging emails with Jeffrey I received a very nice letter from Peter Hoebert the Dutch collector, and also made contact with some other people by email who were very friendly but not really forthcoming regarding sources of machines.
  3. UK eBay didn’t yield anything promising, but it became apparent that there were quite a lot of machines in the US at a variety of prices, so I began thinking about importing.
  4. First time around I was looking for someone who knew enough to be able to ship me machines, and found a couple of names which appeared frequently on US pinball sites carrying small ads. From these I selected one and made contact by email asking for prices and willingness to ship internationally.
  5. Second time around I had learned a few lessons and was looking to ship in bulk to reduce my unit cost. Again I trawled the internet looking for volume outlets, and found one.

Is internet dealing safe? 

I think the answer to this question is that you need some luck, there is no real insurance and at the end of the day it is a judgement call based on all the available information. For both suppliers I did the following. 

  1. Did an internet search on their names/trading names and email addresses, looking for anyone bad mouthing them or any negative comment.
  2. I had telephone conversations with each to get a feel for how straightforward and trustworthy they sounded.
  3. As a final step, I sent an email detailing exactly what the transaction entailed, specified machines and condition, crating and shipping, financial details etc, and asked for a definitive acceptance email to be returned. In the US I think there are some legal protections for transactions carried out by mail (including email).
  4. I transferred the money via Bank wire transfer, to ensure that there was an audit trail in the event of a dispute.
  5. Crossed my fingers and prayed very hard!



For the first shipment of 2 machines, the supplier agreed to pack them in a single crate to reduce my shipping costs. He charged for crating, but it was reasonable and the machines arrived undamaged. Beware however, the UK haulier turned up on my doorstep with no means of getting the crate out of his lorry and into my yard, so we had to uncrate everything in the ‘back of the wagon’ and unload the individual parts by hand. 

Bringing a container load across posed a few more problems. I did not have access to any suitable unloading facilities or labour, so I needed to find a means of getting the machines out of the high back of a container and into my workshops. My solution was to have the machines discharged from the container when it arrived in the UK, and delivered to me in lorries with tail lifts. This method added about 20% to the overall cost of the transaction, but I had little choice. With the mechanics of UK discharging in mind I asked my US supplier whether he could pack all the machines on pallets (known in the US as ‘skids’) However as I was only using a 20’ container this proved to be impracticable, and he simply agreed to pack the machines as efficiently as possible. It was also important for him to be primed to be efficient when loading, as road hauliers will tolerate up to 4 hours or so standing time, after which they start adding additional waiting charges. My supplier was great, and ensured that he had enough manpower to get the job done. The UK hauliers who discharged and delivered the machines actually used pallets, so when the machines arrived it was easy for me to move everything around the yard using my newly acquired pallet truck. 


The first supplier I used already had a relationship with an international freight forwarding company, so once I had checked out their UK end I decided to use them. They provided a door-to-door service, covering US trucking, transatlantic shipping and UK delivery. For the second consignment they also provided the container, and dealt with the onward shipping once in the UK. Their communication wasn’t great but was adequate, with the US office being considerably more focussed than their UK counterparts. I found that I had to chase them for dates and status, but I imagine that they are more used to dealing with other shipping companies who know the ropes and are less impatient than your average bingo fanatic. 

Did I get what I paid for? 

The answer to this is that I got pretty much what I expected if not exactly what I paid for. The first two machines (a Bikini and a Lido) were complete and in working order apart from one of the spotting motors being burned out. The Bikini had a Circus Queen playfield, but this was not a big problem and the playfield itself was in great condition. With the container load, the agreement was that all machines would be complete, but untested. In reality, there were four machines which varied from incomplete through to being empty of most components, which was what I had suspected would be the case. I had already resigned myself to butchering some machines to get the others properly restored and my supplier had also included a spare head and playfield for use as spares, so the way I saw things I had my 5 spares machines pre-selected. 

What will I do differently next time? 

I do plan to repeat the exercise as soon as the remaining machines have been restored or disposed of to other restorers. Next time I will actually visit the supplier in the US and examine each machine. Job lots are much cheaper, but there is more wastage than I wanted. I will also find another way to unload the container at my premises, as the UK hauliers were none too careful and most of the damage was incurred during this leg of the journey. The most distressing event was their breaking of a Miami Beach backglass which is virtually irreplaceable. It was a clean corner break however, so some skillful application of some super glue might still save the day.

What are the costs?

The cost components for a container load were as follows: 

·          Cost of the machines in the US

·          US trucking to nearest port

·          Transatlantic shipping

·          UK container delivery

·          UK discharge and onward delivery

·          VAT charged by UK customs

·          VAT charged by the Shippers and Hauliers

·          A few bank charges for the wire transfer

Final Thoughts 

·          Only do this if you can afford to lose all the money

·          Keep your expectations reasonably low to avoid disappointment

·          Make sure that the shipping and other costs have no hidden extras

·          Retain your sense of humour, it is a character building experience!


Many thanks John for sharing this with us.