Banned for life: Dunellen arcade famous for having extreme exile list
The Eight on the Break arcade in Dunellen hails itself as the longest continually running arcade in the United States, having opened in 1973. But the arcade is also known for having a system of keeping generations of teenagers in line – thanks to a lifelong banned list.
There are 169 names on the banned-for-life list. The list is filled with names of adolescents whose shenanigans range from stealing soda to putting fake quarters into the machines.
Under the cover of darkness, Susan Murphy returned to the arcade from which she has been banned since 1983.
Her children are grown now, but when they were young, they would run into the arcade and delight in the fact that their mom couldn’t come in herself.
“Mom was banned on the exile list,” Murphy says.
She says that she was banned for “panhandling,” likely the excessive bumming of quarters from other patrons.
Time may have passed and many of the people on the list have grown into adults. But at Eight on the Break, a life sentence is a life sentence.
“You can only get off the list by dying. That was the way,” says owner Chris Cotty.
Cotty inherited the list from the previous owner when he bought the arcade in 1985. The arcade wasn’t seen favorably by the town leaders and Cotty says he knew he needed to run a tight ship.
“There was always the aura of arcades being a dark, bad place. Bad for children,” he says.
So Cotty kept the list and kept adding names – including the name Brian Hodja.
“I didn’t think it was that serious, so I tried coming back in a few days later. And Chris, the owner, was like, ‘No. That’s it, Hodja, you’re done,’” Hodja says.
Hodja recalls setting off a joke store stink bomb in the arcade. But he says he thinks he was banned for sneaking behind the snack counter and pouring himself a soda. This was in the mid-1990s when he was around 13 years old.
“And I’m like, ‘For how long?’ And I remember him telling me, ‘For life.’ And that was like a life sentence in prison for me, because that was my childhood,” Hodja says.
Hodja says that for years he could only come to the arcade on Halloween when he was wearing a mask.
Some people have gotten off the list without dying. One person emailed News 12 to say that he was hired to repair the arcade’s air conditioning years after being banned. He says that after finishing the job, he snuck over and erased his name himself.
Hodja was reinstated five years after his ban when Cotty saw him help police search for a missing girl.
“And he said, ‘Hey kid, considering yourself removed from the exile list,’” Hodja says. “And I didn’t even know how to take it. I felt like I hit the lottery.”
Cotty says that Murphy deserves come clemency as well.
“All responsible adults are allowed back in,” he says.
The banned-for-life list is a living document. Cotty says that two new names were added this year alone.