Difference Between Pool Drop Pockets and a Ball Return?

Have you ever wondered, "how does a billiards ball return work"? If so, you're not alone. There's a lot of confusion among both beginner and experienced players when it comes to pool drop pockets and ball return systems.

To help you learn more about the differences between drop pockets vs ball return systems, we've put together this quick summary of each ball collection system.

Pool Drop Pockets

Drop pockets are the simplest, and most familiar, ball collection system for billiards tables. When a ball is sunk into the pocket, it's left in place until the end of the frame, at which time the players move around the table to collect the balls to be racked again.

Interestingly enough, drop pockets are not a sign of an inferior pool table - in fact, many traditionalists prefer drop pockets vs ball return systems because there is no risk of blockages that could impact play as there is with a table equipped with a ball return system. Additionally, billiards tables that use a drop pocket ball collection system do not have the additional cabinetry needed for a ball return mechanism, resulting in a sleeker, more modern looking table that can be fitted with table covers and used as a dining table or card game table.

Of course, the drawback to pool drop pockets is the added time it takes to clear the pockets after each frame. While this is a non-issue for the vast majority of players, it might feel like an inconvenience to those who spend a lot of time practicing their shots or who simply appreciate the automation of a ball return system.

Billards Ball Return Systems

Billiards tables that are equipped with a ball return system eliminate the need to clear out each pocket at the end of every frame. Players simply pot each ball and wait for the potted balls to travel down a series of gravity-fed tracks and gutters installed beneath the playing surface.

Depending on the type of table, the balls will either be fed directly back to a collection area at one end of the table or in the case of coin-operated pool tables, the balls will be held behind a spring-loaded gate until a player inserts a coin to trigger the release of the balls.

The main advantages of ball return vs drop pockets are that players don't have to walk around the table to collect potted balls - this can help speed up the pace of play while adding a luxurious feel to the entire billiard-playing experience. For commercial pool table owners, the need for a coin-operated ball-return system is obvious, since it eliminates having to monitor players and collect money.

On the downside, ball return systems take up a lot of space underneath the playing surface - this both adds to the overall weight of the billiards table while eliminating the ability to use the table for other purposes. Ball return systems can also clog up in heavy-use environments like pubs where there's a greater chance of foreign objects falling down into the ball collection system.

Hybrid Ball Return/Drop Pocket Systems

Some billiards table manufacturers now make high-end hybrid tables that have what's best described as a cross between pool drop pockets and a traditional ball return system. These modern tables have the ball return channels built directly into the table frame instead of being beneath the playing surface, making for a cleaner, more contemporary look.

Now that we've answered the question, "how does a billiards ball return work", be sure to keep an eye out for all three types of ball pocket systems when you're shopping at your favorite billiards supply store.