Amusement Expo breaks records, spotlights traditional fun

AT: Dean Lamanna

LAS VEGAS — A stroll around the floor of Amusement Expo International 2019 (AEI), held March 26-28 at the Las Vegas Convention Center and nearby Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, revealed that — amid exciting advances in virtual reality (VR) and other technologies — traditional arcade fun, including enhanced variations on it, is very much in demand.

Games, redemption toys, coin-op kiddie rides and blacklight accessories were among the products highlighting the decade-old combined trade show of the American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA) and the Amusement & Music Operators Association (AMOA). The event was co-located with the National Bulk Vendors Association and the Laser Tag Convention.

The exposition enjoyed some of its best numbers ever this year, with a sold-out floor featuring 179 exhibitors (up from 169 in 2018) attended by 1,773 buyers (up from 1,710) and 3,490 total registered visitors (up from 3,104). Notably, this year’s AEI welcomed 262 attendees of the adjacent Digital Signage Expo, sponsored by the Digital Signage Federation.

AEI’s March 26 educational program saw about 2,000 participants attending 32 sessions across a range of location-based entertainment (LBE) and family entertainment center (FEC) operational topics.  While VR was the subject of a special 14-session educational track hosted by LBE expert Bob Cooney and was represented by eight companies on the show floor, laser tag surged this year with 15 exhibitors (up from 12 in 2018). Additionally, the Laser Tag Convention marked its fifth year with AEI as it celebrated laser tag’s 35th anniversary as a commercial game.

Two days of play

An AEI triple threat as coordinator of the Laser Tag Convention, curator of the Louisville, Ky.-based Laser Tag Museum and vice president of sales for by Zone, Erik Guthrie paused between sprints across the show floor to talk about his company’s latest product: the Helios2 Laser Tag System.

Sporting a three-inch LCD screen with instructional video and high-definition speakers, the new system’s phaser also features a patent-pending magnetic charging system that represents a major improvement over jack-style charging. 

“It disconnects when the phaser is moved, reducing the possibility of equipment damage as well as warranty and maintenance costs — which means more money for the operator,” said Guthrie, who revealed that his team is working on technology that will integrate laser tag and augmented reality.

Arcade game displays occupied large swaths of the convention center’s North Hall 1. Stern Pinball’s exhibit was consistently packed with attendees wanting to try the company’s latest machines themed after The Beatles and the mid-1960s TV show The Munsters. Betson was on hand with its new dual-seat, target-rich Nerf Arcade video game, while Sega rolled out its high-definition ATV Slam — with a realistic quadbike mounted on an air cylinder-based motion platform.

Triotech was back with its compact, two-person Typhoon coin-op motion simulator, which turns 10 this year. Christian Martin, vice president of marketing, told Amusement Today that the machine comes pre-loaded with 10 ride films in honor of its milestone birthday and remains one the company’s top sellers and money-earners. “Families, grandparents, women — everybody likes it. It’s got wide appeal, and that’s part of its success. We’re very happy with it.”

Italy-based kiddie ride supplier Memopark had several colorful coin-op vehicles on display. Founded in 1987 as a subsidiary of photo booth and vending machine manufacturer Dedem, it has clients worldwide. A number of its products have theming inspired by high-profile, television cartoon-based IP.

Luca Favero, company president, told AT that his team carefully evaluates programs and characters to determine what might succeed as amusements. “We lease TV properties that rank in the top five, I would say, and have had a longer life. Peppa Pig, PJ Masks and Scooby-Doo have been very powerful licenses.”

The array of redemption and vending toys and goodies was vast. S&B Candy & Toy Co. offered a rainbow of candy, toy and plush mixes suitable for crane machines sold by its St. Louis Game Co. division and others. Both Artoy Trading, LLC, and Sureshot Redemption stocked their booths with racks and/or catalogs filled with eye-catching playthings ranging from extraterrestrial keychains to glow-in-the-dark yo-yos.

Two vendors — Flagship Carpets and Omega Carpet — unfurled durable, blacklight-reactive fluorescent floor coverings designed for arcades, bowling alleys, laser tag arenas, roller rinks and other high-traffic locations serving food and drink.

In business for almost 40 years, Omega Carpet specializes in custom designs incorporating any logo or pattern via Chromajet inkjet imaging. The company’s Kristin Messick told AT that Omega’s Infinity stain protection can survive 40 hot-steam extractions without losing any of its resistance. “You can pour red dye on it and get it out with cold water,” she said, noting that this characteristic of the special nylon carpet also makes it popular with casinos, theaters and nightclubs.

The club scene is the primary market for Ami. With a few taps from a smartphone, the company’s centralized Co-Pilot jukebox management platform can create and edit location managers (e.g., bartending staff), control volume and music selection, and check cashbox and mobile revenue, as well as relay security notifications from other apps. The system offers several free-standing and wall-mounted jukebox options that can meet any commercial need.

“You can easily program personalized birthday messages and greetings into the system so that they show up on the connected display monitors,” said Ami representative Kapil Mistry, adding that Co-Pilot is in about 30,000 locations across the U.S., Canada and the U.K. “This can encourage patrons to stay longer and leave larger tips.”

Winning recognition

Prior to the opening of AEI’s trade show floor, outgoing AMOA president Jim Marsh of Hart Novelty, Bellingham, Wash., welcomed exhibitors and attendees. Pete Gustafson, AAMA executive vice president, and Holly Hampton, AAMA, president, then presented their organization’s 2019 awards.  AAMA’s Best of Year honors went to Crane Payment Innovations, Inc., Malvern, Pa.; Shaffer Distributing, Columbus, Ohio; and Bay Tek Entertainment, Inc., Pulaski, Wis. AAMA’s Lifetime Achievement Award was given posthumously to Ralph Coppola, a former AAMA board member and founder of Innovative Concepts in Entertainment, Inc., Clarence, N.Y.

Xtreme Action Park in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., took AAMA’s FEC of the Year award. AMOA presented Innovator Awards to two manufacturers: Bay Tek Games for its Connect 4 Hoops basketball redemption game and New York City-based TouchTunes for its new Fusion Music System.

At the exposition’s conclusion, AMOA elected a new class of eight directors and seated new one-year-term principal officers. The latter, with titles: Emily Dunn of Tom’s Amusement Co., Blue Ridge, Ga., president; Greg Trent of Beyer & Brown, South Daytona, Fla., first vice president; Chi Babich of Game Exchange of Colorado, Denver, treasurer; and Sam Westgate of J&J Ventures, Effingham, Ill.

AEI moves to New Orleans and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center next year, with the educational program slated for March 9 and the trade show taking place March 10-11. It returns to Las Vegas in 2021. Visit AEI online for information and updates.

This article appears in the MAY 2019 issue of Amusement Today.
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