The Exceptional American Operator
just returned from the EAG Show in London, and I was surprised at the sense of despair that seems to be hanging over many members of the European trade concerning impending new regulations and taxes. Many of them seem to have given up the good fight. It contrasts sharply with my experience of American operators’ response to adversity, particularly oppressive government regulation.
Many European countries find themselves in debt and struggling to balance their budgets in the wake of the financial crisis that started in 2008. The result is a storm of proposals that would impose serious burdens on operators, from higher annual license fees, to retroactive fees, to registration requirements and more.
European operators have faced much less regulation than American operators, historically. We have looked with envy at their ability to operate both gaming style AWPs and amusements (two businesses in one really) without intense government involvement, but with a long history of ‘fair’ regulations, negotiated in good faith. Now, reality has hit them over the head with a hammer.
I have always marveled at the vision shared by BACTA and EUROMAT, two of the major operator organizations in Western Europe. These associations are well known for researching and writing white papers and statistical reports that are widely accepted by government representatives and authorities. BACTA and EUROMAT remain deeply engaged with each of the national governments that are proposing various regulations. Neither association has given up in any way. Instead, they are busy negotiating on behalf of their members. Even in the face of dire proposals, we all know that what finally passes into law is often very different from what is originally proposed. My hat is off to the efforts of these organizations, even though they are faced with continuous complaining from a frustrated and emotionally depressed membership. (One must also take into account the fact that the depressed real estate market and huge unemployment are really the primary causes for the many recent U.K. seashore arcade closures.)
However, so many operators (presumably members of these groups) appear to have given up before the fight is over. In my opinion, they need to band together and support the efforts proposed by their industry, learn something new every day, and work around their challenges or find a new way to make a living. It’s really surprising; especially in the U.K. with its legacy of World War II fortitude and Winston Churchill’s never give up attitude. Where did that go?
Quite frankly, they should take a cue from American operators, who are resilient, used to facing adversity in the form of onerous regulations, and notorious for coming up with new solutions. The United States is also in debt and every city, county, and state government is also making every effort to collect new found revenues from every business sector.
The good news is that while governments may be out of money and want to regulate every game and every crane, it will take a ton of manpower and money to actually pull that off. Those governments will ultimately abandon their plans once they realize there is not enough to collect to justify their efforts.
We have been through this in America, and the effort involved in organizing against regulation, even when we failed, has made the U.S. industry the better for the effort. In fact, in recent years, we have less influence in the public sphere that we might have had a decade or two ago in the midst of the copyright and parallel import wars and jukebox licensing negotiations, but we are still holding our head high as an industry. The Europeans actually still have a higher level of government influence, which makes operator despair there all the more discouraging and confusing.
How should they rally their troops? Any successful effort must be built on a process of education, both about the right approach to effecting any impending legislation and about ways to grow the industry that will help supplant the negative effects of regulations should one or more become law.
At this winter’s EAG show, I gave two sessions, as did my fellow seminar speakers, Michael Getlan, and BACTA Chief Executive Leslie Macleod-Miller. (I have worked with Leslie for several years, and he is not only a brilliant attorney, but a terrific negotiator.) We each presented to some family entertainment centers, boardwalk arcade people and a lot of 2nd and 3rd generation street operators who successfully run cranes (automatic redemption). All in all, we felt good because the 150+ total attendees were very interested, but there were about 3,000 people at the show overall, which equates to 5% attending the seminars (some of the attendees attended more than one seminar so this figure is more likely 3%).
The lesson for all of us is that we have to stand by our associations and keep the dialog open, both with each other and with those who want to regulate our industry. We are a fragmented industry (and the legislators are keenly aware of this), and yet we have so much in common.
When you ask an American street operator how their business is doing, they automatically will go through this vaudeville routine about how horrible things are. But if you keep talking to them about their latest vacation or home renovation, you realize that many of them are still having decent years. Most of the FEC people are more open and honest and will tell you straight out that they had a good year.
When you go to our shows, you see the leaders of the American business there, optimistic about their chances to learn something new about a different market or a unique product or service. Times are tough all over, but it’s how we approach these challenges that will make all the difference.
Many of my operator colleagues in the trenches here in America have proven their resilience in the face of harmful government regulations and competition from new technology. In fact, AAMA had a strong presence at EAG. John Schultz, AAMA president, and John Margold, AAMA chairman, manned a very active booth, and even held an important impromptu meeting with more than a dozen of the AAMA members present, to deal with a new proposed change to the California law that regulates cranes and redemption games.
Those business leaders are my models as I move forward, taking our message of how to improve both regular and automatic redemption and generate more return on investment both here in the U.S. and abroad. My old motto still rings true: “Keep Cranking!”
Special thanks to EAG International Expo Chairman Martin Burlin, Jeremy Reed (BALPPA chief executive), Karen Cooke and Peter Rusbridge of Swan Events, and Michael Greene of UDC for inviting me to present for the second year at EAG. There is also a possibility that Foundations University could present a two-day session after EAG and before ICE should both events take place back to back (with a few days in-between) in 2013.
Frank Seninsky is president of Alpha-Omega Group of companies, which includes a consulting agency, Amusement Entertainment Management (AEM), and a nationwide revenue sharing equipment provider, Alpha-BET Entertainment; all are headquartered in East Brunswick, New Jersey. Along with industry consultant Randy White, Seninsky also heads up Foundations Entertainment University. During his 41 years in coin-op, Seninsky has presented nearly 250 seminars and penned more than 1,000 articles. He has served as president of the Amusement and Music Operators Association from 1999-2000 and is a past chairman of the International Association for the Leisure & Entertainment Industry. Seninsky can be reached at 732/254-3773 or by email at email@example.com and www.AEMLLC.com.
(c) All contents of this page and the entire RePlay Magazine website at http://www.replaymag.com and http://replaymagazine.com. Copyright 2012 RePlay Magazine. All rights reserved.
(Back to the Current Issue Index)
(Back to top)