Gameroom Guru – August 2023


Bowl Expo:

A Big Success!

George McAuliffe

By George McAuliffe, President, Pinnacle Entertainment Group

If you caught my last column in the May issue of RePlay, you read that bowling entertainment centers (BECs) continue to be among the strongest FEC verticals. So, it was no surprise when I walked onto the trade show floor at Bowl Expo in June and saw a vibrant, thriving industry in action!

Justin Moore, director of meetings and events for BPAA (the group that produces the expo), told us: “The excitement on the trade show floor could be felt by all and led to many meaningful conversations throughout the week. Bowl Expo 2023 was a huge success for both our attendees and exhibitors. We’re excited about the year ahead and looking forward to Bowl Expo 2024 in Denver, Colorado.”

The fun center business played a huge role in the show’s success. The industry leaders were there, the floor was heavy on games, and VR had a strong presence. I spent a lot of time in and out of the Shaffer, Redemption Plus, Intercard and Creative Works booths and they were BUSY!

Happily (and naturally), it wasn’t all FEC/BEC driving the show, the “Coke and Pepsi” of bowling – Brunswick and Qubica – had packed booths as they showed off their latest innovations. Brunswick’s Sync POS/Scor­ing package and Spark! continued to, as the company says, “Light It Up,” and were the talk of the show. (Spark is an immersive, interactive scoring experience, a game (or games) within the game of bowling, if you will, broadening casual bowler appeal.) Qubica had a very interesting new video package that interfaces with their Conqueror scoring and also announced a POS partnership with Square.

Speaking of hits, the show’s seminar program saw record attendance. My partner and son, Howard, and our newest team member, Nick DiMatteo (more on him in a moment), led the FEC seminar titled “Game On! Opportunities to Grow Arcade Revenue.” We went on first-thing Tuesday morning and played to a packed room.

Nick DiMateo - Pinnacle - Bowl Expo

New Pinnacle team member Nick DiMatteo takes a selfie with the crowd.

It wasn’t just us. Many of the other seminars had the same interest level. Bart Burger, BPAA’s managing director of membership and services, said, “Attendees to this year’s Bowl Expo proved that there was no shortage of desire to better themselves or their business. From our sold-out, three-hour Super Session on employee retention to the 16 Learning Labs featuring topics like your ‘Game On!’ session, laser tag, VR and our 4 pre-conference all day Boot Camps, it was an incredible learning experience at this year’s event!”

On the showfloor, we had a great time in the Pinnacle booth connecting with clients new and old. And as mentioned, we welcomed Nick DiMatteo to the team. We’re pleased to add his depth of experience and industry leadership in service to our clients. He has a great resume in the FEC world. Starting in food and beverage, he joined Namco Cybertainment as a tech, advancing to management, and then on to Tricorp Entertainment, one of the largest route operations in the U.S. (it’s now part of Player One).. He spent the last 10 years as an exec on the “midway” side at Dave & Buster’s. Nick really added his perspective to the seminar and throughout the show. Welcome, Nick!

In our seminar, we opened with industry trends:

• Esports: John David­son, founder of DLC and chairman of the Esports Trade Assn. advised Nick that U.S. popularity is lagging Europe and Asia. He also confirmed that esports events are “challenging to execute, difficult to attract” and require connecting with a community, through bowling enthusiasts or gaming influencers.

• VR: Howard covered the scene as it continues to in­no­vate and play an im­portant role in FECs. He covered the debate between at­tended vs. unattended VR, sharing a common error in analyzing performance. The bottom line: Don’t be so quick to discount attended VR!

• We covered new bowling trends in string machines and other formats like Duck­pin Social. The bottom line: String machines become more acceptable to the bowling world every day. Their relative ease to maintain is significant, and duckpin’s smaller footprint is creating more new venues than ever before, including opportunities for complimentary arcade and FEC operations.

• The latest in escape rooms, golf and sports simulators and mini-golf were reviewed.

Automation is a definite trend and part of the big attraction of Brunswick’s Sync with its kiosk system that is fully integrated to bar, restaurant, arcade, etc. We saw robots in the aisles and in Pat Ciniello’s booth. (He is bringing robots to the bowling world; you can see them delivering shoes and pizza in more and more centers.) Intercard unveiled its latest automated teller, the iTeller XL, with amazing features.

• I wrapped up the trends part of our presentation by covering developments in cashless technology. Our database of 81 locations shows that credit cards represent 75% of sales and that continues to grow. Cashless play card systems are being used more widely in centers, including for bowling and bar/restaurant sales. Online reservations and purchasing, smartphone apps, RFID and handheld POS are all trends in cashless.

The bulk of the seminar covered how to stop leaving money on the table in the audience’s arcades. Howard, Nick and I have some 90 years of combined FEC operating experience among us. We have all worked in chain management or in consulting roles where we had to go into underperforming locations, evaluate them, and get them back on track. When we do it, is not unusual – in fact it always happens – for sales to go up 10 to 20%. That shows that having the right system, managing it well, and paying attention to the details pays off!

We wrapped up the seminar with a preview of new games on the show floor and ended our week at Bowl Expo very excited for the year ahead! Will we see you at the 2024 Denver event? We certainly hope so!

George McAuliffe has helped hundreds of businesses large and small develop and execute arcades and FECs. He has personally operated family entertainment centers from 2,000 to 150,000 square feet as a corporate executive, entrepreneur and consultant. He is the owner, with his partner and son Howard, of Pinnacle Entertainment Group.

George lives on the Jersey Shore with his wife, Julie. They have three sons, two daughters-in-law and a grandson.

Readers can learn more about Pinnacle at or contact George at [email protected]; phone: 314-422-7197.


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