In the words of AAMA’s Pete Gustafson, “Gene Lipkin has left the arcade.” Gene – known both for his huge talents in all things coin-op as well as for some character defects that out of respect will not be detailed here – was without doubt one of the most colorful of industry figures ever to make and sell amusement games. He finally succumbed to the cancer he’s suffered on and off for several years on Saturday night, Sept. 4, at his home in Tucson, Arizona. He was 74.
His brother Bruce, president of New Jersey’s Universal Vending, advised that Gene’s ashes will be mixed in with those of his iconic father’s (Sol Lipkin) and scattered in the Atlantic Ocean sometime in weeks to come. Sol, who died back in 2010 at the remarkable age of 103, had spent his own final years in the business working for Dave & Buster’s as greeter at newly opened locations.
Gene Lipkin began his career at the old Myron Sugerman International export business in Hillside, New Jersey, afterward taking the post of sales manager at the Hialeah, Florida, game maker Allied Leisure Industries.
After a short amount of time at Allied, he had the uncommonly good fortune to be hired on by Atari Games’ founder Nolan Bushnell as sales manager during their early years; he eventually became the company’s president and as an initial shareholder, enjoyed a “big payday” when the young firm was sold to Warner Communications.
After leaving Atari, Gene hopped, skipped and jumped all over the coin-op map, touching down at such game factories as Benchmark, Data East, Face Place and in more recent times at Wahlap and WIK.
In truth, despite his outsized sales talent and “gift of gab,” he burned some bridges along the way. But as Pete Gustafson put it: “I knew who he was, and call me naïve, I still enjoyed his friendship and companionship. May we be blessed with more characters like Gene, for they’re what makes this crazy business great.”
“My brother was the cat that had nine lives,” said his brother Bruce of Gene’s ability to bounce back again and again after a broken promise here and a financial problem there. “But, boy, was he smart,” he added.
Bruce and his wife Adriane, their children Eric and Nicole and four grandchildren are basically the only family Gene leaves. But his legacy in the business will live on in the countless “Gene Lipkin” stories now being shared by folks like Frank Ballouz who was his roommate during the Allied Leisure years and a close friend afterward. Rest in peace, old friend. Your long battle is finally over. – Eddie Adlum