As RePlay reported on July 6, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Barker dropped the unwelcome news on arcades in the state that they would not be allowed to resume operations on July 6 in the state’s third phase of reopening. Instead, arcades are called out along with “ball pits” and other entertainment like sporting events as businesses that must wait until Phase 4, which requires that there be an effective treatment or vaccine for the virus.
Operators in Massachusetts believe they have been unfairly denied and are rallying quickly to fight it. Betson New England’s Rick Kirby, Family Entertainment Group’s George Smith, David Breen of Pinz and Mike Crowley of Ryan Family Amusements, among others, are leading the charge. They’re working with the NEAPA (the New England Assn. of Amusement Parks and Attractions), talking with AAMA and reaching out to anyone and everyone “who has a dog in the hunt,” explained Smith.
“Rick Kirby has just done a fabulous job and other operators are working together very well to get the right lobbying help. People can’t stand on the sidelines on this one,” Smith said. “The issues we’re having are ones of fairness, equality and the antiquated way they see our business. Citing ‘ball pit’ specifically in their language shows how out of touch they are with what our business is today.”
As Smith explained, “Just before the start of the 4th of July holiday weekend, they made an announcement that arcades and ball pits couldn’t open. So now, bowling centers and casinos could be open, but not arcades. We were blindsided. I don’t think anybody expected that. Now, we’re scrambling to get the government re-engaged.”
He expects that they’ll be pleasantly received, but that officials will say they’ve heard all their arguments before. Smith said they’ll need to focus on fairness and point out that there isn’t a difference between a casino and an arcade in terms of personal safety/hygiene standpoint. “It will come down to, ‘you did it for them, now do it for us,’” he said. “Then, if they’re using ‘ball pit’ as a term, they don’t know who we are and we have to do a better job of educating them. That’s number one.”
He continued, “Two, we need everybody who’s affected by this to jump in with us if they can, at least with their name to say they’re part and parcel of this themselves. We’ve got to get as many people on that list as we can –– not just the operators but some who may be tangential… manufacturers, distributors, everybody.”
Smith says the situation isn’t dissimilar from what happened in Ohio, and suspects they’ll be met with platitudes by officials and that they’ll reach a decision point where they’ll have to seek legal action against the state. “This is not easy to do and will probably be expensive,” he continued. “It would be nice if people can think about their neighbors and fellow business owners because we’re really all in the same pool on this one. Yes, I have two businesses there and it’s critically important to me, but I’m talking with people who have 10, 15 and 20 businesses there that affected by this ruling. It’s not just the size of it, it’s the fact that even if you have one location, you’re going to miss your summer season. This adds insult to injury in most cases because you can’t substitute a July or August month with a September month. It just doesn’t work out that way. As they say, ‘justice deferred is justice denied.’ That’s what I’m feeling right now.”
If arcade operators are lucky, Massachusetts lawmakers may say they were going to let the arcades open anyway, “but the affirmative nature of doing something that says we can’t just stand by and be rolled over is critically important,” Smith concluded. “It would be nice to participate and show some unity. It’s like there’s a fire burning in your neighbor’s house. I think it might be helpful to lend a hand.”
To get involved and learn more, call Rick Kirby at Betson New England at 781-821-8533 or George Smith at 847-842-6310 (email [email protected]). RePlay will update readers as we learn new details.