Reflections on Amusement Expo 2022
Finding Many Positives, McAuliffe Looks to Make AEI Even Better
by Howard McAuliffe, Partner, Pinnacle Entertainment Group
Being on the education committee for Amusement Expo, we knew we had a strong program lined up and also that a record number of booths had been sold. However, pre-registrations were lower than expected and we were concerned show attendance might suffer a post-Covid hangover. Fortunately, the attendance numbers skyrocketed in the two weeks before the show and also set a record.
The Expo proved to be a great event with both attendees and exhibitors providing overwhelmingly positive feedback. I came away with a few observations: attendees love to learn from their peers, the show audience and exhibitors are evolving, and there is a lot of room to improve the show.
Within the education committee, we focused on filling the panels with operators along with some wonderful vendors participating as well. Overall, the best-attended sessions were the ones featuring operators willing to share their expertise and experience. Participating this year were executives from Main Event, Dave & Buster’s, Boomers and Scene 75, just to name a few. These leaders have years of experience, multiple locations, and large teams and resources that the average FEC cannot afford. It’s very valuable for others to directly access this knowledge and I love that people in our industry are willing to share information at the level that was on display at the show.
The Expo floor was noticeably different than years past. “Skill games,” or games often considered grey-area because of their similarity to gambling machines, were well represented indicating that a significant amount of the street operator business is driven by this type of equipment. VR continued its upward trajectory at AEI with a greater presence mirroring the way that technology has played a larger role in the FEC attractions mix each year. (It was also of significant interest during the educational part of the convention with the VR Summit sessions attracting both VR vendors and operators.) Route and arcade amusement equipment makers and distributors had solid displays as usual.
Overall, even though the bulk vending section was noticeably smaller, the show floor was clearly larger – in fact, it was the biggest in AEI history. I expect more growth next year, too, with even more new technology on display. This continued evolution of the mix of products and technology shown at AEI is vital to its ongoing success.
Overall, seeing new equipment is a major driver of attendance and excitement at our show, so I’d love to see more new games on display even if they’re not fully ready for sale. I think manufacturers would still have enough time to fine-tune and test the new pieces prior to IAAPA, which tends to be a big buying time for many.
While AEI 2022 was overwhelmingly positive, we do see areas for improvement. For me, the biggest disappointment was the lack of success raising funds for the show charity fund. While Covid certainly hit the industry hard, 2021 was a record year for many. I would have liked to see the industry contribute much more to worthy charities that help support children, the people of Ukraine and others. We make a living by providing entertainment and I believe we should do more to give back and help those who are struggling. The AEI Charity Fund raised less than half of our goal for the show. Next year, we should do better.
In another area, we saw that even though the afternoon keynote was an amazing presentation, attendance was relatively light compared to its morning counterpart. It seemed that by the end of the day, a lot of people were tired and wanted to relax a bit before the All-Industry Gala. Next year, we’ll likely focus our attention and budget on only one keynote presentation and hold that in the morning.
Overall, I thought Amusement Expo was great, and as always, I’m looking forward to an even better show next year.
Howard McAuliffe loves to imagine and implement new products, business models, and ideas, and is a partner in Pinnacle Entertainment Group Inc. He’s an industry veteran who got his start in the business when he was just 16 and has 20 years of expertise in product development, as well as FEC and route operations. Howard’s wife Reem and young son Sami are the center of life outside of work. When he’s not working, Howard can be found enjoying the outdoors, hiking, fishing and mountaineering. Traveling anywhere new or to old favorites like the American West is a passion. Readers can visit www.grouppinnacle.com for more information or contact Howard at [email protected], he welcomes positive as well as constructive feedback and counterpoints.