AMOA Welcomes Sam Westgate as its New Chief at Expo
After many years of involvement with AMOA, industry veteran Sam Westgate has taken the reins as the association’s new president. As the director of business development at J&J Ventures, Westgate knows a thing or two about growing a company. He also has plenty of ideas on how to grow AMOA as its leader. RePlay recently reached out to Westgate to hear about his history in amusements, his viewpoints on coin-op, and the advice he has for operators. Here’s what he had to say:
RePlay: For those who don’t know, how did you get into the industry?
Westgate: As a teenager back in 1974, I started my own farm service business where I contracted seasonal light labor workers for farmers that needed several young people for various jobs. The Williams family in Enfield, Ill., had a lot of farm ground and were one of my customers. This resulted in a job offer from them in 1975 to work at Williams Amusement and on the farm. I eventually became the manager and part owner of Williams Enterprises, Inc. until the sale of WEI’s amusement operations to J&J Ventures in 2010.
Tell us about the transition from Williams to J&J.
The transition was effortless considering that I came to J&J as part of a package deal in the acquisition. The folks at J&J welcomed me with open arms. They have been very helpful to me and my family on both a personal and professional basis and certainly made me feel as if I was right where I belonged. In addition to working on the transition, J&J had immediately supported me on becoming the president of the ICMOA and putting me in charge of several major projects such as SMART Software and developing our successful Customer Loyalty Program that has now become the North American Dart Organization (NADO).
What do you think are the biggest changes in coin-op since you started?
Certainly, gaming has changed things in some jurisdictions. Technology such as route management software has made route operations more efficient. Technology has helped make leagues much easier to manage. There has been a revenue shift from arcade games to redemption and merchandise.
How did you first get involved with AMOA?
In 2000, the government passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Because I owned a website development company, this came to my attention and upon reading the act, I became aware that it could also apply to the collection of any information from online games that were becoming popular in our industry.
The ICMOA got involved and Chris Hesch and I started visiting different state associations, as well as the AMOA, to make them aware of the potential pitfalls that might affect operators of games where the manufacturer collected personal information from players during their tournament and marketing efforts. The AMOA put together an ad hoc committee to look into the issue. The result was the AMOA’s Online Privacy Protection Agreement between the industry and several of the manufacturers that might collect personal information from customers. Sitting on that committee was my first real involvement with the AMOA.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for operators today?
Certainly, in-home, or even in-palm, entertainment has had an effect on our product offerings. Esports was just starting to become a big factor prior to Covid and I expect that industry will make a rebound. So, for the street operator, getting back to promotions on darts, pool, pinball and video game tournament platforms helps keep an operator relevant in our venues. Our industry is constantly under scrutiny and sometimes even under attack from governing bodies. The closing of bank accounts has been a serious issue for many. Cash will continue to be under attack as cashless options continue to evolve.
How has AMOA been addressing those issues?
• Legislative Advocacy – Staying on top of issues such as Fair Access to Banking and Payment Choice/Cash at Retail. Of course, including coin-op in any additional Covid relief for the restaurant industry and monitoring unfavorable changes to tax code or the return of programs such as Operation Chokepoint. We’re also keeping an eye on the strain to business you see with the shipping of containers from Asia. AMOA has recently introduced a bill tracking tool for members to search for and follow current legislation both at the federal level and state level.
• Ongoing Education – We are continuously educating our members on current issues and topics that are pertinent to their businesses now. This fall, we will be bringing back our AMOA On the Road and On Campus Programs in the Chicagoland area, Oct. 20-21. In addition, we are providing our associate members with the opportunity to educate members on the offerings they have available. Our On Demand sessions are recorded and available for members to view at their leisure. With many operators back out on the route, this is a convenient feature.
• State Council Meeting – The annual state council meeting is an excellent forum for state leaders to come together annually and share legislative activity but also other opportunities and challenges they face.
Are there state-specific or regional issues that differ from what you’ve already mentioned?
Although AMOA doesn’t get involved in state specific issues, we do have our State Council that we bring together once a year for the sharing of pertinent information that is beneficial to everyone involved. That network remains intact during the year and when questions or the need for information arises, we are the conduit for helping states obtain the information they are looking for. The AMOA also supports state organizations with an annual rebate based upon the number of members who belong to the state and national organizations.
AMOA has also helped numerous states through the process of starting their state association. Most recently, we’ve assisted North Carolina, Colorado and Arizona. We’re currently talking with a couple others –– South Carolina and Washington State. AMOA has supported numerous state organizations throughout the pandemic, whether it’s been with our safety program materials or joining states on Zoom meetings with their legislators.
What is the biggest goal or goals you have as incoming AMOA president?
I have always been an advocate for more state associations, and I have been somewhat active in that regard. All politics is local, as they say, and if you wait until a terrible situation gets created by a reactive legislature, then you are generally too late to help address the issue in a common-sense manner. I would hope to see more states develop or revive their state associations.
The AMOA currently has several projects in the works that are just now getting to where they can soon be publicly announced or may not be far from becoming public. In my short term as president, I would like to see these projects come to completion as I believe they will bring a lot of benefit to our members and our industry.
Of course, there are already several things that the AMOA is doing that do just that, such as the AMOA’s continuing education programs and our legislative advocacy efforts. I will continue to stay active in those as well.
How optimistic are you that business will be back to normal this year after the year-plus dealing with Covid and related restrictions?
I am extremely optimistic. There may be some sectors that are slower to catch up than others. Certainly, we have seen some regions slower to open as well but overall, I feel that “normal” is right around the corner.
What are the lessons you’ve learned this past year?
1. Zoom is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting.
2. Our industry has continued to step up even though we all suffered through this crisis to varying degrees.
3. The AMOA and its board continued to work to help its members and brought several great ideas and resources to our members during the pandemic.
Would you like to share any advice with operators?
If you are not already, become active in your state association and the AMOA. You will get more in return than you put in.
What is your “elevator pitch” for operators who might be on the fence about AMOA or joining a state association?
We are all on the same ship in this industry. We rise and fall on the same tide. While our competitors are also on the ship and we fight for the best cabin, we need to work together to keep the ship afloat. You do this by joining your state association and the AMOA.