GREENVILLE, SC — One of the amusement industry’s most colorful and controversial personalities, Fred Collins of Collins Entertainment Corp., died on Jan. 22. He was 70. His pastor said he was at home, surrounded by family and friends. Collins had been battling liver cancer for a year.
Collins served as president of the Music Operators Association (MOA later became the Amusement and Music Operators Association) in 1975. Local press sources estimate that Collins, the state’s most successful video poker operator, owned one out of every six games in South Carolina when the $3 billion-per-year industry was legal.
The perennially youthful operator, who was always seen with a smile, came up the hard way. His mother died when he was a young man, and he spent some time in a Salvation Army orphanage. Years later, the staff recalled him as one of the rowdiest kids ever placed in their care. “Everybody said that Fred was the one you had to take the switch to most often,” Salvation Army Capt. Greg Davis is quoted as saying in a history book about the orphanage.
Collins began his jukebox route while he was still a teenager, working out of a pickup truck. A local paper quoted him as saying, “Pac-Man made my company, but video poker made me rich.” In 1998, when incumbent Republican governor David Beasley reversed his stance and called for the elimination of the state’s video poker market, Collins led the industry’s campaign to replace him with Democratic challenger Jim Hodges. Hodges won the election but video poker became illegal anyway. Collins said reducing his staff to meet the new realities of a drastically smaller industry was a painful experience. But at its peak, his video poker and video lottery operations extended to several states across the South.
In recent years, Collins was most often in the news as he fought and won a series of high-profile legal battles against slot machine giant International Gaming Technology. Collins said IGT promised him an exclusive distributorship to sell its slots in South Carolina, then reneged. A series of juries agreed, and as of Feb. 2004, IGT owed Collins $20 million in damages.
His confrontation with IGT was the climax of a decades-long litigation career that earned him the nickname “Courthouse Collins.” He once gave an unforgettable seminar to his fellow operators on how to make the best use of their lawyers which, according to Collins, was to be very aggressive about filing lawsuits to defend contracts – whether the defendant had deep pockets or not. “People say to me: ‘Fred, why are you suing that guy? He doesn’t have any money,’” Collins said with a grin. “I tell them, ‘I’m not pursuing the money; I’m pursuing the contract.’”
Last month, Collins donated $1 million dollars to his local Salvation Army chapter. He is survived by three daughters and a son. According to the Greenville News, Collins’s daughter and company chairwoman Felicia Collins Robbins released a statement that the company will remain an amusements industry leader under the family’s control.