Amusement Expo 2018 Draws Record Crowds, Probes Virtual Reality’s Promise And Challenges

Posted On: 3/12/2018

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LAS VEGAS – The 2018 Amusement Expo International drew the greatest number of showgoers since its first presentation in 2010, when the Amusement and Music Operators Association and American Amusement Machine Association joined forces to present the single annual coin-op event.

The confab was held at the Westgate Resort & Casino and adjacent Las Vegas Convention Center from Feb. 27 through Mar. 1.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN: Officials of the four co-sponsoring associations cut the ribbon to open Amusement Expo International 2018 for business. From left, they are American Amusement Machine Association executive vice-president Peter Gustafson; National Bulk Vendors Association president Steve Schechner, Capital Vending (Florence, AL); AAMA president Holly Hampton, Bay Tek Games (Pulaski WI); Amusement and Music Operators Association president Richard LaFleur, IF LaFleur & Sons (Devils Lake, ND) and AMOA executive vice-president Lori Schneider; and Erik Guthrie, Laser Tag Museum (Louisville, KY),

Co-sponsored by AMOA and AAMA, the conference and exposition once again included participation by the National Bulk Vendors Association and the Laser Tag Convention. Both organizations co-locate their annual membership education programs and tradeshows with the exposition.

There were 169 exhibitors in 2018, compared with 157 in 2017; 42 were new this year, up from 37 a year ago.  Buyers numbers this year climbed to 1,677 from 1,105 in 2017. The total number of registered visitors (buyers and non-buyers) grew to 3,104 from last year's 2,484.

New this year, manufacturers of virtual-reality games and companies supplying equipment and services for VR attractions exhibited in a dedicated pavilion on the show floor.

NBVA's pavilion hosted 17 exhibitors, three of which were new, occupying 32 booths. This was the seventh year that NBVA co-located its annual convention with Amusement Expo.

The Laser Tag Convention brought 12 exhibitors and 15 booths. 2018 was the fourth year that the Amusement Expo accommodated the Laser Tag Convention, which is organized by the Laser Tag Museum (Louisville, KY) for laser tag facility operators and developers.

The 2018 Amusement Expo kicked off with an educational program, followed by two full days of exhibits at the convention center. New this year were seven sessions in a track devoted exclusively to educating amusement operators about the rapidly emerging virtual reality marketplace.

The day of education began with generational expert Meagan Johnson's keynote address, titled "Zap the Gap." She focused on why different generations act the way they do, the importance of capturing Baby Boomer talent before it evaporates and how to keep Generation X employees from leaving for another employer.

Johnson's keynote was followed by 25 sessions covering on-street and site-based operations, bulk vending and laser tag. Topics ranged from the evolution of payments and the new opportunity that big-box mall vacancies present for FECS, to methods by which FEC owners can protect their customers and employees in the event of safety threats.

Organized by location-based entertainment veteran Bob Cooney, the VR sessions brought amusement operators and software and hardware developers together to explore the rapidly developing technology and the opportunities and challenges that accompany adding VR as an attraction in location-based entertainment.

The VR track culminated with a keynote address by Brent Bushnell, chief executive of Two Bit Circus, a Los Angeles-based experiential entertainment company. He is the son of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell.

"Virtual Reality holds the power to cloak transformational experiences embedded in play," the keynoter explained. "Out-of-home VR enables narratives that aren't available in consumer-grade systems, and provide users with unique content that can be incredible forces change. Millennials and subsequent generations are demanding that companies align with their morals; they want your corporate values to align with theirs. It's an exciting time for change."  

During the Amusement Expo opening ceremony, AAMA executive vice-president Pete Gustafson and president Holly Hampton presented AAMA's 2018 industry awards. The association bestowed its "best-of-year" awards on American Changer, Betson Enterprises and Bay Tek Games, which won in the supplier, distributor and manufacturer categories, respectively.

AAMA's Lifetime Achievement Award went to Larry Treankler of Bay Tek Games.
Also at the opening ceremony, Play Meter, a New Orleans-based trade magazine, presented its Operator of the Year award to Sam Westgate of Amusement Smart (Effingham, IL).

Outgoing AMOA president Rick LaFleur welcomed showgoers to the event and hailed AMOA's celebration of its 70th anniversary.  President-elect Jim Marsh of Hart Novelty (Bellingham, WA) took the reins as AMOA president at the conclusion of the 2018 Amusement Expo.

Wrapping up the opening ceremony, NBVA president Steve Schechner and Erik Guthrie of the Laser Tag Museum expressed their enthusiasm for the innovation and opportunity displayed by their respective industry segments.

AMOA presented Innovator Awards to three manufacturers: BuyBack Booth for its Express kiosks, which pay consumers for their used cellphones; LAI Games for its Virtual Rabbids attendant-free virtual-reality attraction; and TouchTunes for its new Angelina digital downloading jukebox (READ MORE). The winners were selected from 11 companies (with 17 entries) nominated for the awards this year.

The 2019 Amusement Expo International will return to the Las Vegas Convention Center from Mar. 26 to 28. The Westgate Las Vegas Hotel again will serve as host.

NBVA Elects New Slate, Presents Annual Awards

The National Bulk Vendors Association elected officers and directors and presented its “Best Of” and Most Innovative Operator award winners at its annual confab, co-located with Amusement Expo.

NBVA’s 2018 slate of officers includes Scott Ausmus, National Entertainment Network, president; David Kochan, DK Vending, vice-president; Paul Outfleet, PMG Vending, treasurer; and Lianne Rae, Vending Supply, secretary.

The association’s board of directors through 2021 is as follows: Ken Recker, Vendomatic; Brian Kovens, A&A Global; Lianne Rae, Vending Supply; Rachel Rosenberg, A&A Global; and Shawn Dumphy, SSM Vending.

NBVA’s nominating committee members are John Lander, Concord Confections; Mark Brooks, Quality Candy Services; and Ken Recker, Vendomatic.

“Best Of” Awards

» Best Original Design:  One-Inch Product
   Brand Vending Products, Fossil Friends

» Best Licensed Design: One-Inch Product
   Brand Vending Products, Sqwishland Desert

» Best Original Design: Two-Inch Product
   Flatline Corp., Spinners

» Best Licensed Design: Two-Inch Product

   A&A Global Industries, Inc., DC Comics Yo-yo balls

» Best Original Design: Tattoo
   Vending Supply, Sugar 16

» Best Licensed Design: Tattoo
   A&A Global Industries, Inc., DC Comics logo tattoos

» Best Original Design: Sticker

    SSM Vending, Emoji Poopie

» Best Licensed Design: Sticker

    A&A Global Industries, Inc., DC Comics logo stickers

» Best Bulk Candy or Gum
    Concord Confections, Assorted 850-ct. gumballs

» Best Bulk/Amusement Vending Machine    

    Brand Vending Products, Sqwishland Vending Machine

» Best Customer Service
    A&A Global Industries Inc.

» Best Website

    A&A Global Industries Inc.

Most Innovative Operator Awards

» Most Innovative Idea

    Custom-built cart to easily move racks
    Jennifer Jaynes, JenVend

» What I Wish I Had Known

    A “no” when locating isn’t always a “no”    
    Tyler Vance, Gardner and Lose