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EDITORIAL: Salute To A Winner: Congratulations, AMOA

Posted On: 1/8/2008

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The 60th anniversary of the Amusement and Music Operators Association arrives on January 21. Every industry member should raise a glass of something fizzy to celebrate this outstanding organization. Over its life, AMOA has chalked up countless successes -- but its greatest achievement has been to unify, modernize and professionalize the American operator.

Operators were born in the 1890s as "the last of the rugged individualists." These self-made men and women flourished in a tough, gritty business. Coin-operated entertainment came into its own during the Great Depression, yet the 1930s also triggered changes that spelled the end of 100% rugged individualism. President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal started regulating everything in sight starting in 1933. By 1947, Congress began moving to bring the coin-operated amusements industry under federal control, too. Uncle Sam wanted jukeboxes subject to the U.S. Copyright Act.

In 1948, leading operators realized they could only survive by abandoning their go-it-alone mentality. Thus the original "MOA" was born -- a reluctant beginning to what eventually became a hugely successful group.

Today's operators remain rugged individualists in many ways, for good (multi-generation family businesses) and for ill (resistance to the inevitable, such as online entertainment). However, thanks chiefly to AMOA, today's professional operator is a joiner -- not a loner. He is a proud member of a well-run state and national association. He is an active marketer, allied with other progressive operators.

Increasingly, today's operators are college-educated professionals, a growing number of whom received their post-graduate business educations through AMOA's Notre Dame program.

Most importantly, the main reason today's operator exists at all is because he has a voice in Washington, DC, in statehouses and in courtrooms -- a voice that has successfully defended operators' interests time and again. For a relatively small industry and association, AMOA has demonstrated a remarkable degree of influence. Its clout far exceeds its fighting weight.

Certain operators still pose as 100% rugged individualists, refusing to join AMOA or state associations. But these loners are steadily vanishing. Their day ended 60 years ago.

The charge has been leveled, probably since the day AMOA was founded, that it is a "good old boys club." This charge is absolutely false. If anything, it is democratic to a fault. All 48 board members are true leaders, not rubber stamps. As for personal relationships, this industry is so small that everybody knows everybody. Friendships, mentoring and networking are vital ingredients of the association's considerable charm.

AMOA's ultra-democratic ethos does have a downside. Sometimes the association is too cautious, too slow to respond to events. Sometimes it is overly fond of "tradition" for tradition's sake. But these are faults inherent in democracy itself, and hardly unique to AMOA. The association endures because it's built on honesty, fair play and organizational integrity -- what might be termed "the rule of bylaw."

It's far better to have an organization that moves slowly to build genuine consensus, than a dictatorship ramming "visionary" programs down members' throats. Heavy-handed leadership may shine for a while, but it never lasts. AMOA might even deserve a share of the credit for the fact that AAMA and IALEI are also quite democratic. They appear to have followed the association's lead.

We in the trade press sometimes find AMOA too guarded about releasing important information. (AMOA shares this trait with other trade groups and with individual operators, distributors and manufacturers.) If the association's deliberations were more transparent, could it recruit more non-members? Possibly. Yet the fact remains that AMOA has a six-decade record of achievement. You can't argue (well, not much,) with that kind of success.

Meanwhile, the Amusement and Music Operators Association remains the standard around which so much of the amusements industry can rally. AMOA provides invaluable leadership, comradeship, education and support to its members, and to the industry as a whole. Every AMOA officer, member and staffer -- past and present -- deserves a huge bouquet of congratulations. Happy 60th anniversary, AMOA.