Tuesday, Sept. 23, 1997 | 10:54 a.m.
Thousands of amusement center operators will gather in Las Vegas this week for a trade show set in a location where the industry has experienced as many ups and downs as a roller coaster.
Fun Expo '97 kicks off with a series of seminars today, and the trade show floor opens Wednesday at the Sands Expo Center for 360 companies displaying products at more than 1,000 booths. The show is sponsored by the International Association of Family Entertainment Centers.
Simulators, virtual reality and laser games, pinball, kiddie rides, miniature golf, coupon redemption systems and a variety of food and beverage displays will be included in what has been called one of the largest one-stop shopping sources for arcade operators.
One of the highlights of the show will be a Wednesday night social event at New York-New York hotel-casino, where guests will dine at the Motown Cafe before checking out the attractions at the Coney Island Emporium.
Another amusement center that opened in Las Vegas this year also is high on the agenda for the estimated 8,000 attendees.
GameWorks, the popular arcade developed by Stephen Spielberg and Sega at the Showcase mall, is expecting additional visitors all week.
"We're a new breed of club that redefines play by connecting people over the best videos and games," said Jack Siefert, general manager of GameWorks, who will attend the show with several members of his staff.
While the arrival of GameWorks and the Coney Island Emporium represents highlights of the industry locally this year, tragedy defines the low end.
Arcades were under increased scrutiny in Nevada this year after an accident at an arcade that took the life of a 3-year-old girl at her birthday party in February and a high-profile case that occurred when a 7-year-old was killed near an arcade in May.
The accident at a Pistol Pete's pizza restaurant arcade was blamed on an operator's error; a trial is scheduled in April for a suspect accused in the killing of Sherrice Iverson in Primm.
Both cases were tragedies that forced industry professionals to re-examine their own safety and security procedures, said Fun Expo show manager Bailey Beeken.
A session on crisis management is scheduled at the show and safety issues will be discussed, Beeken said. Arcades offer difficult challenges to operators who have high ratios of teen customers and must deal with high-profile issues such as gang influences, tobacco and drug use, and underage drinking.
Beeken said Las Vegas has an additional challenge of enforcing curfew rules in a place known for its 24-hour excitement.
After the homicide in Primm, Nevada legislators considered statewide regulations on arcades. They deferred to local authorities, and the Clark County Commission responded by setting a curfew of 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends and school holidays for children under 18. Parents of children who violate the law can be fined up to $300 for negligence.
But most of the Fun Expo is devoted to getting customers to the games. Beeken said one area of interest to the amusement industry is the re-emergence of bowling centers, which in the 1970s were characterized as a place for singles with no children allowed.
"We lost a whole generation of bowlers," said Beeken, who said the industry is rebounding in the '90s.
About 80 attendees have registered from the Las Vegas area and five of the vendors are based in Las Vegas.
Wendy Luhnow, amusement center supervisor for the Sahara hotel-casino, said she intends to check out some of the ticket redemption games while Randy Stevenson, food and beverage director at GameWorks, said he wants to broaden his understanding of the amusement industry beyond his specialty.
"Las Vegas gives us a lot to see," said Beeken, who still believes the city can deliver as a family market and is putting on Fun Expo here for the third time in seven years. "It's difficult for someone to replicate what you have here in Duluth, Minn., but it gives people from there something to strive for."