The word “pivot” might be overused these days, but people in the ATM and amusement business are definitely becoming experts at finding ways to survive the coronavirus pandemic.
Strategies include everything from operating ATMs in cannabis dispensaries to selling gaming machines to homeowners and keeping up with safe practices.
Operators from different parts of the country shared their experiences last week on the ways they are contending with the pandemic during a panel discussion hosted by the Amusement and Music Operators Association.
In addition to selling gaming machines and operating ATMs in cannabis dispensaries, strategies discussed also included offering bitcoin ATMs, navigating the ever changing government restrictions and getting employees vaccinated for COVID-19.
ATMs in marijuana dispensaries
The legalization of marijuana has become an opportunity for ATMs, although cannabis regulations are still in the early stages.
Panelist Joe Bundra, who is national sales manager at J & J Ventures, in Effingham, Illinois, said those who own or have an affiliation with a dispensary are currently prohibited from owning or operating an ATM, creating an opportunity for ATM operators.
“The good news is it’s going to keep location-owned ATMs out of their hands,” Bundra said. However, he expects there will be fees associated with the ATMs in these locations once the regulations are finalized.
“You definitely want more than one ATM,” Bundra said, as there is a lot of customer volume in a cannabis dispensary.
What about bitcoin?
Another opportunity Bundra mentioned is bitcoin. While his company has not yet utilized it, he has seen bitcoin machines succeed at truck stops with gaming machines.
Grocery stores and liquor stores have also deployed bitcoin exchange kiosks, he said, but owners have told him they haven’t seen a lot of use of these machines.
If you want to offer bitcoin, the payment processor must be able to reconciliate it since there is no one software to reconcile bitcoin with traditional currency, Bundra said.
Gaming gets a new market
The panelists agreed that a lot of people want to play games at home since they are unable to do so at bars and restaurants. This has created a new market for amusement machine operators.
“We’ve sold everything we could get our hands on,” said panelist Joe Jacobson, owner of Amusement Devices, Inc., based in Menasha, Wisconsin, one of several panelists who has made up for lost business by selling and/or renting gaming equipment to homeowners.
Jacobson said his company sold “anything and everything,” such as skeeballs, foosballs, air hockey games, shuffleboards, dart boards, poker tables and bar stools. People are spending as much as $6,000 for a used pinball machine.
In addition to offering equipment on a company website, the panelists said Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are good forums for selling gaming equipment.
They also agreed it’s important to have things ready to ship since many customers want things in a matter of days.
Panelist Ryan Harris, of Ellis Amusements Inc., based in Meridian, Idaho, said he takes a security deposit when he rents equipment. He has had to repossess one game but so far that’s not been a big problem.
Getting employees the COVID-19 vaccine was also cited as an important topic.
Panelist Michael Martinez, co-founder and president of N2 Industries Inc., in Brea, California, said ATM operators are “tier 1” businesses according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which qualifies them for early COVID-19 vaccination.
“If you operate ATMs, you certainly can have you and your employees sign up for early vaccine,” Martinez said.
He encouraged his colleagues to get their employees vaccinated as soon as possible. He said the National ATM Council is working on a letter for members to use to qualify to get the vaccine.
“It can be really tricky to figure out how to get yourself in the [COVID-19 vaccine] pipeline,” said panelist Luke Adams, general manager at Pioneer Vending, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He described Ohio’s vaccination process which authorizes vaccines based on age increments as “organized chaos.”
This led to a discussion on the importance of being part of an association.
Ohio initially ordered all coin op equipment to be shut off during the pandemic, Adams said, but state lottery games were allowed. The state coin operators association filed a lawsuit in response to this inequity, and the state acquiesced before a hearing was held.
The Ohio association also hired a public relations specialist, which was very helpful in getting the industry’s position heard.
State restrictions vary
Each panelist gave an overview of their states’ restrictions.
Ohio has expanded its curfew from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., Adams said.
“It is amazing to see how just one hour of difference in the curfew has made,” he said. “Service has really been picking up throughout the state and we’re starting to see revenue kind of match that as we start to get more and more collections in.”
Michigan is more difficult, Adams said, as bars and restaurants were closed until Feb. 1. Now 25% capacity is allowed and a 10 p.m. curfew.
Indiana allows counties to set the rules as there are no state capacity rules, he said, while Kentucky has 50% capacity and 11 p.m. curfew.
Martinez said California lifted some restrictions in November, but most bars are closed, depending on the county. Some counties allow outdoor dining for restaurants.
The California operators’ association is trying to make the government understand that juke boxes are owned by the operators and not the restaurants, he said.
Jacobson said Milwaukee County, Wisconsin allows 25% occupancy but does not allow people to touch games. The Milwaukee coin op association has retained a lawyer to address this.
Panelist Tom Graham, president of Games Unlimited, in Milbank, South Dakota, said South Dakota has delegated restrictions to local governments.
North Dakota bars and restaurants were closed for a while before opening with 50% followed by 75% capacity followed by 100% limits, Graham said. When game leagues began in September they set a 10 p.m. closing and a six-week closing during the winter holidays.
The Minnesota operators’ association sued the department of health over this closure since other retailers were allowed to stay open. In response, the governor opened the bars and restaurants. Meanwhile, the Minnesota operators are considering challenging the 10 p.m. closing.
Panelist Jeff Prescott, president and CEO of Valley Vending Service Inc., in Plattsburgh, New York, said bars in New England and upstate New York have a 10 p.m. curfew and game playing is not allowed, although jukebox playing is allowed. Game room activity varies by county but are reopening with the vaccine roll out.
Harris said Utah canceled a restriction on liquor sales after 10 p.m. in the face of a lawsuit.
Idaho has local governments regulating activity, while Oregon allows outdoor seating.
Younger crowd bars have not revived even in cases where they are allowed to, Harris said. Neighborhood bars area coming back the fastest.
“That 20-something early crowd just has not come out yet,” he said.