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Techno taking over at casino arcades

In a dark corner they sit. Their paint is faded. Their buttons and controls worn with use. Once upon a time their hulking black shapes attracted droves. Humans crowded around their screens, feverishly pumping them full of quarters. It was all about getting to the next level, eating power points, avoiding goblins, shooting bugs.

Pac-man, Centipede, Rally-X, Q*bert, and Tron might bring forth a sense of nostalgia, but in the 1990s they are left in a trail of digital dust.

It’s not surprising. How can a yellow circle that devours dots in a maze compete with dinosaurs that roar in your face and rumble the ground as they chase you? And shooting hoards of centipedes pales in comparison to holding off Imperial storm troopers as you escape the ice planet Hoth.



Their graphics and sound effects, once state-of-the-art, seem washed out and infantile in a world of virtual reality and hydraulic lifts. Their only comfort is knowing that the same fate will befall their successors, and at Harrah’s Family Fun Center, Dave Foster is the man who sounds the death knell.

Foster, support service manager, buys toys and plays video games – a job description any child would aspire to. At massive trade shows, usually held in Las Vegas, Foster gets to wander a convention center full of the latest new video games, all set on free play. His spending limit for new purchases ranges around $200,000.




“I do a number of things, but this is my favorite one,” he said. “You can tell which games are going to be popular just by seeing which ones get the most use at the show. We know pretty well how the games are going to go over before we buy them.”

Foster’s domain is large, around 12,000 square feet, but the fit is getting tighter all the time. To make way for new games like Star Wars Trilogy, Tower of Power and Hydro Thunder something has got to give.

“We have to cycle out the old games,” Foster explained. “Sometimes they are put up as prizes and people can buy them with tickets. We also do a trade-in with the distributors. That way we’re able to keep the top picks every year. We buy new games right before the summer season and before Thanksgiving. By Memorial Day weekend we’ll have around $200,000 worth of new games in the center.”

To make room, Pac-man and his like have been shuffled back to the children’s play pen area. Once the $3 entry fee is paid the games are free. Children have to be accompanied by an adult while in the play area, and Foster said nostalgia kicks in.

“We’ve found that those are the video games that the parents remember, so while the little ones are climbing through the equipment, the adults play the video games.”

Foster believes another draw this summer season, for children and adults alike, will be the center’s large collection of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace memorabilia and toys. Patrons can’t buy the collectables with cash, only tickets are accepted. The tickets are won at the fun center’s many skill games.

Skill games, along with the old standby pinball, never seem to go out of style. They are consistent earners. As for virtual boxing, Lost World, California Speed, and the Harley-Davidson ride, when their tokens dwindle, their next gig might be providing the sole entertainment between cycles at the laundromat. After all, you have to be a top pick to stay in Foster’s realm.


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