Monday, July 30, 2018

So what does it really mean for pinheads? Is the Pinball Hall of Fame temporarily closing?

PINHEAD: A pinball enthusiast. Not to be confused with a certain, hell-raising pinhead.

Thanks, Mental Floss, for your clarity on the matter.

An otherwise slow news day in Vegas started with news that the Pinball Hall of Fame, a Vegas attraction that has been going strong for more than a decade, is moving to the Vegas Strip.

I'm a pinhead. I played such games occasionally throughout my life, but it was the Pinball Hall of Fame that light my fire in January 2007. More about that another day.

I've said it many, many times. There's only one thing on my must-do list whenever I'm in Vegas, and that's visit the Pinball Hall of Fame. I may make it to Ellis Island every trip, but if I had to choose only one of the two, pinball wins. Every time.

The HOF is the brainchild of Tim Arnold, a Minnesota native (if I have his story straight) who got into the amusement device business as a teenager, made a pretty penny during the video game revolution of the 1980s, amassed a huge collection of unwanted pinball machines and retired at a relatively young age to Vegas, shipping hundreds of machines from Michigan to Nevada.

He started an informal version of the HOF in a pole shed, or something of that nature, and eventually opened an arcade, composed of primarily pinball, but a smattering of video games, as well. That first HOF location was further east of the building where his arcade resides today.

With plenty of machines still in a warehouse, he moved closer to the Vegas strip circa 2009. His new home was perhaps twice the size. It wasn't fancy, it wasn't luxurious, but it has done the job.

Today's news came via a posting at a pinball fan website, Pinside. It looked to have been posted late Sunday night, and told a long, sometimes confusing story of how the HOF is slated to move to the Vegas strip, across the street from Mandalay Bay. The site, purchased for more than $4 million, was once home to a modest hotel which has been gone for about 18 years, by all indications. The lot has been undeveloped ever since.

As I did my part to help spread the news to the masses, there was confusion about the immediate future of the HOF.

My theory is that in his announcement, Tim attempted a little misdirection. This is how he started a discussion thread on the Pinside forums: " I am saddened today to announce that our current location on Tropicana will be closing as soon as we can wind up our affairs.....AND MOVE TO OUR NEW LOCATION ON THE STRIP!"

He titled the thread "Pinball Hall of Fame to close." So everyone reading the post was expecting the worst.

And if Tim was closing the HOF, it wouldn't be a total surprise.

The HOF operates as a nonprofit, and runs on volunteer labor. Volunteers watch over the arcade while it is in operation while Tim works to repair machines. There are always machines in need of a repair. With approximately 200 machines on the floor, there's no way to keep them all operational. And from what I understand, other volunteers visit the HOF occasionally to assist with maintenance. I was once told a guy from Canada was visiting for two weeks and volunteering to assist with maintenance.

The place thrives thanks to the volunteers, with Tim steering the ship. He's gotta be in his 60s by this point, and while there's no reason to suspect he's going to give it up any time soon, people have wondered what would happen should be no longer be willing or able to oversee the maintenance and operation of the arcade.

So yeah, it was entirely possible Tim was announcing he was going to shut it down.

Instead the plan is to build a new arcade on the south end of the strip, an arcade that should at least double the capacity of the current location, and provide better space and amenities for visitors. There are financial pieces that need to be in place before all is said and done, but the wheels are in motion. You can read the details, all of them, for yourself here:

Because of Tim's announcement that the current location will close as soon as the HOF winds up its affairs, and the title of his post, there's a belief by some that the current facility will close in the near future and the machines will sit idle until the day comes, if it comes, that an elaborate new building is built upon the strip.

I doubt that, given what Tim wrote in his explanation.

The HOF is a nonprofit entity, and there are pictures and newspaper articles taped up around the arcade noting significant contributions to charity over the years. We're talking six-figure contributions. That's a lot of quarters.

I have no idea where the cash came from, but the HOF had about $3.6 million in reserves, according to Tim. In order to buy a strip parcel for $4.6 million, the HOF has taken on $1 million in debt. For that reason, "We will stop almost all our charitable giving for the near future. This hurts me personally a LOT as that is why we started this project."

Why would he have to announce that charitable giving is going to temporarily cease if the current location is going to close in the near future, and income will drop to nothing? Without saying so, Tim seems to be implying that the HOF will become the benefiting charity. Instead of turning over $100,000 to the Salvation Army or Red Cross, the HOF will keep the cash to help pay off its loan.

It would make no sense for the HOF to take on $1 million in debt for a land purchase and then cut off its income source on Tropicana Avenue for an indefinite period of time.

More indication that the HOF isn't closing its Tropicana doors: The organization owns that property, and isn't planning to sell it until the new arcade is open on the strip. Tim explains that the HOF owns its current site, and an adjacent, empty parcel where some sort of building once sat. (You can see faint traces of it.) Building a larger facility three miles from the strip doesn't appeal to Tim, so building anew at the current site is not desirable.

The current properties are valued at about $2.7 million, and Tim explained that the sale of the properties would reduce the construction costs of the new arcade, which he projects will cost between $3 and $4 million. But the properties won't be sold until the new arcade is open on the strip.

And why is that? Because the Tropicana arcade will continue to generate revenue until it's time to move the machines to Las Vegas Boulevard. If the Tropicana arcade is closing soon, there would be no reason to hold onto the properties until the day the new arcade is up and running. It would be far less expensive to warehouse the silent machines and sell the property prior to the bill comping due for the new arcade's construction.

That's reason enough for me to conclude the Tropicana arcade is not closing. Tim's posting concludes with one final statement that supports my conclusion.

To ramp up funding for the new arcade, the HOF will be selling memberships that will provide benefits, now and when the new building is complete. Basically, the organization is looking for support beyond the quarters that are dropped in its machines, something it hasn't ever done before. Tim outlines membership levels and benefits and notes that, "We will also be selling memberships live in the museum via a special vending machine."

Now why would you sell memberships via a vending machine at your arcade if you're planning to close the arcade in the near future? You wouldn't.

I wouldn't be shocked if the HOF temporarily closes for a week or two if and when the time comes for moving the machines to the strip. Although it's possible they'll keep one of the locations open during the transition. Either way, I don't expect the machines on Tropicana Avenue to go silent any time soon, if at all.

There's no timetable for the project, although Tim suggests that a new arcade is more than a year away. My educated guess: We won't see a new arcade open for business for two full years, at the earliest. And if I'm correct, you'll continue to have daily access to pinball at the Tropicana arcade well into 2020.

There's no need to go on tilt if your next Vegas trip isn't until 2019.

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