Image: Atlantic City Boardwalk, New Jersey
Several songs have been penned for New Jersey's famous Atlantic City Boardwalk. The main attraction is casinos, but a trip to this boardwalk wouldn't be complete without a stop at Playcade Amusements.
updated 7/11/2008 9:35:13 AM ET 2008-07-11T13:35:13

Forget the virtual world. It's time for the sticky pleasures of salty air, cotton candy and arcade games on the boardwalk.

Yes, I'm talking about getting your groove on to play "Dance Dance Revolution" or making like Danica Patrick for a spin around the virtual track of Daytona USA Racing, or even hitting old-school favorites like "Pac Man" and "Space Invaders." And don't forget pinball and Skee-Ball.

Arcades could use your business too. As home video games have become more and more popular, consumers have drifted away from amusement centers and parks. Yet isn't it ironic — we laud broadband networks and the advent of multiuser games because they let us connect with other gamers. Hey, there's an easier way. Head to your local video arcade.

Beach boardwalks are practically the only places where arcades are still viable. Still, it's becoming increasingly difficult to maintain or increase sales. "As a revenue stream, arcades have really leveled off for most amusement parks," says Marq Lipton, vice president of marketing and sales at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. "The type of games people can get in their home is at quite a sophisticated level."

Lipton says revenues from arcade games in Santa Cruz account for 4 percent of the boardwalk's total sales. He declined to say how that compares with past years. He admits, however, that revenues are down for traditional arcade games.

To combat stagnant or declining sales, Santa Cruz and other boardwalks have added so-called redemption games that allow players to win prizes such as stuffed animals, iPods and digital cameras. Redemption games can range from slot machines to a mechanical claw or crane that reaches into a tank filled with objects. It costs a buck or two to play a round. If you win, you get tickets that can be redeemed for a prize.

Even though traditional arcade game revenues are down, Lipton says sales from redemption games are rising. "Between the two, there's been a net increase" in total game sales, he says.

Steve Whalen, owner of Lucky Leo's arcade on the Seaside Heights, N.J., boardwalk, says redemption games are a big part of his business, accounting for 40 percent of revenues.

Image: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California
In this laid-back hippie, surfer community the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has two giant game halls—Casino Arcade and Smuggler's Arcade.
In addition to consumers playing games at home more, Whalen says the down economy has also negatively impacted boardwalk arcades. "Lucky Leo's has been treading water the last two years," he says. "Even a gorgeous Memorial Day weekend [this year] ... we were down a little bit from last year."

Still, he wouldn't give up his job for the world. "I love this business," Whalen says. "There' nothing else I'd rather do. It's not an office. You wear short pants in an atmosphere where people are having fun."

Atlantic City historian Allen "Boo" Pergament is certain that boardwalk arcades can survive because they're a welcome diversion from the daily grind. "There's always going to be someone who enjoys playing them as a respite from what they're doing," he says. "Or someone who said, 'I used to be good' and want to play it again."

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