Ask any guy, when they were younger where could they be found at in the mall, and I will bet you nine times out of ten Aladdin’s Castle is on that list. Besides checking out the latest BMX magazine in the book store or scanning the singles at the record store, the arcade was the place to be. Before electronics tied kids together without having to actually socialize with one another it was electronics that brought kids together to one location, a meeting place for friends and comradery.
Once upon a time pinball machines were bad. Born from organized crime, associated with gambling and found in mostly seedy locations, many considered pinball machines sleazy. But thankfully one man and his brother were such admirers of game machines they knew the problem wasn’t with the games themselves but rather with their reputation. After watching coin-operated games continue to make money regardless of their notoriety these brothers knew there was potential. They just had to figure out how to get the game machines out of the inner cities and into suburbia. They focused on the new multi-million enclosed shopping malls.
It took Jules Millman, a coin-op salesman at the time, and his brother Merrill Millman quite a while before they were able to open their first amusement center. Their new concept was certainly a respectable one but unfortunately met with a lot of criticism. After all they were talking about opening a space for the whole family to enjoy, founded on what most would still consider unsavory pinball machines. The Millman brothers had to create a set of industry standards to convince the doubters still finding it hard to accept this new concept.
No smoking, no food and no beverages. This was number one in creating a more acceptable atmosphere, not to mention it helped keep the machines safe from any spills. Secondly, the centers would be attended to at all times by a supervisor, and these supervisors weren’t there only to make change. They would have to complete a training program where they would learn to properly deal with disorderly or unruly patrons. From letting them know not to abuse the machines to asking people to leave if they get a little too rambunctious.
Now with a list of rules and a secure space, not to mention the mall would also have their own security team for extra safety, the Millman brothers pitched the idea of a family amusement center where parents could feel safe leaving their kids while they shopped elsewhere.
There will always be kids at the mall, so let’s just give them a few dollars and somewhere to go. Can’t go wrong. But it turned out this place wasn’t just for kids. Employees of the mall, business professionals, entire families, everyone would pop in. Jules Millman founded American Amusements Inc. in 1969 and by 1974 Millman had successfully opened 20 shopping mall arcades. Next stop…the world’s largest gaming company.
In 1974 Bally Manufacturing Corporation bought American Amusements, Inc. for an undisclosed amount of cash and changed the existing moniker to Aladdin’s Castle. An additional 55 Aladdin’s Castles were opened within a year for a total of 75, the largest being 7,000 square feet. Within five years there would be a total of 140 Aladdin’s Castles with the largest being over 10,000 square feet.
Brief fact, Aladdin’s started to explore the use of tokens in 1978. Needless to say the initial results were encouragingly positive.
By 1981 coin-operated machines had a new reputation. Between 1975 and 1981 the sales of video amusement games grew from $11 million to over $280 million dollars. In just one year’s time, from 1980 to 1981, Aladdin’s Castle saw a 68% increase in revenue. Not since the invention of television had their been any other product that would forever change the way people would spend their free time. And Aladdin’s Castle had a huge part in helping to open everyone’s eyes to what Jules and Merrill Millman saw all along. Coin-operated machines and electronic video games were not only accepted but now beloved.
On the business side of things, revenues from the amusement game industry peaked for Bally in 1982. But as quickly as it grew, it’s decline was even faster. By 1988 Bally was ready to get out and sold all of it’s pieces and parts from both the electronic video amusement and the pinball manufacturing business. But it must have been hardest to part with Aladdin’s Castle because Bally kept hold of it’s more than 300 arcades for one more year.
“The people who don’t like it (playing a pinball machine) are the people who aren’t good at it.” Scott Robinson (Southern Illinoisan Sunday Magazine, March 6, 1997)