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Member profile: From live arcades to virtual events, this rental operator has it all

By Connie Lannan

March 14, 2023

Gary Bordman mingling with the crowd

Gary Bordman mingling with the crowd.

Want a real 36-ft. carousel or arcade games at your event? How about a virtual escape room or blackjack game? Maybe something hybrid, like a virtual element within your booth at a trade show? If any of those items are must-haves for your event, you That is Gary Bordman, CESP, owner of Amusement, Exhibit & Event Services in Las Vegas.

“We are the go-to supplier for many destination-management companies, or DMCs, exhibit houses, trade show associations, and corporate meeting and event planners all the way down to those planning their wedding or parents planning their child’s bar mitzvah, quinceañera or party,” he says.

Bordman, a service-disabled veteran, started the business while in the military. He then merged with a larger company and decided in 2014 to go off on his own again. He is proud that his company offers “everything from casino theme parties and virtual reality events to racing events and carnivals. We also do harvest festivals from time to time. For a trade show client, we might do a custom, programmable slot machine or a custom ‘Wheel of Fortune’ or a custom game room right in their trade show booth,” he says. “We have a diverse knack for creating a conversation piece at someone’s event.”

Amusement, Exhibit & Event Services is not a traditional event rental operation, but it serves a distinct need that has grown significantly in the past few years. That growth was highlighted in the “Market Movers” section of the August 2022 issue of Rental Management. In 2019, the company generated $450,000 in rental revenue. In 2021, that jumped to $850,000 — an 89 percent growth rate. That meteoric rise was due in large part to the innovation Bordman made after seeing his business take a nosedive when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The LED Tug-O-War game is popular among Gary's clients.

The LED Tug-O-War game is popular among Gary’s clients.

“During COVID, we couldn’t do live events. Everyone in the industry was decimated, but we had tech and knowledge,” Bordman says. “I wanted to make sure I was here after COVID and my company stayed relevant. We had partners, such as Socialure, that were in the world of creating digital content, so we got creative and spun up a virtual division and we built a virtual platform.”

Bordman used empty offices and “turned them into green screens, placed blackjack tables and roulette tables with multiple cameras and put dealers in there as we are a licensed casino gaming company and have casino tables and can hire dealers. We then invited clients to the casino. It was an avatar-based casino style, so you would log into a platform with what looks like Zelda characters and you would be able to walk around with your friends. The dealer would introduce himself and then deal the table and they would flip the images from looking at you to the overhead view so you could see the table,” he says.

For other clients, he has set up virtual arcades, complete with pinball, cabinet games, air hockey, foosball, pool tables and photo booths — “pretty much what you can do at a real arcade that we built via a virtual platform. It’s very realistic,” he says.

While the virtual element was the only way to do business during the worst of the pandemic, Bordman has added back his live events and has a significant call for hybrid events.

Games of chance, complete with dealers, are available too.

Games of chance, complete with dealers, are available too.

“We have some clients who are doing virtual components to their trade show. For one client, we are doing an ’80s arcade,” he says. “She has more than 1,000 people attending virtually. She figures 200 to 500 will want to attend some of these parties. We will set up what we call Windows to the World, which are laptops and booth areas away from the main area where you can visit with people. We are doing a reception in the evening with full arcades, and then we will have the online version so they feel they are at the same party. We will have these avenues for people from the party to interact with people online. The difference there is in a hybrid event you see the speaker that is being streamed. In the arcade, we will have a live screen of the party like on a TV screen. You can see people, but you can’t talk with anyone. If you go to a room, then you can speak to the online people.”

Another popular hybrid that can build traffic into an existing trade show booth is to have a game in the booth. “We have a slot machine, which is a physical, programmable slot machine that people can walk up to in the booth and play the game there. The virtual attendee would be able to go to their virtual booth and see the same image, press the button and be in the same game with them. It allows people to be involved in both areas,” he says.

Another favorite is Pong.

Another favorite is Pong.

For these innovations, Bordman’s company has been nominated twice by BizBash, a publisher of magazines, e-newsletters and host of websites, for virtual and creative solutions. “I am very proud of that,” says Bordman, who is the current director of programs and events with the National Association for Catering and Events (NACE) Las Vegas, a board member of the International Live Events Association (ILEA) and whose company joined the American Rental Association (ARA) earlier this year.

The live events have picked up, too. “Right now, everyone is doing giant lawn games. Our Battleship game, which is 8-ft. tall, is just one of the games we offer. All of our games look real. In addition, many are doing glow parties — having LEDs attached to something. All our arcade games light up,” he says.

The increase in business in the live, virtual and hybrid areas has allowed Bordman to bring his staff back up to 10, after dropping from 20 to five employees when the pandemic first hit.

Business is not just in the Las Vegas area. He and his team travel all around the country to facilitate and produce these events. He also partners with similar companies around the U.S. whenever he needs equipment that he doesn’t have or can’t make in the needed time frame.

While there are lots of long hours and hard work to make these events come off, Bordman says it is all worth it “when a customer sends an email that this event was great, that their customers keep talking about it and they want to work with us again. That is what we want to hear.”