Pace-O-Matic CEO Michael Pace reveals the proudest moments of his 50-year career and explains what lessons he has learned along the way. This interview first appeared in Gaming America's Nov/Dec magazine.
Can we get a little bit of your background in the industry. What are your proudest achievements over your 50-year career?
My proudest achievements in the industry center around two inventions. First, the Pot-of-Gold Game. I invented the first countertop game in 1980 when I created the board and operating system to build games on. Computers didn’t have the capabilities to do that at that point. Before I could develop a game, I had to design a platform to build games on. It really illustrates just how much times have changed since then. And second, Pace-O-Matic itself. Working with my wife Karmin, we have built a successful company with an experienced team of professionals and helped to foster a family atmosphere. Since that point, Pace-O-Matic has successfully led efforts to regulate the skill game industry in multiple states. We are still continuing those efforts today.
Why did you choose to found your own company? What was the industry missing that you wanted to provide?
In 1996, I sold US Games and Pot-of-Gold. As part of the deal, I signed a 10-year non-compete agreement. I was effectively retired and I was enjoying life. At that time, I met my wife Karmin and moved to a Colorado ranch. In 2000, I realized I needed to get back to work. I could see my buyout was going to end. Pot-of-Gold was going under as more jurisdictions made the games illegal so I began thinking about the ways I could get back to work in the industry.
Pot-of-Gold was a great earning game. At the height of its popularity, there were 55,000 machines in markets across the nation. Unfortunately, there was an incredible number of knockoffs in the market. As it turned out, the demise of Pot-of-Gold was good for me. I knew most all terminals at that time were in places not operating legally. I knew I could make software that could make them legal and use that existing hardware. So I worked to write code to make a legal game that could replace the illegal software currently running on those terminals. That’s how Pace-O-Matic began as I committed to making the best-earning legal software for these devices placed in bars, restaurants, fraternal clubs and small businesses.
There’s no need to cut corners. Just do things the right way. That’s what we’ve done here.
What are the main lessons you have taken from your career in the industry that you now apply with Pace-O-Matic?
The best lessons learned are the ones learned the hard way. Everyone’s goal should be to only learn the hard way once.
The biggest lesson I learned is that you can’t do it all alone. I knew I needed to grow and empower a great team to support our growing business, and we have. It has given me the ability to focus less on the business side and more on game development. That’s what I am passionate about.
The goal at Pace-O-Matic is to find people who are equally passionate about what they do. If they like what they’re doing and are empowered to take the ball and run with it, that’s a corporate culture that works.
How is your business model different from some of your competitors?
Pace-O-Matic has built a business model that is predicated on a strong and active relationship with the coin-operator industry. That is an important distinction in how our business operates.
"I knew I needed to grow and empower a great team to support our growing business, and we have. It has given me the ability to focus less on the business side and more on game development. That is what I am passionate about."
We not only rely on the coin-operator industry in states to help us connect with small businesses, but we also include them in our business as they are active partners in the placement and maintenance of our game terminals. Many of the businesses in the coin-operator industry are multigenerational and have deep community ties. Much like our focus on hiring the right people in our headquarters, we’ve done the same with finding the right partners for our games. We look for stand-up people who are really active in their communities and give back to their communities. What kind of volunteer work do they do? What’s their reputation?
If you partner with the right type of people, it puts you on a different level. If you make trust a priority, it really pays off. We’re proud to partner with these small businesses and happy that our products have helped propel them into a renaissance for the industry.
Is there anything the US gamer wants that perhaps players in other regions might not? Or what does the typical gamer look like?
Our products are designed for those who are looking to enjoy games that are more similar to what you would see in an arcade. Today’s gamers have grown up on video gaming consoles and now play games on their phones. We are looking to deliver products that appeal to this new generation of gamers. They aren’t entertained by pressing a button and waiting to see if they win or lose. They want to play a game and use skill. That is the difference and how Pace-O-Matic is setting itself apart from the competition.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Pace-O-Matic’s operations?
The pandemic made us work harder and think smarter. This type of stuff happens and businesses have to adapt.
It has highlighted the need for enhanced public safety, not only because our local governments are requiring it, but because our customers expect it. As a result, we are supplying hand sanitizer, spacing out terminals and adding dividers. We’re really doing everything necessary to support player safety.
Plus, the teams we have in different states stay very close to the rules and regulations in their area. Our goal is to not only comply with, but go above and beyond to ensure our customers are safe. We also pride ourselves on having excellent relations and reputations with state and local governments. It’s important they know you can be counted on. People will remember how you acted and reacted in difficult times. This is a time to set an example and we’re doing that.
What is the long-term plan for the company?
Our plan is to continue our positive growth and acquisitions. We are also in development of new exciting products. If you were to come to our headquarters, I think you would immediately see something unique. Right in the front of our building, we have a giant game room. It sets the tone for the whole attitude of the place. We have fun. We build games. We employ super smart people who enjoy creating games.
Re-published at Gaming America on 12/14/2020.