WILDWOOD — The Welshes are exactly the type of family that still makes the arcades found up and down the area’s Boardwalks and promenades popular.
The family, from Westminster, Md., spent a week in Wildwood recently and each day made a trip to Mariner’s Arcade near Schellenger Avenue.
After three days, they had collected 200,000 points and were eagerly looking forward to redeeming them for prizes, including a bicycle for Chris.
“It’s just the fun. It brings back childhood,” Ken Welsh said as he talked about what the Boardwalk arcades mean to him.
Each time Chris Welsh’s tiny hand pushed a quarter into the coin slot, he quickly looked up the chute to make sure the Skeeball fell into place.
The 2½-year-old then grabbed a ball and threw it with both hands up the inclined ramp screaming, giggling and smiling with each throw.
He didn’t quite have the strength to get the balls into the numbered slots above, but that never dampened his enthusiasm.
“Ball,” he said as if he wanted to make sure everyone knew he was having a good time.
His parents, Ken and Jennie Welsh, could only smile and laugh as they watched their son play.
“I came up here when I was a kid with my parents, and I wanted him to have the same experience,” Ken Welsh said.
And it is families such as the Welshes that make up the bulk of the arcade business, said Bob DiPeso, owner of Bobby Dee’s Casino Arcade, just down the Boardwalk from Mariner’s Landing.
“The majority of our business is the same families. You don’t get to know them all by name because there are so many, but you see them every year,” he said.
Some of those families have been coming for 25 to 35 years, with parents bringing their children and eventually their grandchildren.
“The families come in and there’s something for everyone to do,” DiPeso said. “Air hockey, shooting NBA basketball, driving games.”
DiPeso, a lifelong island resident, has been in the business for more than 50 years.
“Anybody that lived here went to work on the Boardwalk when they were 13, 14. I was making change, whatever they needed,” he said.
DiPeso went on to become a teacher, graduating from LaSalle University, but summers were spent on the Boardwalk. In the 1980s, he bought the property where his arcade sits at the corner of Schellenger Avenue.
The games have changed over the years with stop and go wheels — similar to roulette wheels but with fewer numbers — less popular now then when DiPeso started.
“Five years ago it was poker and slots. You could hardly get a seat at them. Now, it’s The Wizard of Oz, a pusher game. Skeeball, that’s still popular, and the cranes,” he said.
This year’s new hot game? Fruit Ninja Fx, a touch-screen game in which players chop up flying fruit.
The games still spit out tickets or coins and at Bobby Dee’s each is worth 5 cents of a Bobby Dee’s Dollar. The dollars are redeemable for prizes of all shapes and sizes.
“It goes as low as a Tootsie roll all the way up to a television,” DiPeso said.
Five tickets, for instance, will get a player a bright-orange rubber centipede, while 20 tickets equals a blow pop or a miniature water gun.
“For a TV, you’re going to need quite a few,” DiPeso said as he walked through his arcade.
He then demonstrated the slot machines, which stop spinning when the player wants them to. For one quarter, he won seven coins, well on his way to that centipede.
DiPeso is often asked the secret to winning, but he admits there isn’t one.
“People say to me how do you win. I say I haven’t the faintest idea. How do you win the lottery? It’s all luck,” DiPeso said.
DiPeso used to spend all day and much of the night at the arcade in the summer and in the fall and winter he turned to teaching or working in construction. The family also runs a restaurant in Avalon called Bobby Dee’s Rock‘n Chair.
The other businesses, he said, were necessary because the arcade is a costly enterprise.
The electric bill for all the lights and game? $40,000 from May to September, he said. Then are license fees and real estate taxes, which he estimated at $60,000.
“It’s like $100,000 before you open the door,” he said.
Back at Mariner’s Arcade, Jennie Welsh helped Chris collect his tickets, which the little boy yanked out of the machines if needed.
“It’s not like the casinos. You’re not putting in money and completely losing it. You can get prizes,” she said of the appeal.
Her husband had just tried his hand at one of the claw games, hoping to pick up a Disney plush toy.
‘I’m usually pretty darn good. Out of a $5 bill, I can usually get two or three (prizes),” he said. “You’re playing to give him a good childhood.”
Melissa Rose and Alex Lascala, of Bethlehem and Orwigsburg, Pa., respectively, also were enjoying a Wednesday morning trip to Mariner’s Arcade.
Rose had just beaten Lascala in a rousing game of air hockey and they were moving on to the next game.
“There’s always fun things to do, all kinds of games. There’s always new novelties and amusements,” Lascala said of the draw of the traditional arcades. “(The prizes) are an added benefit.”
And the prizes don’t have to be especially grand to be memorable.
Rose answered quickly when asked about the best prize she ever won.
“I got a squishy bouncy ball that I would throw at people. It was orange,” she said.
Chris Welsh’s favorite toy, his parents said, was a Mickey Mouse doll, and chances are there will be more prizes to come as the family makes trips to the Boardwalk a regular part of their son’s life.
“I want him to have the great experiences that I had,” Ken Welsh said.
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