SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

August 22, 2012

Skee-Ball still pulls them in at Salem Willows

By Will Broaddus
Staff Writer

---- — Diane Robichaud has been working at the Willows Casino for 19 years, tending to arcade games and exchanging the tickets players win for prizes. The latter range from miniature Tootsie Rolls to stuffed animals to Guitar Hero video games.

Some parts of Robichaud’s job have changed over the years, as computer software has taken over ticket counting and allowed for a range of new game designs. But the flashing lights, dinging bells and squads of excited children darting from game to game haven’t changed much at all. Adults play the games as well.

Robichaud chatted with The Salem News on a recent afternoon. She was joined during the conversation by Linda Casey, who has worked at Willows Casino for 18 years.

What’s your position — do you own the arcade? Manage it?

No. I just work here.

Who does own Willows Casino?

Ruth Campbell. She lives right in Salem.

What’s the season?

They open Easter Sunday, whether it be in March or April, and then they go to October, Columbus Day.

How would you say business has been this year?

Business has been excellent. ...I think the weather’s been on our side. Weather is a key thing.

Do people come at all when it’s raining

?

When it’s raining we will have people come in, but not as many. ... I find that a lot of people don’t come when it’s real, real humid. But the weather’s been pretty good.

Have you ever tried to figure out how many people you serve in a day?

I couldn’t even give you a number. Hundreds. It’s constant, it’s all day.

What time do you open in the morning?

Open at 10, close at 11 at night.

Tell me about the prizes. What’s the most popular?

The most popular prizes with the kids are Snaps. You throw them on the ground and they explode.

Can I see one?

We don’t have any. We’re all out. She ordered them.

How long do people stay when they come here?

They’re all over. Some people go down to the beach, then they come back here and play games.

Casey: We also have camps that come here, day camps, from all over. Once a season we usually have a big camp bus from way up in Maine — way, way, way up in Maine. It takes them a long time to get here, but the kids love it. It’s a family-type place.

How many tickets do the prizes cost?

What’s the range?

Robichaud: It goes from two to thousands.

How have the prizes changed over the years?

Casey: It’s basically the same prizes, except for the high-priced stuff.

How often does somebody get one of the big ticket items?

Robichaud: Not too often...

Casey: They save them for a couple years.

Robichaud: ... But they will save them if they want something. They will save a couple of seasons.

Once or twice a season, somebody gets a big-ticket item?

Robichaud: I would say even more than that. Like, see the fishing rods? We’ve already given out four of them. There are two more up there.

So kids start saving ...

All adults. Adults love it. They’ll win a jackpot. I know some woman now that’s saving for that TV. It’s 28,000.

How have the games changed? What are some of the older games people still play?

Casey: A lot of people do come down just for the Skee-Ball. They’ve been coming since they were kids.

Robichaud: Skee-Ball. They usually update the games; every season they’ll be two or three more games. Like, the Big Bass is new. Fruit Ninja is new — touch screen.