H. Betti Industries Inc.
H. Betti Industries Inc.
Founded: 1934 as H. Betti & Sons
Sales: $200 million (2005 est.)
NAIC: 423620 Electrical and Electronic Appliance, Television, and Radio Set Merchant Wholesalers
H. Betti Industries Inc., parent company of Betson Enterprises, is a private company based in Carlstadt, New Jersey, owned and operated by the Betti family. The company sells, services, and provides financing for new and used amusement and vending machine equipment through its Betson subsidiary.
Amusement products include jukeboxes, the company’s original focus; pinball machines, many of which license cultural icons such as The Simpsons, Elvis Presley, the Sopranos, NASCAR, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Harley-Davidson; the shuffle alley bowl game; softtip electronic dart games; tables games, including air hockey, foosball, and coin-operated pool tables; a wide variety of video games; smaller touch-screen game systems; redemption games that either dispense tickets that can be redeemed for prizes or self-contained redemption units like cranes; and novelty items such as mini-children’s carousels, other small children’s rides, and photo booths.
Betson maintains distributorships in Syracuse, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; Bensenville, Illinois; San Francisco, California; Dallas, Texas; and Phoenix, Arizona. Another H. Betti Industries division, Imperial International, sells and services a wide variety of billiard and pool tables, balls, cues, and cases. In addition, the division offers cue racks, billiard lamps, spectator chairs, pub tables, and bars, and other game tables, soccer tables (similar to foosball), and professional quality table tennis units. Imperial maintains offices in New Jersey and California and sells its products through a dealer network.
FOUNDER EMIGRATES TO AMERICA: 1927
The man behind the H. Betti name was Humbert S. Betti. Although born in Argentina, he was raised in Italy. His cosmopolitan ways continued when at the age of 16 he left home to establish himself in England. Here he opened an ice cream parlor, which grew into a farflung chain of shops. He was less successful, however, with a chocolate factory he invested in. He decided next to start over in the United States and in 1927 left behind his family, which included four sons and a pair of daughters, to move to New York City. He soon became a successful restaurateur in Greenwich Village and was able to reunite the family.
In addition to his restaurant, Betti became partowner in a bar after Prohibition was repealed and Americans could once again legally drink alcohol. For entertainment the tavern installed one of the new electronically amplified Automatic Coin-Operated Phonographs, which soon became popularly known as the jukebox.
They started out with a unit manufactured by the Mills company, but then replaced in with a 12-record unit from Wurlitzer, the company that would dominate the field. Betti began representing Wurlitzer, placing them in other bars in the New York area. He did so well that he sold his own bar and formed H. Betti & Sons in 1934, working out of a warehouse in Union City, New Jersey. In addition to jukeboxes Betti distributed another popular tavern amusement, pinball machines, which were also emerging in the 1930s. Once countertop machines, they were fitted with legs and gained in popularity.
They differed from contemporary machines in many ways, however. The bumper was not introduced until 1937 and another decade would pass before the all-important flipper was added. The flipper added a measure of skill to what had in essence been a game of chance. The players only control over the machines had been to lift and shake them. Very quickly manufacturers introduced a “tilt” mechanism. As a result, manufacturers ensured that pinball machines remained a game of chance and during the Great Depression compounded their error by emphasizing their gambling aspect. Pinball machines became banned in many communities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City in 1941, hampering the business for decades.
H. Betti was very much a family affair. With no outside employees Betti relied on his sons to help make deliveries and repairs and collect the money. That would all change with the advent of World War II, however. Because all four of the boys were serving in the military, the two Betti daughters filled in during their absence, helping their father to make the rounds. They were helped by the first nonfamily member, Charlie Hopper, who served as a collector. The family was fortunate and the four sons returned home safely. Three of them, Humbert, Jr. (Bert), Hugh, and Eddie began to help run the family business, while the fourth, Louis, went off on his own, establishing a route to distribute candy, cigarettes, and coffee. His place was essentially taken at H. Betti and Sons by the second nonfamily member in the company, Lou Avoglia, who would specialize in the growing vending business.
Although jukeboxes continued to be the main source of income in the years immediately after the war, the company began to gradually diversify. Taking over a corner of the warehouse, Bert began to stock cue sticks and other billiard and pool accessories. The business enjoyed steady growth so that by 1952 it became a fullfledged division. Assuming the name Eastern Novelty, it supplied area bars with pool tables and accessories. When bumper pool table became popular, Eastern Novelty began covering them with felt for a major distributor. Another profitable sideline that developed during the early 1950s was the importation of Northern Italian slate used in making six-pocket pool tables. While this division expanded, the jukebox business benefited during this period when the price per song increased from a nickel to a dime, thus boosting collections.
H. Betti and Sons was reorganized in the early 1960s after a vending route was launched. To handle the jukebox and pinball route, Betson Enterprises was formed, while Betson Vending maintained the new vending route. To accommodate the expanded business, the company also moved into a larger facility in North Bergen, New Jersey, conveniently located close to the New Jersey entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, which led into Midtown Manhattan, allowing deliveries to spread from there into New York City’s five boroughs. In addition, the extra space allowed H. Betti to represent new jukebox manufacturers, such as Rock-Ola, and pinball manufacturers, including Automatic Products, Chicago Coin, and Midway Manufacturing.
Betson’s roots are in distribution, both amusement & vending, but in recent years we have expanded our parts and service business as well as successfully manufacturing and marketing classic games such as Cruis’n Exotica, Rush 2049, and Arctic Thunder.
The late 1960s brought other changes to H. Betti. Eastern Novelty was thriving. More than just maintaining a local route, the company was, by now, providing slate to all major six-pocket pool table manufacturers. In addition, the company opened an office on the other side of the country, in Sun Valley, California. These factors prompted a name change to reflect the company’s ambitions that extended well beyond its New Jersey roots. Here, Eastern Novelty became Imperial Billiards in 1968. Betson Enterprises also turned its attention to the West Coast during this period by taking a stake in Portale Automatic sales, a Los Angeles dealership started by Bob Portale. As a result, H. Betti positioned itself to benefit in 1972 when California finally legalized pinball machines. The stigma attached to pinball was finally lifting, and soon the machines were also legalized in New York and New Jersey, providing a spur to H. Betti’s business.
The 1970s brought a changing of the guard and further expansion. In 1971, Humbert Betti, Sr., died at the age of 88. Just three years later his son Eddie died, followed two years later by the passing of Louis. At the time of the founder’s death the company was generating $1 million in annual revenues. Just a year earlier, in 1970, a third generation of the family became involved in the company, Bert’s son Peter, who came on board after earning a degree in international affairs and a minor in business from American University. Then, in 1974 Hugh’s son Joe, moved to the West Coast to work with the Imperial LA operation.
There was plenty of work available for the younger generation, as the Betson routes expanded into Connecticut and Long Island and new product lines were added, in particular video games like Asteroids and Space Invaders that soared in popularity. Nevertheless, Betson remained little more than a mom-and-pop operation in the New York City metropolitan area until 1978 when it acquired New Jersey-based distributor Runyon Sales. Not only did the deal make Betson the largest distributor in the metropolitan area, Runyon brought with it the rights to distribute the lucrative Bally line of pinball machines.
In the 1980s Betson took the next step in its evolution by phasing out its route operation, which collected proceeds from some 3,000 units. The main thrust of Betson on the East Coast was its distribution activities. Around this time, the Portale operations in Los Angeles and San Francisco were struggling following the death of Bob Portale. The Betti family bought out the Portale family, renamed it Betson Pacific (later Betson West), and dispatched Peter Betti to see what he could do about reviving the business. After weeding out poor performing employees and tightening the operation, which had compounded the error of holding too much inventory by overextending credit, he expected to be back in New Jersey in six months. Instead, he never left California.
In the 1980s many distributors were retrenching, shutting down offices and contracting, but H. Betti took an opposite approach. Betson West expanded beyond California, opening an office Phoenix. In the northeast, the parent company was also increasing its footprint, launching New England Coin-Op in Massachusetts and Betson Advance in Syracuse to cover upstate New York. To support the growing business, H. Betti moved into a new and larger facility in Moonachie, New Jersey. Imperial Billiards, in the meantime, changed its name to Imperial International and began doing some business overseas business. Another significant development during the 1980s was the addition of redemption games, especially the Big Choice crane offered by the Belgium company, Elaut Amusement Games. After seeing the crane at a London trade show, Betson made a major commitment to Elaut and began importing the crane, which was essentially Betson’s first proprietary product. The gamble paid off, as the company sold a large number of the devices.
The start of the 1990s brought the third generation to the top ranks of the organization as Bert and Hugh Betti retired, although they would continue to come into the office on a regular basis. Peter Betti took over as chairman of the board, while nonfamily member Joe Circillo served as president. The company continued to expand through acquisitions. The addition of Eastern Distributing brought a distribution office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Across the state in Pittsburgh, Betson gained an office through the purchase of Atlas Music and Games. H. Betti also teamed up with Alpha-Omega Amusement Group in 1994 to formed a joint venture, Alpha-Bet Entertainment LLC, to collect from amusement machines placed in major entertainment venues.
- Humbert S. Betti begins placing jukeboxes in taverns.
- Eastern Novelty is formed.
- Humbert Betti dies.
- Runyon Sales is acquired.
- Joint venture Alpha-Bet Entertainment LLC is formed.
- State Sales and Service Corporation is acquired.
- Betson Midwest is established.
To feed the pipeline for new products, H. Betti invested in American Lasers Games, a video game developer that would score a major hit with Mad Dog McCree. In addition, H. Betti moved its main office once again, this time to an 82,000-square-foot facility in Carlstadt, New Jersey. One venture that did not pan out as hoped was the 1998 opening of a 9,500-square-feet family entertainment mall, The Garage, established at the Stadium Promenade in Orange County, California. H. Betti hoped to open similar units in Southern California and eventually take the concept across the country, but the concept failed to live up to expectations.
NEW CENTURY, FURTHER GROWTH
Early in the new century H. Betti cracked the $100 million mark in revenues. Betson’s parts distribution operation was merged with Imperial’s similar unit to form Betson Imperial Parts & Service, and thereby provide customers with a single vendor to deal with. H. Betti continued to expand through external means as well. In 2002 it acquired State Sales and Service Corporation, a major distributor with offices in Carteret, New Jersey; Bensalem, Pennsylvania; and Baltimore, Maryland. After the economy stalled in the early 2000s, State Sales struggled and H. Betti was able to acquire the assets at a reasonable cost. Betson added a Dallas, Texas, office in 2004 through the acquisition of Spirit Distributing. Imperial opened a Chicago office, and in 2006 Betson moved there as well, opening Betson Midwest. To gain new products to sell through these operations, Betson inked distribution deals with such major game developers as Raw Thrills, makers of “The Fast and the Furious” and “Target: Terror”; Midway Games, for a number of upgraded games and remakes; Taito, known for “Battle Gear 33”; and Konami, developer of “Warzaid”.
Betson Enterprises; Imperial International.
Alpha Omega Amusement & Sales; American Vending Sales; Bay Coin Distributors.
“H. Betti Industries—Still Going Strong After 70 Years in the Coin Machine Biz,” RePlay Magazine, July 2004, p. 101.
Pries, Allison, “New Jersey Business Thrives on Coin-Operated Games, Vending Machine,” Record (Hackensack, N.J.), September 2001.
White, Steve, “Betson Finalizes Acquisition of State Sales,” AB Europe, March 2002, p. 16.
_____, “H. Betti to Acquire State Sales,” AB Europe, January 2002, p. 18.