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The most well-known pinball shows in the United States – in no particular order – are arguably the Texas Pinball Festival, Pinburgh/Replay FX, and Pinball Expo in Chicago.
The Chicago Pinball Expo has been run by Rob Berk and Mike Pacak for 33 years. They have now split. Rob will be starting a new show called Pinball Palooza. It is not known what will become of Pinball Expo.
This Week in Pinball spoke to Rob Berk about his plans and the reasons for the split. Read them below:
This Week in Pinball: We’ve heard through the grapevine that Expo will be going through some changes in 2018. Can you share some of those changes?
Rob Berk: Yes, basically I’ve left my partner Mike Pacak and decided to do a show on my own which I’m calling Pinball Palooza. And it is going to be in Schaumburg, Illinois, and the dates will be September 12th-15th. And it will be basically the same idea, the same format as we’ve had with Pinball Expo – only a whole lot more.
TWIP: So is Pinball Expo still planning to go on?
RB: Thats a question even I don’t know. In discussing with our attorneys, it is unclear exactly who owns Pinball Expo at this point in time. So for the sake of moving forward and getting the momentum going, I’ve changed the name to Pinball Palooza, at least at this time. I guess eventually, whatever comes to be will pass and things will get worked out.
TWIP: Is this happening because of – I’ve heard Mike can be a bit abrasive at times – is it just disagreements with Mike that is leading to this?
RB: I believe it is a difference in opinions on several different ideas about how the show should be run. At the end of the day, it just needed a change. Needed a new venue. It needed some more exciting aspects to it. It was time for a change, and I decided this was the time to do it.
TWIP: And how long have you and Mike been doing Pinball Expo?
RB: If I’m not mistaken, 32 or 33 years. I don’t know if you know the history, but the whole idea, the whole show was something I came up with in 1984. I had this vision of having a show where I could honor my heroes, which were the pinball designers and the artists. That was the idea behind even doing Pinball Expo. So after the first year, in my mind I was done. I had honored all these great designers. And after the show was over, maybe six months people started approaching me saying “when is the next show?” And I said there is no next show. But they said “this show was too much fun, you gotta keep it going!” and that is how it has continued to this day.
TWIP: Is Pinball Palooza to replace Expo?
RB: In my mind yes.
TWIP: Is the new venue bigger?
RB: The main thing is – the exhibit space will be more than double the size of the existing Expo. That is something I always thought it needed. It’ll be larger and more spacious and just everything about it is a plus. It will be nothing but a good experience for people to come to the show.
TWIP: Have you reached out to the manufacturers like Stern and JJP?
RB: Not every one of them, but most of them. And they’re all on board. And they’re here to support me, and that’s a good thing.
TWIP: Do you think we’ll see Spooky and others back in the exhibit hall?
RB: I was told directly by Spooky that if I do a show, he would be there to support me. So I think he’s coming back. Spooky as well as many others that have quit coming to the show for whatever reason. So it would be a lot of positive energy there, that is what I’m looking for. I want people to leave with a great experience – not a good experience, but a great experience – and say “man, this was fun. The whole show was fun from the beginning to the very end.” That is my whole focus.
(Note: Spooky says this is not 100% accurate, and will address this on their next podcast.)
TWIP: So a few years down the road, how do you see Pinball Palooza in the future?
RB: Massive. Because Chicago is the home of pinball. And I think big. I think at the end of the day, I just want people to have a great experience, and a fun experience, and a memorable experience. And I’ll do everything I can to make that happen. Pack your bags now, and get ready to rock!