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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.


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October: Pool Held Hostage
October 2020

Who’d a thunk it?

Seven months have passed since life in the U.S. was officially put on hold because of a worldwide pandemic. For the first few months, life came to a virtual standstill. Now, that seems like ages ago. No longer is toilet paper a hot topic. I remember the early summer, seeing people venture out into public, their hands shielding their eyes from daylight they hadn’t seen in months. It felt like watching an old black and white sci-fi movie.

While still shy of normalcy, the country has made strides to reopen. States have tried to work their ways through “phases,” judiciously allowing certain service industry businesses to once again welcome customers, albeit usually with restrictions.

Now, seven months later, most businesses have reopened. Professional and college sports have returned, some venues even allowing fans. Most restaurants are also open, with limited capacity.

But as BD writer Keith Paradise points out in his feature, “Room and Gloom,” in this month’s issue (pg. 32), most poolrooms in America remain shuttered. The tales of frustration coming from room owners around the country are countless and heartbreaking.

In addition to being deemed “non-essential,” it appears pool is being viewed by local and state government officials as downright detrimental.

Of course, poolrooms are not the only businesses to be continually passed over when states and municipalities relax restrictions. But one of the problems poolrooms face is a lack of organization. In most cases, room owners have been left to fend for themselves in attempting to plead their cases. In some instances, local and regional American Poolplayers Association franchises have rounded up dozens of locations to take their cases to government officials. And, in a few cases, it has proved beneficial. But, for the most part, poolroom owners have been pushing the boulder uphill by themselves.

An obvious assumption would be that the industry’s trade association, the Billiard Congress of America, should come to the aid of the party. After all, part of the BCA’s membership is poolrooms, right?

While that is, indeed, the case, the problem is that there is no value to the industry trying to organize nationally. States (and, in some cases, cities) are creating their own guidelines for business reopenings and public gatherings.

Poolrooms in each state are faced with different obstacles. The challenge for room owners is figuring out where the pressure points are in their particular area. In some cases, simply pleading for reconsideration is the best route. In others, petitioning for reclassification might be the play. Can room owners in an area with a large league presence get their locations reclassified?

Because Luby Publishing also produces magazines for the bowling industry, I have familiarity with that industry’s battle to reopen. Bowling has been faced with similar hurdles but has been able to make headway because of organized fronts in each state. Every state in the U.S. has a state proprietors association. In Illinois, the state bowling proprietors’ association got the governor to reclassify bowling from “recreation” (which lumped them in with bars) to “sport,” thus opening the doors to allow them to, well, reopen the doors. In other states, bowling center owners marched on the capitol and sent bowling pins to the governor.

The key is to be heard.

With the clock running, it’s unrealistic to think that a state’s poolrooms could organize into full, dues-paying, non-profit associations in weeks. But that doesn’t mean that a few poolroom owners in a state that is still fighting to reopen can’t unite to the point of making a group march on a state capitol, or conduct a massive mail campaign.

Would it be easy? No. It would take some leadership to launch the effort and a lot of buy-in.

The alternative? If you have to ask, you’re not paying attention.

This is not a new. There is strength in numbers.

For years, I have implored room owners to organize. And a decade ago, the BCA launched a program aimed at organizing room owners on a national basis to gain purchase power for them. Room owners have always been lukewarm on organizing. Well, this is the rainy day that might have been kept to a drizzle instead of a torrential downpour had they worried less about turf protection and more about strength.

But this isn’t about scolding. This is about encouraging dialogue at the local and state levels. Once that begins, dialogue at the national level with the BCA becomes a lot easier and potentially a lot more beneficial for all.

There is still time. It has been said again and again: Life as we know it may never be the same. If that is the case, being better prepared for challenges in the future is, by itself, reason enough to act now.

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