Donald Hankinson Sr., 76: Leader in electronic games industry
By J.E. Geshwiler
For the AJC
Don Hankinson Sr. was in the business of fun and took great enjoyment in it. Friends say he played the arcade games that he distributed with the enthusiasm of a youngster.
In 1959 he founded Phoenix Amusements Inc., a one-man Atlanta operation that grew to have customers nationwide. Nowadays his company provides entertainment equipment — both classic and state-of-the-art electronic games, simulators, pinball machines, etc. — for corporate clients such as Google, Shell Oil and Hewlett Packard to use in their marketing tours and trade shows. It also provides props for motion pictures such as the recent comedy, “Neighborhood Watch.”
“Don was a leader in his industry and brought a lot of respectability to it as president of the Georgia Amusement and Music Operators and a director of the Amusement and Music Operators of America,” said Les Schneider, an Atlanta attorney who represented the Georgia trade group.
Schneider said Hankinson was a savvy businessman with a high sense of ethics and empathy for others.
Born in St. Louis, Hankinson came to Atlanta with his family at age 14. His father bought grocery stores for the A&P chain, but leased juke boxes on the side. Eventually Hankinson took his father’s sideline and ran with it, branching out first to pinball machines, then electromagnetic games, and then to computerized games such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. In the 1980s, he went full-tilt into leasing and servicing arcade games.
Hankinson’s company provided arcade games for major events in Atlanta such as the 1996 Olympics, the NCAA Final Four and the BellSouth Classic, as well as for student events at the University of Georgia, Emory University and Georgia State.
David Capilouto of Marietta, a regional vice president of Betson Industries, said Hankinson was one of his first customers in 1976. “Don was a one-man show at the time, a great salesman who maintained and serviced his equipment. He made certain he was on the cutting edge of innovation.”
A son, Don Hankinson Jr. of Sharpsburg, said his father was always devising technical improvements.
“When young customers found they could avoid paying for coin-operated games by drilling holes in a quarter, tying a string to it and pulling the coin back after inserting it, he developed a device that would cut the string and foil the chiselers. Pop also thought of ways to recycle arcade machines by turning them into totally different games, saving money in the process,” his son said.
His wife of 47 years, Harriette Hankinson, said he was an ardent tennis player most of his life. In 1956 he won a 3A Georgia high school singles championship and later played one year each on the University of Georgia and Georgia State University tennis teams. In 1965 he was president of the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association.
“Through most of his adult life, Bitsy Grant Tennis Center was his home away from home,” his wife said.