Nevada Casinos Brace For Change with Skill-Based Gaming on the Horizon
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As the average age of slot players continues to creep upwards, Las Vegas casinos are struggling with ways to bring younger tables to the machines. While the AARP crowd can still be relied upon to keep the slots humming for now, the casinos are playing a long game and want to be sure that the next generation, as well as the ones after that, enjoy dropping their dollars (or perhaps someday, Bitcoins) into slot machines with the same abandon of today’s hardcore users. Their best hope – skill based machines.

Though the early days of pinball machines had an aspect where a player could earn money based on how well he or she played the game, for most of Las Vegas’s history, the amount won on a slot machine has been based solely on chance and the amount bet. Skill has not been part of the equation with one player just as likely to win as another (don’t tell this to slot tournament players, though, as they’ll never believe it.)

With today’s twenty and thirty something gamblers having grown up on Xbox and Playstation, though, the old spinning wheels aren’t grabbing them the way they used to. Though we’re already seeing the influence of video games on some of today’s modern media-influenced machines like Batman, The Big Bang Theory, and the Rolling Stones, these are still the same random number generator machines gussied up in a sleek new package.

Imagine instead if these millennials that the casinos are so hungry to develop into life long gamblers could instead play something like a video game, making the process more fun and engaging for them, and if the quality of their play influenced the amount they won. All but the strongest willed among them would play over and over again, putting in the same time to gain the same mastery of the game that the devoted put into Doney Kong a generation or two ago. But this time, the goal of earning more and more money is only adding to the allure.

Up until very recently, however, any sort of skill-based gaming has been illegal in Las Vegas. In 2015, with pressure from the major casinos, that has begun to change and at a rapid pace. In the spring of the year, Senate Bill 9 started the process, calling on gaming regulators to review the rules governing features on slot machines. Following a number of hearings, in late September, the Nevada Gaming Commission passed regulations, clearing the way for skill-based gaming. With passage long expected, the first such products were ready for display at the Global Gaming Expo later that month.

One such game is NanoTech’s CasinoKat. Imagine a cute furry cat instead of a famous chomping circle moving through a maze to avoid hazards and you’re on the right track. Another offering by the same company is Vegas 2047, a steampunk influenced post-modern take on pinball, which plays pretty much like a regular game of pinball. However, once the last ball has dropped between the flippers, the wheel spins and the player finds out if they won or lost. The better they play, the more likely a win becomes.

To say casinos are eager to put this great experiment to the test is putting it very mildly indeed. Just off Fremont Street in old Las Vegas, the Downtown Grand has distinct plans to grab younger gamers with skill-based gaming. Just inside the casino and adjacent to a bar featuring craft beers, the casino plans a row of skill-based games, giving the familiar and inviting appearance of an arcade to anyone who wanders inside. Other casinos, to varying degrees, should be expected to do something similar.

The Vice President of Slots for the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, Justin Andrews, when speaking with Hawaii News Now, said “Millenials are more attracted to the electronic table games than the traditional slots.” With an average age 11 years younger than traditional slot players, the electronic table games have reached a new market of gamblers, and it’s expected that skill based games will take this even further.
The question still remains as to how such machines would actually work. Don’t expect to see someone who’s mastered Ms. Pac-Man to enter a casino with a quarter and leave with a fortune. But, the best players will have a clear advantage.

Currently, with an average payout for slots of 93.6%, a player wagering $100 could expect to make back $93.60. Skill based games, however, might start out with a much lower 88% base payout. A talented player (or the casinos’ preference of player who has put in a lot of time to gain experience with the machine) could dramatically increase their payout possibilities to as much as a 98% return.

After a sudden and dramatic entrance for skill-based gaming, expect further changes to be incremental. Even if they do achieve their expected popularity among younger gamblers, the traditional reel and video slot machines are still going to be the game of choice for older players for a long time to come. But, just as slots gradually took up more and more casino floor space from the table games that dominated old Las Vegas, if the skill based games fulfill their promise of a more immersive and engaging experience, the Las Vegas of the future may have as much in common with a boardwalk arcade in Seaside Heights, NJ, as it will with anything that Bugsy Siegel ever laid eyes upon.