Skill-based "slots"

This is not your mother's slot machine.

Last update: March, 2018.


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For decades, the results of play on electronic gaming machines like slots and video poker were 100% random.  Nothing at all influenced the outcome, just cold, hard randomness.  Suddenly, that's changing.  Nevada law changed in 2016 to allow machines with an element of skill, and in 2017 such machines started slowly creeping into the casinos.

The reason for the change is that casinos are hoping to appeal to younger players with machines that play more like a videogame, since younger players haven't shown much interest in traditional slots.   As older gamblers pass on, they haven't been replaced with as many younger ones, and as a result casino revenues have been plummeting.

Gambling activity decreases with age
Age range % of Vegas visitors
who gambled
<35 63%
35-50 68%
51-69 78%
70-90 87%

Denver Post, 2014 survey

So, is this working?  The reports are mixed, and it's still too early to tell what the long-term result will be.

What the games are like

The early games are taking a variety of forms.

  • Battle games, like a zombie shooter
  • A Guitar Hero knockoff
  • A Fruit Ninja clone
  • Old-school video games, like Space Invaders.  (Though if the idea was to lure millennials, why are they leading with a game that disappeared twenty years before those people were even born?)
  • Puzzle games, like a Candy Crush wannabee
  • I haven't seen trivia yet but I'm expecting it, at least for the multiplayer games.

The skill element takes on many forms:

  • A straight videogame-like experience, where the higher you score, the more money you win. (100% skill)
  • A traditional slot, with a normal, random main round, and an arcade bonus round (like Space Invaders)  (hybrid of skill and chance)
  • Multiplayer games, where you compete against other players to win their money, with the casino taking a commission of the pot. (AP)  The one I saw was based on how fast you could make the best hand with a set of cards.  Let's say each of four players bets a dollar on a round, for a $4 pot.  The winner might get 93% of that ($3.72) with the casino taking 7% ($0.28).

What if I'm not skilled?

Some players might worry that if they're not skilled, they'll lose even more money than they would at regular slots.  That's understandable, but I don't think there's anything to worry about.  First, such players can simply play traditional slots.  They're not going away any time soon.  However, I predict that almost all players will do okay on skill slots, at least in the games with a hybrid of skill and chance.  The casinos don't benefit by alienating players, so I think playing with even a modest level of skill will result in normal returns.  Also, if some players are really bad, the games can adjust on a player-by-player basis, so the game could conceivably get easier, paying back a little more in order to keep the player glued to the seat.

Can expert players kill the games?

It's unlikely that expert players will beat the casino, for a variety of reasons.

  1. The games will probably be set so that even an extraordinary level of skill still results in a slight house edge.
  2. In multiplayer games, the most you'll be able to win is a percentage of the pot.  But even though a player can't beat the casino here, this is a skilled player's best chance of coming out ahead.  It's just like poker, where you battle other players directly instead of the casino.
  3. When someone formidable is playing a player vs. casino game, it's possible for the game can get harder between rounds.  Nevada law allows for that, as long as a message appears on the screen stating what's happening. (14040(2))  I imagine something like "Expert Player!  Difficulty Level Up!"  Calling the player an expert strokes their ego so they might be distracted from the fact that the game is getting harder.  They might think, "Ha!  I'm too good for this game!"

How will I know if a game requires an element of skill?

Nevada law requires such games to advertise that fact clearly. "Gaming devices that offer games of skill or hybrid games must indicate prominently on the gaming device that the outcome of the game is affected by player skill." (14.040(6))

Play slots online

I suggest you play something other than slots because slot odds are so bad.  You could also play online with fake money, because then it doesn't matter if you lose.  A good casino for free-play is Bovada, since it requires no download and no registration.  (If you see a registration box, you can close it and continue without registering.)  You can play with real money too, though I hope you won't (or at least won't bet more than you can comfortably afford to lose). (advertisement)

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Practice gambling with play money

Before you throw down your hard-earned cash in a casino, PRACTICE FIRST!  Learn the games with play money where it doesn't cost you anything if you lose.  Seriously.

You can play Bovada's games (below) right away without registering for an account.  Most every other online casino makes you give up your email address just to play the fake-money games — ugh.  That's the main reason Bovada is the only online casino that gets advertising space on my site.  (When you see the registration box, you can cancel it and proceed to the game without registering.)

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