Making an Argument for Skill-Based Slots

Editorial

If you asked people to name a casino game, there’s a good chance a large number of them would choose the slot machines. The rows of brightly coloured machines, with their flashing lights and distinctive sounds have become an iconic scene. The key to their popularity is their simplicity: push a button or pull a lever and pray that Lady Luck is on your side. Modern slots have built on the classic design to increase the fun factor with cascading reels, bonus multipliers and progressive jackpots, increasing the players’ chances of winning.

Yet, the machines also remain a favourite of the house, because they are guaranteed to make a profit. You see, unlike poker and blackjack, slot machines are entirely based upon luck. You can’t count cards, read opponents or develop a system to ‘beat the game’. No matter who sits in the chair, they have exactly the same chance of winning as everyone else. And this is becoming and increasing problem for younger gamers.

We live in a different technological world now. The preponderance of video games has given rise to a new phenomenon in the gaming and gambling world – esports. Players compete in all manner of games and genres, and esports betting has begun to find its way into casinos. Esports victories require the player to develop and improve their skills in order to beat not only the game, but other players. And with such a high number of millennials playing video games, either competitively or just for fun, this idea that people who are better at the game should get improved rewards, is ingrained in the generation. It’s easy to understand then, why traditional games of chance, like slots, have fallen out of favour.

One place where slots are seeing a resurgence however, is online. Digital software allows for greater creativity than the traditional spinning reels, some websites offer more than a hundred online slots to choose from. Many are themed around popular culture; there are slots based on movies, books, celebrities, and even popular games. Online slots also often include bonus mini games that give the player a chance to improve their winnings with a skill-based game like matching symbols or shooting targets. And the popularity of these elements, along with the emergence of esports, has given traditional slots manufacturers a controversial new idea.

Skill-based slot machines are a new take on several old favourites. They take the monetised aspect of slot machines and merge them with the skill of old-school arcade games. Players no longer have equal chances of winning – those with better skills can receive higher pay outs – and it’s causing a huge division within the gambling scene. Skill-based slot machines have been criticised by traditionalists for taking away the ‘gambling’ element from the game. They argue that the whole idea behind gambling is that anyone can win: these are luck-based games where everyone has a chance of scooping the jackpot. Adding a skilled element detracts from this very principle. Video poker machines have become very popular in casinos because they appear to offer gamblers an element of control over what is actually a completely random outcome. Critics are worries that skill-based slot machines will offer players the same false ideas.

However, there is no denying that use of the traditional slot machines is waning. Younger generations aren’t interested in games of pure chance. Skill-based machines have been slowly trickling into casinos over the last few years as owners are willing to give them a chance. In America, they have seen a great uptake in Nevada and New Jersey, partly because they seem to circumnavigate America’s strict gambling laws. Online slots with skill-based elements have proved to be immensely popular, and if land-based casinos are going to keep up with their online counterparts, they need to be offering similar games.

So what makes skill-based slots so appealing to the younger generation of gamblers? Rather than functioning as a traditional slot machine, where you try and match up the numbers in a line, skill-based slots appear related in name only. You won’t find spinning numbers and symbols anywhere; skill-based slots look more like your average mobile game. Players make a wager, and rather than the machine having a fixed payback percentage, this is determined by your skills at completing the game. Therefore someone who makes a small wager, but plays the game very well, could potentially make more money back than an unskilled player who places higher bets. This system of reward fits better with the Millennial mind-set and is hugely appealing to anyone with a competitive nature. It goes directly against the reward system of a standard slot machine, which has earned the games a lot of enemies.

Ultimately, only time will tell whether skill-based slot machines prove as successful as their traditional counterparts. Slot machines have been around for almost 100 years and along the way they have evolved from three-wheel fruit machines and one-armed bandits, to the high-tech, fully-digitised consoles that line our casinos nowadays. When the reels expanded from three to five, there will have been gamblers who complained that the changes were unwanted. Similarly, when the reels first span on a screen, many will have felt that the machines lost a huge part of their analogue charm.

The point is that change will always have those who rally against it, but it is usually brought about for a reason. Today’s casinos are facing a losing battle as online casinos and esports arcades draw away their customers. With an ageing population of traditional gamblers, something has to be done to encourage new business. An if that means developing games which are more to their tastes, then skill-based slot machines may only be the first in a new wave of gambling developments. They are bringing excitement and competition back to the casino floors, along with scores of younger gamblers looking to beat not only the house, but their mates’ high scores too.

Last modified: July 26, 2019

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