Dust off your old plastic guitars and hone your bird shooting abilities, because skill based games could soon be debuting in Atlantic City.

New Jersey took a decisive step toward introducing the format on casino floors this Tuesday, when the state’s gaming regulatory body (the Division of Gaming Enforcement) posted guidelines by which skill game manufacturers must adhere to.

Although skill based gaming was initially approved in Atlantic City back in October 2014, the new regulations offer the first clear picture of how games that require some measure of physical or mental aptitude will function.

Full guidelines can be found here.

Skill based gaming regulations at a glance

According to the regulations, operators must fully disclose the rules of any skill based game “in a readily available, accurate and non-misleading manner.” Information available to patrons must include:

  • The game rules
  • The required wager, along with the amount paid to winners and any applicable house fees
  • A clear indicator that the outcome is impacted by player skill

Games of skill are categorized into two categorizes: those possessing an RNG element and pure skill games. In the case of an RNG game, the theoretical hold must not fall below 83 percent. No such restrictions exist for games of pure skill.

Also worth noting, the game cannot alter any setting (including difficult) once gameplay has been initiated. However, nothing is said about changing the difficulty from game to game, leaving the door open for a machine to base overall game difficulty on a player’s lifetime or recent performance, and adjusting as necessary. In this scenario, it’s plausible that a personal ranking score for each skill game would be tied to a player’s casino club card.

In-game enhancements, such as those that inundate the typical mobile app, are permissible in so long as all patrons are advised that the purchase will grant the purchasing player an advantage.

More interesting still, it looks like the casino can sponsor its own skilled human opponents. This would appear to grant the casino an overwhelming edge in pure skill games, as it’s free to sponsor only the very best gamers.

However, the language of the regulation outlines certain player safeguards that should prevent gamers from being unknowingly exploited, one of which “provides the patron with the ability to elect whether or not to play against a computerized or house sponsored opponent.”

Finally, the rules dictate that peer to peer skill games be monitored as to combat collusion and money laundering.

What type of skill games can players expect to see?

The exact nature of the games that will make their way to the casino floor is still largely a question mark, however we now have a better idea of skill game categories and how the house will generate profits from each category. A few possibilities include:

  • RNG/skill hybrids: These will typically come in the form of slot machines with a skill game component, most likely a skillful bonus game. The theoretical payout from these games will vary, from at least 83 percent up to say 99 percent, based on a player’s ability.
  • Peer-to-peer “pure skill” contests: Similar to the free throw contest held at the Borgata last March, these games will pit registrants against one another, with the house taking a small percentage of each buy-in.
  • Handicapped games: Man vs. computer/house sponsored opponent games where the difficulty of the game or quality of the opponent is determined based on the player’s own skill level.

As far as specifics, manufactures have already begun development on arcade games such as Guitar Hero, Angry Birds and Words with Friends. Pinball machines are also in the works.

Projecting the impact of skill based games

In theory, skill based gaming should attract a new player demographic, specifically young millennials that grew up on video games and have little interest in old fashioned slot machines.

The inclusion of skill based slots may also drive jaded players back to the terminals, as they’ll now have a say in their own fate. Going further, it’s easy to see those who already use skill to minimize or overcome the house edge – primarily video poker, blackjack and poker players – taking to the new format.

Those eager to test their mettle may not have to wait very long, as the presser outlines a fast-track provision whereby “gaming products that are submitted to New Jersey prior to or simultaneously with any other jurisdiction or testing lab to be tested and, if approved, put on the casino floor within 14 days.

At present, Nevada is the only casino market where skill based gaming regulations have been set, although to date, these games are not offered by Las Vegas casinos.

Robert DellaFave

About

Robert DellaFave is involved in the legal New Jersey online gambling industry in a number of ways. Not only does he contribute to a variety of online gambling publications focused on regulated US online poker and online casino sites, he is also a game designer.