First Skill-Based Slot Machines in Las Vegas Debut, Here’s the Low-Down

Skill-based slot machines, the subject of much buzz and speculation over the last couple of years, have officially arrived in a Las Vegas casino.

The first skill-based slot machines in Las Vegas can now be played at Planet Hollywood, and we’ve got all the details about what casinos are hoping will help deal with “The Millennial Problem.”

Gamblit skill-based slot machines

Welcome to Las Vegas, you sexy, skill-based vixens, you.

The Millennial Problem, of course, is the belief on the part of casinos and slot machine makers that traditional slots are “losing their luster,” especially with younger customers, specifically, millennials. While the number of millennials visiting Las Vegas is going up (roughly 34 percent of the city’s 43 million visitors in 2016 were millennials, an increase of 24 percent since 2015), casinos cite a decline in slot machine play as evidence millennials raised on video games don’t find traditional slot machines compelling.

There’s some debate about whether The Millennial Problem actually exists, but damn it, casinos are out to solve it whether it exists or not. That’s where skill-based slot machines enter the picture.

Why, look, here’s one now. This is one of three skill-based slot machines at Planet Hollywood.

skill-based slot machine

If you’re a millennial, your nether region should be throbbing right about now.

Of the three games being tested on the casino floor at Planet Hollywood (the machines have to pass a field trial before regulatory approval can be granted), two are Gamblit Poker and the third is a game called Cannonbeard’s Treasure.

The first distinctive thing you notice about these skill-based games is you can’t play with yourself. Yes, we know how that sounds, we are a snark-based Las Vegas blog.

The machines can accommodate up to four players each, but not individual players.

It should be noted the machines currently won’t take loyalty club cards, in case you’re into that kind of thing.

Here’s how they work.

Gamblit Poker is a variation of (wait for it) poker. Players “grab” cards from a common pool of cards, building a hand of five cards. The player with the best hand wins the jackpot, the amount of which is determined by the machine.

Cannonbeard’s Treasure is a variation of blackjack. Players, again, grab cards from a pool of cards. The cards are added up, and the player whose card total is closest to the target number (without going over) wins the pot.

Here’s a look at how the simulated game play looks on the machines, courtesy of us risking our neck to get video of how the simulated game play looks on these machines.

A key element of skill-based machines, and what differentiates them from traditional slot machines, is customers aren’t playing against the machine (or a dealer), they’re playing against each other. The outcome is based upon skill, rather than chance alone.

Mind, meet blown.

So, let’s dig a bit deeper into the pros and cons of Gamblit Poker and Cannonbeard’s Treasure.

First, a big pro of these games is the low price to play. There’s a $2 Gamblit Poker and Cannonbeard’s Treasure is also $2. There’s also a $5 Gamblit Poker.

Second, the competitive and social aspects of skill-based games are undeniable. Traditional slot machines are solitary endeavors. With skill-based games, you can hang out with friends and do your best to relieve them of their hard-earned cash.

Observing people play skill-based slots, it’s easy to see how one’s competitive instincts can kick in, keeping players engaged and playing longer than they might otherwise.

Interactivity certainly does seem to be more appealing than staring blankly at a screen while repeatedly hitting a button.

skill-based slot machine

This is Cannonbeard’s Treasure. They had us as “each player gets not one, but two, cup holders.”

The biggest twist in this whole story, though, is millennials aren’t actually the ones playing skill-based games, at least not the ones at Planet Hollywood. Millennials are curious about the machines, but they’re hit-and-run looky-loos, rarely playing more than $20 a pop.

Truth be told, we didn’t see a ton of play on these machines at all. But when people played, they weren’t millennials. Who’s playing skill-based slots? Slot players. That’s right, older players who already enjoy slot machines. A representative of Gamblit confirmed millennials aren’t the majority of those playing skill-based slots.

That ought to give casino operators more than a few restless nights.

While play on the machines appears light, there’s obviously going to be a period when awareness of the games has to be raised. At Planet Hollywood, a small sign tells customers they can actually gamble on these tables. Most would mistake them for similar interactive, touchscreen tables like those in several Las Vegas lounges like Ignite at Monte Carlo, Encore Players Lounge at Wynn and iBar Ultra Lounge at Rio.

The new games are simply lost among the crop of current slot machines, many with massive vertical screens.

skill-based slot machines

Not gonna lie, we’re missing you a little right now, Quark’s Bar.

Those who did play the games seemed to spend a lot of time just sitting and drinking and talking. Which is great if you’re trying to increase revenue from drinks, but not so much if you’re trying to make money from gambling. At a table game, dealers and other players keep the pressure on to make more bets. The social aspect of skill-based games actually distracts from the gambling.

A critical downside to these games, though, has to do with perceived value.

As players make bets, the machine serves up the amount of the jackpot they’re trying to win. In the vast majority of cases, the jackpot is less than the players are contributing.

For example, we saw a couple sit down to play Gamblit Poker. They each bet $5, for a total contribution of $10. The jackpot was $7.50. They had fun playing, but the next pot was the same, ditto the one after that. It didn’t take the couple long to realize they were getting dinged a $2.50 “rake” with each passing hand.

The rake accumulates, similar to the jackpots in progressive machines. Part of the rake goes to the machine manufacturer, and the manufacturer has a revenue sharing agreement with the casino. We’ve yet to see any published information about the house edge for these games.

While the potential for larger jackpots is there (the max jackpot on the $5 machine is $1,200, $480 on the $2 machine), the couple cashed out and dashed. A Gamblit rep says the biggest jackpots happen several times each hour, but the perception problem means many players won’t be sticking around that long.

Presumably, though, the more play the machine gets, the more frequently the larger jackpots (considerably more than what the players are betting at any time) will hit.

There are some other peculiar aspects to these skill-based games.

For starters, we were told there will always be an attendant with the games. Why? Because they have to monitor the play to avoid collusion and bullying. We were told there’s the potential for experienced players, or teams, to take advantage of novice players. Essentially, there’s room for cheating.

A smaller annoyance, but one that’s undeniable, is the table surfaces require constant cleaning. Nobody wants to touch a screen that has hand smudges all over it, so attendants have to continually spritz and wipe the screens. High maintenance is right.

skill-based slot machines

Gamblit calls these skill-based slot machines “ModelG.” Find the ModelG spot near the Pleasure Pit, if you get our drift.

Overall, these new skill-based slot machines are a great conversation piece, and any “first” is a great PR opportunity.

It’s premature to say, though, skill-based slot machines are going to halt or reverse the decline of slot revenue trends. In fact, we’re going to venture they’ll have little or no effect on those numbers. Oh, yeah, we’re putting our naysaying right out there.

Gamblit officials have said they’re happy with the early results of their field test, but honestly, what would you expect them to say?

Here’s the bottom line, and it’s something you won’t hear often.

The fact is millennials are smarter than previous generations.

Millennials know more about gambling than their parents or grandparents ever did.

They know casinos have been gradually increasing the house edge for 20 years, and what millennials aren’t particularly interested in is being screwed. Shocker.

Millennials aren’t a thing, they’re people. People who happen to be technologically adept. People who value experiences. They’re people who know when the deck is stacked against them, and know when they’re being squeezed. They want value for their entertainment dollars, just like the rest of us.

Here’s how you solve The Millennial Problem. Lower the rake. Lower the minimums. Bring comped drinks more frequently. Let people take photos in the casino to share with friends.

The Millennial Problem isn’t a slot machine problem or a disposable income problem. It’s a perceived value problem.

And here’s hoping casinos are listening, because giving customers, young and old, better value and remarkable experiences is the solution. All due respect, Cannonbeard.

Share some Vegas. Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone
  • Photoncounter

    Do they serve casserole there?

    • Michael James

      The should. Giordano’s is the bomb!

    • RustyHammer

      If they want to attract millenials, casserole is the answer!

    • EnuffBull

      No time to cater to millennials; I’m too busy making sweet, sweet love to my casserole. (black lights and boom-chicka-wa-wah music playing)

  • Dean_Winchester

    This isnt at all what I was thinking when I first heard about “skill based” slots. What I pictured was something like a Pac-Man slot, where during the bonus round you play an actual game of Pac-Man, and your skill at playing Pac-Man influences your bonus. I’d play the hell out of a game like that. Also, I’d never play the games described above, as I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking my friends money. (Gen X btw)

    • Rj Aznir

      I was thinking that too. You could lose a friend.

  • razmaspaz

    “They know casinos have been gradually increasing the house edge for 20 years, and what millennials aren’t particularly interested in is being screwed. Shocker.”

    I made the millennial generational cut by a few milliseconds (tail end of 1980). I don’t identify with most of the millennial traits, but this rings true for me. I’ve played slots for all of 20 minutes to find out what the fuss is about, and a solitary, money bleeding activity is not what i was after. Similar to how you describe these games, even growing up in the video game generation, I’m not feeling it. I play low edge games, precisely because I know they are low edge. VP + BJ are already skill based games (granted the skill just means you lose slower) and those are incredibly attractive for that reason.

    I agree with others that I had assumed these would be actual video games, like pac-man. Of course, if you’re gonna build a “skill based” slot, why not just charge $1 for pac man, and forget the whole jackpot thing. You’re still pumping quarters into a machine, and the casino eliminates the risk of having to pay the progressive. I guess they call that an e-sports arena though.

    It’s worth noting on the skills front that BJ is an actual skill based game, and the casinos don’t let the really skilled players play.

  • Mr Wiggles

    Agree with the other folks. I thought it would be like PacMac or Centipede or even pinball or something that everyone played back in the day.. But I can see a problem for the casinos because, just like BJ, there are people who are really, really good at these games. Then what does the casino do – ban you from playing?
    I wish them good luck with this. If it doesn’t work out, they can always raise the parking rates!

    • RustyHammer

      That’s Ludacris!

  • Rj Aznir

    I am not sure who wrote this, but I agree 100%.

    “Here’s how you solve The Millennial Problem. Lower the rake. Lower the minimums. Bring comped drinks more frequently. Let people take photos in the casino to share with friends.”

    I would go so far as say they could just lower the rake and let people take photos for their social media. The casinos are being greedy with the rake and social media would let the players have more fun all around and advertise the casino. It’s a win-win.

  • IndyJeffrey

    If a low brow Vegas blog gets it, why don’t casinos?. I have no, er zero, interest in these “games”.

    “Here’s how you solve The Millennial Problem. Lower the rake. Lower the minimums. Bring comped drinks more frequently. Let people take photos in the casino to share with friends.

    The Millennial Problem isn’t a slot machine problem or a disposable income problem. It’s a perceived value problem.”

  • They solved the ‘Millennial Problem.’
    They are called XS, Omnia, Marquee, Tao, Hakkasan, etc.
    Seriously these millennials are racking up college tuition level tabs in these joints.
    Who needs gambling when you can fleece 5 and 6 figures out of them in nightclubs.

  • PATRICK SORENSON

    If these are truly skill games, they will quickly die off if anyone gets ‘good’ at them and can beat the ‘rake’. You will have 1 or 2 grinders quietly fleecing the tourists who sit down, play a few hands, see they can’t beat the experienced player who is sitting there quietly and grumpy sipping their coffee, and will quickly leave. Similar stuff happens at low limit poker, but having 9 to 10 people at the table vs. 4 for these games will make it more apparent. I can’t image this working.

  • RustyHammer

    That might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said about millenials.

  • mexinger

    I have no idea if there is some sort of appeal to millennials, but as an old fart I find these games ridiculous. Lousy odds, weird play, seems like more luck than skill (despite having “poker” in the title) – perhaps when I am older, more senile, and loaded with $$$$ I will partake in playing these; otherwise…nah.

  • Bouldersteve

    To justify their existence the machines will have to see a lot of action.Bean counters don’t like high maintenance unless the numbers add up.

  • wanker751

    The close of this is something that the casinos will never get. They assume raising prices (House Edge) will increase profits, but if it drives people away from gambling you have less of a piece to get.

    • wanker751

      Look at downtown with more favorable gaming conditions as an example