Americans Say Skill Machine Games Are Just Slots in Disguise

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Guests play video poker with every other machine at a casino. Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP.

Even though U.S. sports betting is always the talk of the town, this time the focus has shifted to perceptions about skill machines.

A recent report from the American Gaming Association (AGA) says that two-thirds of Americans who are familiar with skill machines believe them to be games of chance with no skill involved.

Who’s Kidding Who?

The gray market machines located in barrooms, truck stops, and convenience stores in several states across the nation are the bane of casino operators everywhere. While the gaming companies are strictly regulated, monitored, and taxed, the gray machine operators take the money and avoid much, if not all, of the government oversight and scrutiny that comes with operating a legitimate casino.

Essentially, the skill machines are just slot machines in disguise according to 64% of those surveyed on behalf of the American Gaming Association. The major difference is that slot machines are games of chance and once you pull the lever or press the digital button, the outcome is beyond anyone’s control.

However, with the skill machines, the outcome is only determined once the player presses a button of his or her choice. One Kentucky woman who was interviewed by Louisville TV station, WDRB, while playing a gray machine in a local tavern showed the reporter how she played and said, “This one’s kind of wiggling. So, you know you need to push that one.” (It’s) skill for idiots.”

AGA Disputes Skill Label

Skill for idiots might be a fitting punchline to employ for the American Gaming Association (AGA), a lobbying group for the casino and gaming industry that vehemently disagrees with the term skill to distinguish the gray machines from slot machines.

“Unregulated machine manufacturers have built their businesses by duping consumers and small businesses while avoiding taxes, oversight, and consumer protections,” said AGA President and CEO Bill Miller. “These results are further evidence that Americans see these machines as a threat that should be eliminated, not regulated.”

The study that was commissioned by the AGA revealed the following:

  • 71% say “skill” machines lack the player protections that are available to players in casinos.
  • 64% agree that “skill” machines are too easily accessible to children.
  • 56% say “skill” games increase the risk of crime and endanger employees and customers of businesses where devices are located.

“Keeping America’s gaming industry strong, safe, and responsible can only be done through the robust infrastructure of the well-established legal market, not by rewarding bad actors with half-measures that fail to address the dangers of unregulated gambling,” continued Miller.

Pace-O-Matic Disagrees

According to one of the industry’s largest manufacturers of skill machines, the skill of the player unquestionably plays a role in their success.

“In our games, you can win every single time. It just depends on how you play it and if you’re a skillful, patient player,” said Michael Barley, chief public affairs officer for Pace-O-Matic. “There are folks that play the game through the whole thing, and they win every single time. There are players that don’t, and that’s their choice.”

The Kentucky legislature nearly outlawed gray market machines last year and the industry took notice. Thus, the Kentucky Merchants and Amusement Coalition was born and is funded by Pace-O-Matic but includes its chief competitor, Prominent Technologies, as well as hundreds of small businesses that house the machines and profit from them.

Nevertheless, the battle rages and it will be interesting to see how the Kentucky legislature votes on the gray machines in the next session.

One prominent critic, Senator Damon Thayer, the majority floor leader, said last November, “I will oppose any effort to legalize this unique business model that is illegal. If you’re operating a handful of these machines in the back room of your convenience store, you’re operating an illegal casino. We do not need to be in the business of rewarding bad behavior.”