What Are Skill-Based Slot Machines? Are You REALLY In Control?

In the past few years, we’ve seen the emergence of a new genre of slot games called skill-based slots. These slot machines incorporate elements of skill through bonus rounds or mini-games. This could be in the form of a memory game, a puzzle, or even a quick version of an arcade game.

This hands-on experience gives players the feeling that they are in control of their success. But to what extent is this true?

What Are Skill-Based Slot Machines?

Skill machines in a casino
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As their name suggests, skill-based slot machines are slot games that require a degree of skill and give the player more control of the gameplay.

This is done through bonus rounds or mini games that can test players on skills such as puzzle-solving, coordination, memory, or even reaction time.

While these skill slots still involve a high degree of chance, the outcome isn’t entirely up to luck. Two players playing the same skill-based slot in different ways will have two distinct gambling experiences.

How Are Skill Game Machines Different From Regular Slot Machines?

In a regular slot game, the outcome is determined by an RNG (Random Number Generator). This is an algorithm that randomly determines where the reels land. This ensures that the game is unpredictable and fair. There is nothing you can do to influence the outcome of a spin.

In fact, the entire process of playing a regular slot can be automated so that the player doesn’t even have to spin the reels. This is done using the “autoplay” option. The player is effectively a viewer in this instance.

In comparison, a skill-based slot machine includes an RNG, but also factors in the player’s ability to play the bonus game. In this sense, skill-based slots can be compared to video poker. Both require you to make decisions that impact how much money you could win.

Standard slots also have a set RTP (return to player) percentage. RTP is the percentage of wagered money a slot will pay back to players over time. So, the higher the RTP, the better your chance of winning.

Skill-based slot machines also have RTP percentages, but there’s a crucial difference. The RTP of a skill-based slot incorporates the highest possible level of skill a player can achieve during the skill-based bonus round.

In other words, if a player reaches the highest level of skill possible, they could potentially achieve the game’s maximum RTP. 

How Do Skill-Based Gaming Machines Work?

Skill based slot machines
Image credit: Dana.S/Shutterstock

A skill-based slot has the same basic layout and function as a standard slot game. The main aim is to create winning combinations of symbols on reels. Some of these combinations trigger bonus rounds, and this is where the main difference comes into play.

Once you trigger the bonus round in a skill-based slot, you will be required to complete a task or challenge. Your proficiency in this bonus game then influences the size of your payout.

For instance, let’s say you’re playing a game with a Tetris theme and trigger a bonus by connecting a set number of symbols on the screen.

In the following mini-game, you’d be taken to a new screen, where you have to play a standard Tetris game and align shapes for as long as you can. The better you perform, the more rewarding your bonus would be.

There are many different skill-based slot themes, from fighting and racing mini-games to popping balloons and playing Candy Crush-style games.

Are They Really Based On Skill?

Skill-based slots unquestionably require a degree of skill.

A player who masters the mini-games or bonus rounds should see better results in the long run than one who doesn’t. In this way, they are based on skill.

However, the “skill” aspect is usually confined to the bonus rounds, rather than present throughout the entire game. For instance, where the symbols land on the reels remains totally random through the use of RNGs.

In short, you’ll need both skill and luck to win. These skill-based slots are still rooted in randomness and far from being an accepted game of skill, like poker.

The aim is to provide a more immersive and engaging experience for the player, while still retaining the luck and chance elements that make slot games exciting.

How Do You Win On Skill Machines?

To give yourself the best chance of winning on skill machines, you should, if possible, try them in demo mode first.

Playing a skill-based slot in demo mode enables you to learn the ins and outs of its gameplay without risking any money. Then, as you master the skill aspect of the game and learn how to play it, you can switch over to a real money casino.

This will put you in the best position to maximize your overall winnings, but you should not expect to beat the game overall. The house always has an edge no matter what you play.

Are Skill Machines Legal?

The legality of skill-based slot machines varies significantly between countries and between states within the US, often depending on the definition of a “skill-based” slot in state law.

Let’s take a closer look at the legality in the US.

As of now, a few US states have officially legalized the use of skill-based slot machines. These states include Nevada (approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission in 2015) and New Jersey (approved by The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement in 2016).

But that’s not to say they are illegal in other states. Rather, in the majority of states, there has not been specific legislation passed, and so it’s a bit of a gray area.

For example, The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) has been progressive in its implementation of new gaming options, legalizing online casinos, poker, sports betting, lottery, VGTs (video gaming terminals) at truck stops, and more in 2017, but has not specifically mentioned skill-based slot machines.

Likewise, while Delaware has legalized online gambling and many forms of gaming, there’s currently no specific information on the legality of skill-based slots. This also applies to states like Virginia, Texas, Michigan and Iowa.

That said, even if there’s no state-wide legislation, individual casinos may have their own policies in place.

Their legality can also be subject to change as states update their gambling regulations. So, it’s always crucial to check the individual state law and/or relevant gaming commission website.

There are also states where skill-based slots are illegal, such as Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah.

The Benefits of Skill Machines

Skill-based slots have several advantages over standard luck-based games. Here are some of the biggest benefits of skill-based machines compared to classic slots:

  • Player engagement: Though standard slots are loved by older generations, the lack of interactive features make them less appealing to younger generations. Skill-based slots change this by adding an element of gamification.
  • It’s not all luck: Arguably, the most important benefit from many players’ perspective is that skill-based slots provide a sense of control.
  • Potential for more winnings: With the requirement of skill comes the theoretical potential for increased winnings, if you are adept at the bonus game. But remember, you can’t influence any part of the base game.

The Dangers of Skill Machines

While skill-based machines bring several intriguing and engaging benefits to the table, it’s also crucial to go over the potential disadvantages and even dangers of these games.

  • The house still wins: Even with skill involved, the odds are still weighted toward the house, meaning that skilled play does not guarantee a return.
  • The skill required can vary: Depending on the game you play, the amount or type of skill required can vary. It may be easier to master the bonus game in one skill-based slot than another.
  • More accessible to minors: Skill-based machines have started popping up in businesses that don’t primarily specialize in gambling, such as gas stations, grocery stores, and small businesses. This makes them conveniently available to everyone, even those who can’t legally gamble. If not carefully overseen, this can grow into a concerning issue on both a personal and societal level.

A List Of Popular Skill-Based Slot Machines

While skill-based slots still represent a small drop in the sea of slot games, there are already many thrilling games you can try. Here’s our top 10 list:

  1. Space Invaders (Scientific Games): One of the most polished and exciting skill-based slots is Scientific Games’ Space Invaders, based on the notable arcade game released in 1978.
  2. Seinfeld (Scientific Games): Based on one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, this skill-based machine by Scientific Games includes all of the iconic Seinfeld characters and several bonus mini-games.
  3. Wrecking Ball (IGT): This slot from the legendary developer IGT includes a Smash Bonus feature, which enables you to drive a truck and control a wrecking ball to smash your way to bonuses.
  4. Arkanoid (Next Gaming): Next Gaming reimagined the classic 1986 arcade game with hidden features and cash prizes.
  5. Danger Arena (GameCo): Released back in 2016, Danger Arena is dubbed “the first skill-based video game gambling machine”. This machine simulates a first-person shooter game, complete with a console-style controller.
  6. Locked and Loaded (Synergy Blue): Synergy Blue is known for its sizable library of skill-based machines, but this Wild West-themed game is among its best-known.
  7. Safari Match (Synergy Blue): Another hit from Synergy Blue, this tile-matching skill-based machine utilizes touchscreen gameplay and a colorful savannah theme.
  8. Nothin’ But Net 2 (GameCo): In this basketball-themed game, players control a basketball shooter and have to time their button presses to release the ball at the right time.
  9. PAC-MAN Battle Casino (Gamblit): This is a battle royale type of skill-based game in which several players control their own PAC-MAN character and compete against one another to achieve the best score.
  10. Skyriser (Banilla Games): The Skyriser game includes seven games with unique themes, offering players countless hours of entertainment across different game niches.

A Summary Of Skill-Based Slot Machines

Skill-based slot machines, which incorporate aspects of skill alongside traditional slot play, represent a noteworthy shift in casino game design. They aim to attract a younger demographic who have grown up playing video games and appreciate the interactive, competitive elements these slots bring to the table.

But they are not entirely skill-based, as players have no control over the base game. And the RTP, which basically represents the likelihood of a return, is based on the player achieving the top-level of skill required for the bonus game!

And then there’s the legal landscape, which remains varied. While states such as Nevada and New Jersey have approved them, many others haven’t legislated their use, creating a legal gray area and illustrating the need for broader regulatory consideration as skill-based gaming continues to evolve.