I shouldn’t have been so naive.
Really, I should have figured this was going to happen sooner or later.
I am officially 86’ed from two locations that house some of the Pennsylvania, “Games of Skill,” machines.
What was the offense?
Winning, of course. What else would it be?
I’m not going to name the manufacturer of the machines in question because I happen to know that they are not directly affiliated with the location operating the machines in any way whatsoever. In fact, I’ve learned that in this particular instance, even the distributor might not be directly affiliated with the operator (anymore) as these particular machines can be sold from the distributor to the operator straight up.
Ironically, the place that I was asked to leave and not return is literally called, “Games of Skill Cafe,” but so much for them expecting the patrons to play the games skillfully.
Additionally, I’ve also been asked to leave and not return to a restaurant/lounge establishment for the same reason, but unlike the cafe, they can at least make the argument that they don’t function primarily as a place for, “Games of Skill.” In the case of the cafe, that basically seems to be the only thing that location does.
Another thing this article will cover is an additional, “Game of Skill,” that I found that, unless further evidence can be gathered, (for free---i.e. watching someone else play) is best avoided, in my opinion. It’s not really enough to constitute a separate article, so we’ll get into that really quickly first:
I spotted this game on certain game cabinets that contain three games. We should remember that, unlike Pace-O-Matic games, these games exist on a pool of spins that repeats itself in perpetuity.
My first observation on this game, as well as all games on this particular cabinet, was that there was no look ahead feature of any kind, so that’s out.
I also observed that the game consists of three reels and is a single-line game (except Free Games which has multiple lines). Initially, I thought, “Nothing to see here,” but then I noticed that there are four spots above each reel for fishing lures and, anytime a fishing lure lands on one of the reels, one of those spots lights up. When all four spots on the reel light up, then that reel becomes fully WILD (again, it’s still only one payline) for that spin as well as the next three spins.
Some of you may be familiar with a few games in land casinos that have a similar dynamic and will not be mentioned by name for the purposes of this article.
I’d actually been hoping to observe this game in action (for free) because I have no intention of actually losing money on something that I’m not confident can be advantage played anyway. Even if it is beatable, I’ve never had the opportunity to play the machine in the best possible variable state, which would be three lures above all reels (or a reel already wild for a few spins).
I finally happened to notice someone actually playing this game, so I offer the following observations, we’ll start with the good news:
1.) Profitable Series of Spins
While the spins leading up to, “Lighting Up,” one of the reels were not necessarily profitable for the guy playing, the results of the spins with one reel lit up were profitable. Overall, his results were not profitable as relates, “Going for,” a lure with three already lit up on each reel, but that could just be limited sample size.
The caveat to that is that the games come from a pre-seeded pool of results that just go in order on a particular denomination. In other words, they might be intentionally designed so that the player comes out ahead (just on those spins) any series of four spins that has a WILD reel.
Now, the bad news:
2.) “Rigged” Lures?
One thing that I noticed when the guy was playing is that he ONLY hit any lures that would turn a reel WILD when all three of the reels had three lures. It’s probably possible that a reel will turn WILD without all three reels needing to have three lures, but on the four occasions the guy hit this result, all of them had three lures above each reel.
After the final series, but prior to him quitting, he had also accumulated two lures on the reel he had just hit, but had not hit a lure on the other two reels (that already had three each) yet.
3.) Long Cycle
I tried to keep count the best I could, and at best guess, a lure comes up on any given reel roughly every forty spins, but again, limited sample size.
Overall, the guy claims to have broken even, but lost relative to the time I had started observing him. Betting $0.50, he went from $50 and change to $20 overall, but claims he broke even relative to the time he had started. Believable enough. $20 in, $20 out, makes sense.
While the spins with one reel WILD were profitable for him, (taken in isolation) they were not hugely profitable. Again, it’s a limited sample size, but those spins taken alone had an average profit of about $5.
It makes total sense to me because, were I tasked with preseeding a pool of spins, I wouldn’t want players losing money on one of my main features. If nothing else, I’d want them to be winning more money (on average) than he did.
One random observation is that the game has a, “Scatter,” symbol and three such symbols allow you to choose either the Bonus Game or Free Games. Interestingly, the “Scatter,” symbol does not actually function as a “Scatter,” in that all three must end up on the payline by the end of the spin (and after the player does the reel nudge). I saw two spins where all three Scatter symbols appeared on the 3x3 grid, but did not award anything.
Which is literally the opposite of what a, “Scatter,” should do...but I guess you’ll have that.
My current operating assumption is that this game CAN NOT be advantage played absent evidence to the contrary. Remember, everything is whatever the spin pool is supposed to pay you, so it’s not as if the lures actually appear randomly; they hit when they’re designed to hit. For that reason, strictly speaking, any probability analysis of the lures would automatically have no meaning. The only way an assumption could be made is if it consistently happened (with all three reels having three lures) within x number of spins.
I would say definitely do not play only one or two reels with three lures absent EXCELLENT evidence to the, “Probability,” of filling one of them. The guy playing hit WILD Reel 2, filled it again and hit Reel 2, then got two lures on Reel 2 without getting any lures on either Reel 1 or Reel 3, which had both been sitting with three lures the whole time. In other words, he went well over 100, and perhaps as many as 200 spins, without getting any additional lures at all on those reels.
The spin pool means that there are no probabilities that are relevant at all, but even if there were, since it’s a single line game...there’s no reason to believe a particular reel being wild is better than any other.
It’s possible that two reels can become WILD at the same time, perhaps even likely that they put such results in the spin pool, (then the player would have to nudge the reel in a fashion that pays the most) but I did not observe such a thing happen.
Feel free to leave me a comment or shoot a PM if you are aware (by experience) of any contradictory information or additional information. Until then, there’s very little evidence, but the weight of the evidence that does exist points to this game not being an advantage play under any known set of conditions.
BACK TO THE 86 (x2)
As mentioned earlier in this article, I was 86’ed from two different places within a few hours of one another. It’s either something of a coincidence, or possibly the first place called a few other places with machines and told them about me, but I’m leaning slightly towards coincidence.
The first place is called, “Games of Skill Cafe,” according to their exterior signage above the door. Judging from the interior, their primary business purpose is offering games of skill and any other possible revenue source (beer sales, perhaps?) is negligible in comparison.
You walk into a single room that is basically the size of an averaged size bedroom. On the left hand side of the room, there’s a table with an individual sitting there who does payouts. On the right side of the room, there is a single row of either six or seven machines. The middle machines have the, “Prize Viewer,” feature as one of the skill components whilst the two end machines do not. In the back of the room, there is a counter as well as perhaps an entryway into other areas of the building. There may or may not be public restrooms beyond the counter.
I had hit this location on three prior occasions using the, “Prize Viewer,” feature to determine if the next result was breakeven or profitable, then used the other, “Skill,” component to secure the best possible win. The other skill component is either the reel nudge feature, or alternatively the Hot Pick feature, depending on the machine and game.
I experienced diminishing returns on all three visits, though the final two (prior to this) were perhaps closer together than they should have been. Basically, a good few things have to happen in order to find profitable plays, which are:
- Someone needs to play a particular game and bet amount in the first place.
- The last spin taken needs to be followed by a winning spin coming up.
- They need to either not look at the next result, or not care, in order for it to still be there.
Because of that, individual plays on these machines regenerate slowly, so even if it seems that you have no competition (which there seems to be, in many places) it’s generally not going to be worth checking daily. Essentially, you want to ideally wait until it’s likely that there will be multiple plays on multiple machines for it to be worth the time.
Anyway, I hadn’t stopped in this location for about five days, which included a weekend, so it occurred to me that there might be some stuff there.
Before I had the chance to really look at a machine, there was a person I hadn’t seen before explaining to me that I was to leave the property and never return. Interestingly enough, there was a forum member on the phone with me at the time who heard my end of the conversation. We both had a good laugh about me getting 86’ed from a Skill Games cafe.
The conversation between myself and that new lady (maybe the owner?) went as follows:
Lady: Hey, is your name Brandon? (I had introduced myself as Brandon, when asked, the first time I had won at that location.)
Brandon James: (Confused) Yeah?
Lady: Well, then, you have to leave. You’re not allowed to play these machines anymore.
Brandon James: Okay, see you around. Have a good day.
(As I was walking towards the door)
Lady: I want to make it clear you’re not to come here any day in the future. You’re not welcome here.
Brandon James: Yeah, I got that. Have a good day.
Lady: (Taken Aback) Um, you have a good day also, Brandon.
The second location would 86 me a few hours later. The second location operates primarily as a restaurant/lounge and will go unnamed because their primary source of revenue does not appear to be the games of skill.
I had only visited this location on two prior occasions, both of which were profitable, though less profitable (overall) than my visits to the first location. Given that I had not visited this location in nearly a week, (which included a weekend) I figured there might be some plays left behind.
Despite the fact that I had only made $20 in profits, after my experience with being 86’ed from the first location, I decided to give a little bit of, “Cover play,” and, “Played off,” $5 of those profits without using the, “Prize Viewer,” feature. I did use it when I was down to $15 in profits and the next result would not have been profitable, so I quit.
This lady (who I’d also not seen before) cashed my tickets without issue, but then informed me that I was no longer permitted at the establishment. Feeling a bit salty at this point, the following conversation took place:
Brandon James: Well, why the heck not?
Bartender: Because those machines are for the enjoyment of customers and you are not a customer here.
Brandon James: The machines are available to the public, as is this business. This is not a private club of some kind, and therefore, I’m a customer as long as I’m playing the machines.
Bartender: I know what you’re doing on those machines and you’re not a customer anymore because we don’t want you coming back here again.
Brandon James: That’s fine. I just wanted to make it clear that I’m no longer welcome here due to winning on the machines.
Bartender: You know what you’re doing on the machines and that’s why you’re not welcome here. You didn’t win because you got lucky or anything.
Brandon James: Well, it IS a game of skill and I played skillfully, if you really want to call it that. I’m not the one advertising it as a game of skill; you are.
Bartender: Either way, we don’t want to see you back here after today. In fact, I’m going to text everyone to look out for you.
Brandon James: What, like in town?
Bartender: No, our other employees.
Brandon James: Do whatever you like, but there’s no need. If you say you don’t want me here, then I’m not going to come back here. Have a good day.
Bartender: You too, sir.
In any event, I’m considering filing an anonymous tip on the, “Games of Skill Cafe,” because that seems to be their primary means of business. I definitely understand the underlying notion of what the bartender of the other place was trying to get across, but when a place operates, literally, as, “Games of Skill Cafe,” then they should allow for skillful play.
If I do submit an anonymous tip on them, it will read something like this:
To Whom It May Concern:
The State of Pennsylvania defines illegal gambling as follows:
§ 5513. Gambling devices, gambling, etc.
(a) Offense defined.--A person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree if he:
(1) intentionally or knowingly makes, assembles, sets up, maintains, sells, lends, leases, gives away, or offers for sale, loan, lease or gift, any punch board, drawing card, slot machine or any device to be used for gambling purposes, except playing cards;
(2) allows persons to collect and assemble for the purpose of unlawful gambling at any place under his control;
(3) solicits or invites any person to visit any unlawful gambling place for the purpose of gambling; or
(4) being the owner, tenant, lessee or occupant of any premises, knowingly permits or suffers the same, or any part thereof, to be used for the purpose of unlawful gambling.
At or about 2:45p.m. on September 22, 2020, Anonymous Complainant (hereafter: Complainant) entered a facility on the (omitted) block of (omitted street name) that advertises itself as, “Games of Skill Cafe,” (hereafter: Cafe) on its exterior signage above its only entryway. In the window, this establishment predominantly advertises that it has, “Legal PA Skill Games.”
These machines have signage directly on them that states as follows:
Pennsylvania Games of Skill
Chance has no role in any possible outcome. Each game has a pre-reveal option where the user views each and every outcome which may entitle him or her to win a prize, in the order in which it will occur. While on one of the game screens, simply touch the, “View Prizes,” button on and view each and every prize outcome.
The prize outcomes are displayed in the order in which they will occur at the user’s current play level and balance. To view the prize outcomes for a different game or play level, the user may simply go to the desired game and play level and touch the, “View Prizes,” button.
The first potential issue with Cafe is that they have either six or seven machines, but only the machines in the middle have the, “View Prizes,” button to begin with. The two machines on either end of the row (right side of the room) do not have this functionality.
The second issue is that the Complainant had visited this location on three prior occasions and had played the games precisely according to the instructions on the signage, which is one of two skill components. The second skill component is that a patron must make a choice after hitting the, “Spin,” button to, “Nudge,” one of the reels into a winning position, or alternatively, to change a, “Hot Spot,” to one of two possibilities offered by the game to yield the best winning result.
On these three prior occasions, Complainant played the games profitably and took no action that should otherwise want to cause the business to no longer welcome his patronage. In fact, Complainant tipped the lady who was working at the establishment a portion of his winnings on all three occasions. The Complainant was in no way disruptive or rude to anyone at the establishment.
On September 22, 2020, Complainant walked into the establishment, sat down at a machine, and was almost immediately informed he was no longer welcome at the premises due to the way that Complainant plays the machines. Specifically, Complainant follows the instructions on the signage (on the machines where such is possible) and simply chooses not to play results that are not profitable. It is by this element that many establishments (as well as the Pace-O-Matic company itself) declare the machines to be legal, “Skill Games.”
In effect, Cafe only wants players who will either ignore the, “View Prizes,” feature advertised on the signage, or in the alternative, will knowingly take a loss hoping to win on the spin after the next one to come. Essentially, Cafe is reducing these machines to gambling devices as they will only accept players who are basically willing to bet on an unknown result.
Perhaps worse, in certain instances, it seems that Cafe only wants players who are willing to play a spin knowing ahead of time that they are going to lose.
For these reasons, one of the following two potential remedies should be adopted:
- Cafe should be informed that the way they are conducting their operation is not conducive to skill games because they are not allowing players to even play the way that their signage on the machine specifically suggests they should. Cafe should be ordered, henceforth, to allow players to occupy the facility during hours that they are open to the public and play the games however they wish provided they are not otherwise causing a disturbance or interfering with other patrons.
- Cafe should be closed as they are an illegal gambling operation. In order to circumvent anti-gambling laws, they advertise and promote their “Legal Skill Games,” but they do not allow players to play in the most “Skillful,” possible way and kick them out if they do so and yield profitable results.
Essentially, they only want players who will treat the devices as slot machines.
The final issue is that Cafe, unlike bars, restaurants, convenience stores or gas stations seems to operate, almost exclusively, as a, “Games of Skill,” location. Other than perhaps selling some beer or ready-to-eat snacks, they do not appear to have any other substantial source of revenue and the machines almost certainly make up the majority of their revenues.
It would be one thing if they were engaged in a different primary business, (Complainant has also been kicked out of a restaurant/lounge, which he will not name, and accepts that) but Cafe undoubtedly has these machines as a primary business and heavily promotes them on their exterior signage. Therefore, to the extent that such games are legal, “Games of Skill,” at all; Cafe should permit players to play in the most skillful possible way.
It is true that Complainant playing optimally removes profitable results that would otherwise go to other players, provided those other players played the second skill component optimally, but that is irrelevant to the issue. Simply put, Complainant simply plays the “Games of Skill,” more skillfully than some other patrons. It is for that reason that Cafe refuses to allow Complainant on the premises anymore.
I was able to get a significant sample size of locations in and around my area to determine how many machines there are (somewhat) near me and how likely locations are to have them. Locations are limited to bars, restaurants, gas stations, tobacco shops and convenience stores. I am ignoring the Skill Games Cafe for this purpose. Here are the relevant stats:
Locations Observed: 100
Locations with no Machines (Ignoring Cherry Masters and Quarter-Pusher Games): 74
Locations with Machines: 26
Total Machines: 51
Average Machines Per Location (not counting zeroes): 1.962
Pace-O-Matics or machines with, “Prize Viewer,” (or equivalent): 27
Machines with no, “Look-Ahead,” Feature: 24
Fewest Machines Per Location: 1 (Several)
Most Machines Per Location: 4 (Two-Way Tie---All Pace-O-Matic)
- Only one location had a single Pace-O-Matic as the only skill game.
- ALL other locations with only one machine did not have any sort of look-ahead function.
- Pace-O-Matics generally number 3-4 per location, though one other location has two.
- In many cases with non Pace-O-Matic machines, locations will have a machine with look ahead and a machine without.
- Pace-O-Matics were not observed in the same location with any other type of machine. This may well be a stipulation of Pace-O-Matic or Miele Manufacturing.
- All locations except for bars and one laundromat were also Pennsylvania Lottery retailers, even though these have no connection to the lottery.*
*Some places will also only cash tickets from the machines at such time that lottery tickets can also be cashed. Perhaps they think this gives them deniability if there ever is a legal issue? Anyway, it might be useful to ask if you’re coming outside of lottery hours, though I’ve yet to be given a problem about cashing the following day.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Would you file an anonymous tip against the cafe? Against both establishments? Against nobody? Let me hear why in the comments!
For my part, I’m still on the fence. My biggest concern is them perhaps kicking out other players who might not be as used to this sort of thing as I am. I’ve certainly been kicked out of nicer places than that. My secondary concern is that I legitimately believe they should not offer, “Skill Games,” if they purport to control whether or not people are permitted to play skillfully. More than that, to play literally how the machine says you should play it!