Sep 03, 2020
This is something of an unintentional follow-up to my recent article on Pace-O-Matic, ‘Games of Skill,’ that can be found in the State of Pennsylvania (and perhaps others). If you would like to read that article, it can be found here.
One of the readers of that article privately conveyed to me another nearby location where other games branded as, “Games of Skill,” could be found. This person wanted to get my take on those.
From the previous article, we see that there are a few reasons that I would suggest that Pace-O-Matic games might semi-legitimately be considered games of skill as opposed to straight gambling:
- There is no need or reason to play it in the first place if the result will not be profitable. I would reiterate that the profit/loss of the next result can always be known ahead of time.
- The player has to make a decision on each of the games to turn one of the spots on the Tic-Tac-Toe grid to maximize the return (when a win is possible). In other words, player decisions matter very much as a player could lose or have a less profitable winning result by making the wrong decision.
- After any losing result, the player has the option of playing a game similar to Simon Says that enables the player to win the amount of his/her bet along with an additional 5%. Because of this, it’s theoretically possible to always play without losing.*
*Also, it would take some skill to complete this game successfully without cheating. As mentioned in the previous article, cheating would also be very easy...but not particularly lucrative on a per hour basis.
THE NEW (TO ME) GAMES
Similar to the location with the Pace-O-Matic machines, this location is also home to three machines. However, all of these machines are different from one another, as opposed to the Pace-O-Matics which are the same and, I assume, operate from the same, ‘Pool,’ of spins.
The key difference with these games is that, if there can be said to be a skill component at all, it is much less prevalent than are the Pace-O-Matic machines. On one of the machines, only items #1 and a variation of #2 apply. On the other two machines, only a variation of item #2 applies.
In other words, on all three of the machines, if you lose---that’s it. There’s no, “After the fact,” game by which to recover any losses whatsoever.
Another similarity with all three machines is that the player may bet as much as $20/spin, as opposed to the Pace-O-Matics which have a max bet of $4.00. In terms of minimum bet, one machine has a $0.50 minimum and the other two have a $0.25 minimum.
The first machine is somewhat lower to the ground and, in appearance, bears more of a resemblance to the Pace-O-Matic games and other purported, “Games of Skill.”
The first machine contains five different games that are all fairly simple. Equally simple is the function by which the player can know the result ahead of time. There is a button that says something like, “View payout,” and it simply tells you what the next result will return if you make the optimal play. It does not show you the actual puzzle ahead of time; (which Pace-O-Matic does, but does not tell you the payout) it just shows the payout.
For reasons that I could not determine, games that do not have a winning result will show the return as $0.01, regardless of the bet amount. This is not actually true, but is perhaps on there for quasi-legal reasons? There is no way to win only a penny on any of these games. If the return shows as, “$0.01,” you will lose your entire bet.
In terms of actual gameplay, this machine works the same way as the other two we will discuss, so we’ll get into that more later.
The other two games have no feature where the result of the next spin can be known in advance, despite verbiage on the signage stating to the contrary. The signage says something to the effect that they are not games of chance as the player can know the result ahead of time, but this is simply untrue on the other two games. I touched the screens in every possible location to try to determine the next result ahead of time...and there’s simply no way.
It’s possible that the feature that enables the player to see the next result ahead of time can be turned on and off, so if that is true, the feature is off. Again, the signage on the machine speaks to the direct contrary of the actual case.
The other two machines are called, “Fusion 4,” and, “Diamond Skill Games Platinum,” so let’s get into some discussion about the gameplay for these (which also includes the gameplay for the other one---even some of the titles are the same---just without the look ahead feature).
Fusion 4 Games are apparently common in Georgia and come from a company known either as Banilla Diamond or Lucky Coin Inc. In any case, the skill component for these games is next to nothing, as we will detail in a bit.
Similarly, the Diamond Skill Games Platinum games are also manufactured by Banilla Games. The unit that I played had six different games that also included Progressives on five (maybe all six?) of the games. The game that I am unsure of whether or not it is a progressive is either not a progressive or has the progressive capped at $5,000.
The key difference between these two and the other game is the fact that there is no, “Look ahead,” feature or way to see the result ahead of time. The only skill component on these games works in one of two ways:
Nudge Feature: The games on the Fusion 4 machine and some of the games on the Diamond Skill Platinum machine have what is known as the, “Nudge Feature.” The way that the Nudge Feature works is that the player has the option to move any reel one spot up (or down) in order to create a winning payline or the optimal winning payline (in the case of multiple ways to win).
Functionally, these are similar to some single-line casino slot machines that have a, “Close enough,” feature that will cause a result to move up or down on one or more reels in order to create a win. Naturally, on the casino games, this happens automatically when a win is possible whereas the player must make the decision on the Skill Games.
One unique feature on these games is that the player will have the option to, “Spin off,” results that can only lose. In other words, the player does not have to make a choice if any possible choice can only result in losing. If the player attempts to, “Spin off,” a potential winner, a sound will emit from the machine and the screen will, ‘Jump,’ indicating that the player has a way to win.
As can be expected, for most results, the player’s choice will not matter as the player can only lose.
Another aspect of the Fusion 4 and Diamond Skill Platinum games is that there is no, “After the fact,” game by which a player could theoretically win his/her money back. A loss is simply a loss.
Hot Swap Feature: Three of the games on the Diamond Skill Platinum machine have what is known as the, “Hot Swap,” feature. The way this feature works is that the player will be given a spot on every spin for which he/she can select one of two symbols to change the spot to.
As with the Nudge Feature games, the player does not have to make a choice if there is no possible way to win. The player can simply choose to spin again.
This feature does have a tell in that there is a sound the game will make if a winning result is possible. I’d also reiterate that the game will not let you spin until you have made a decision.
Differences Compared to Pace-O-Matic
There are several differences (including how much, ‘Skill,’ is needed) between these machines and Pace-O-Matics:
1.) On the Pace-O-Matics, the player cannot just continue to spin until he has a result that could win. The player has thirty seconds to pick a spot to turn wild on the 3x3 grid, but cannot advance until the time is up or the player has made a decision.
2.) In my opinion, ‘Skill,’ is significantly less a factor on the Fusion 4 and Diamond Skill Platinum Games.
-When it comes to the Nudge Feature, these games only have one payline, (with exception to Free Games and Bonus Games for which the player makes no decision) so the player must simply choose to create a winning line. That’s pretty simple. All the player has to do is put the correct symbol on the payline with the two matching symbols or the other matching symbol + WILD symbol. It MAY be possible that the player will have two WILD symbols and must choose to move the third reel to the best paying result, but in a limited sample size of spins, I did not see any spin where that was the case.
-The Hot Swap feature is an absolute joke when it comes to, “Skill,” as there is only one game where the decision is anything but completely obvious. Most spins, it won’t matter what the player chooses as the player can only lose. On winning spins, the Hot Swap feature only has one choice that improves the player’s position. For example, if you get two Free Games symbols and are given the option to choose a third---obviously you want to do that. Sometimes, the option will be to turn the Hot Swap into a WILD or some other payline symbol...so making it a WILD is a no-brainer.
So, when it comes to actual play of the spin, let’s look at the number of possible decisions:
Pace-O-Matic: Nine possibilities. Any of the nine spots can be made Wild.
Nudge Feature: Three reels, move one up or down, six possibilities.
Hot Swap: Binary decision.
Another factor is that, “Simon Says,” type game on the Pace-O-Matic machines that does not exist on these other two units.
3.) As mentioned in the previous article, Pace-O-Matic games will not even display two of the same symbol unless there is a spot to place the WILD and have the result be a paying line. That is not true of these Banilla Games units as they will frequently display two of the same symbol, or multiples of the same symbol in a way that cannot result in a win regardless of what decision the player makes.
4.) These other games, ‘Feel,’ more like a slot machine.
-Some of the Banilla Games games haven’t seen a, “Near Miss,” that they didn’t like. One example is on the Hot Swap feature games that routinely will have two Free Games or Bonus symbols appear, but then the Hot Swap feature does NOT give the option to create a third. This is not unsimilar to standard slot machine games that kind of do the, “Slow spin,” after displaying two Free Games symbols.
-The Banilla Games will also create what appears to be the potential for a, ‘Regular,’ payline win, but then the Hot Swap feature will give two symbols that can only result in a loss.
SKILL OR GAMBLING?
The first thing that I want to say is that I am in favor of people gambling responsibly and people to be able to gamble on whatever device they choose. In my opinion, this represents nothing more than free association.
If I could make only one change (that would also apply to online and state-regulated casinos) it would be that every game include the house edge or overall return-to-player on the rules screen, or printed on the machine, so that players are at least making an informed decision from the standpoint of expected loss per play.
Aside from that, I can understand why bars, convenience stores and perhaps other locations want to get in on the convenience gambling game. If you look at Pennsylvania compared to nearby West Virginia, you have a state where these locations (and others, such as laundromats) can have a few machines that are regulated by the state to attract clientele. As a state, Pennsylvania is interesting because certain state representatives will complain that the revenues from these skill machines are, “Untaxed,” but it’s the very same state that will not allow these locations to have state-regulated games!!!
Therefore, I want to make clear that my statements in this section do NOT reflect my opinion of whether or not the machines should be in there. My opinion on that is what it will always be: They should be allowed to have whatever they want in there. But, do I consider these a game of skill or a gambling game?
These machines (with the one exception) are straight up gambling.
To call it anything else would be ridiculous.
- Again, there is no way to know the result ahead of time. The player spins and either could win or could lose. The player (unlike the Pace-O-Matics) cannot simply choose to not play if he/she is going to lose.
- There is no mechanism on the Fusion 4 or Diamond Skill Platinum games by which the player can theoretically recover his/her losses. If the player loses that spin, that’s it.
- With one exception (Hungry Monkey) on the Diamond Skill Platinum machine, the level of, ‘Skill,’ needed is laughable.*
*The game, Hungry Monkey, has a secondary skill component where the monkey will go to one of three branches and think about a particular fruit. If you are given the Hot Spot option (sometimes yes, sometimes no) to choose that fruit, then the monkey will go to that fruit and eat it (pays the same as three of that symbol) thereby resulting in a win even if there is no winning line. For this game, at least a player has to be actively paying attention or he/she could choose the wrong fruit and end up losing instead of winning.
GO TO THE SOURCE!
As mentioned, the most striking differences with these games and the Pace-O-Matic games are the absence of a look ahead feature or any chance to win money after a losing spin. For this reason, I called Banilla Games in order to get some answers as to why these machines are different in this regard. Here are the notable facts I learned from the conversation:
1.) Banilla Games manufactures the physical cabinets (hardware) as well as the software for all of these games/machines mentioned. At this point, these games are then sold/leased to various distribution companies who then market the games to potential vendors/locations.
2.) There is no, “Look-Ahead,” feature on the Fusion 4 or Diamond Platinum machines whatsoever. It’s not a matter of it being turned off; the machines simply are not designed to even have the potential to do that.*
*These units are specifically legal, per Georgia law, and meet the minimum requirements for what constitutes a, “Game of Skill,” in Georgia. Basically, all that is required in that state is that there is a player-decision component to the games and that the decision the player makes at least sometimes matters.
As we will recall, none of these games (including Pace-O-Matic) are explicitly legal in Pennsylvania...they’re just not decidedly illegal. Because of that, there’s nothing in Pennsylvania that would require a game to have such a feature as the state itself has not defined, “Games of Skill,” from a legal standpoint.
So, while Pace-O-Matics are decidedly closer to being, “Skill,” than gambling, there’s really nothing in the State of Pennsylvania that would set a hard line in this regard. Similarly, while I would consider having player-banked Progressives to be extremely shaky ground; there’s nothing that says they can’t as these machines are not regulated, but also not illegal.
3.) I found that Banilla Games also manufactures the third machine that I referenced as part of their, “Keystone,” series. These first games I mentioned are sometimes called, “Superior Skill,” and contain the preview feature, similar to Pace-O-Matic.
The main difference being the, “Prize Viewer,” button will literally just tell you the best possible result of the next spin for that bet amount.
In fact, I’m going to go as far as to say that the gentleman on the phone sounded somewhat surprised that any games aside from these are in Pennsylvania, but he was quick to point out that it’s out of their hands when it comes to what the distributors do with them and that they are sold to the distributors outright.
On their website, you’ll also notice the verbiage, “...such that skill predominates over chance,” which is not a claim they make about the other games.
Skill...yes, the, ‘Skill,’ to hit a button that literally tells you what’s going to happen!
FOR ADVANTAGE PLAY
The Superior Skill games can be advantage played by determining whether or not the next result is profitable or breakeven (it literally tells you) and playing if either of those things are the case. If breakeven, then you are essentially getting to know the result of the spin after that one for free.
From what I can tell, the Fusion 4 and Diamond Skill Platinum games can’t really be AP’ed. Perhaps if there was some way of knowing when the Progressive is at a positive point and only playing with that advantage, but even then, these things might just operate from a starting, “Pool,” of spins rather than a Class III style random number generator.
One extremely unlikely possibility is that these machines have all of the spins come out in a particular fixed order. If that’s the case, then you just have to know the order. I only mention this as a possibility because there were apparently some REALLY old school illegal video keno games that operated in that fashion. You would just unplug the machine, plug it back in and pick the right numbers. I’d be shocked if anything along those lines ever happens again.
Another potential avenue is if you get an, “In,” with an operator or employee and the machines have:
1.) A finite pool of spins.
2.) A stats screen similar to Pace-O-Matic that tells you the remaining results.
But, when it comes to, “Vulturing,” type plays...these things are worthless.
The machines branded as, “Superior Skill Games,” check the main box for being a, ‘Game of Skill,’ insofar as the player’s action decides whether or not the player wins or loses. To what limited extent determining whether or not one number is bigger than a different number can be called a, “Skill,” that is the only skill you need to never lose. The player must also make a decision to achieve an optimal result, (when winning is even possible) but the optimal decision is even more obvious on these games than on Pace-O-Matic machines.
The main similarity with the Fusion 4 and Diamond Skill Games (other than some of the individual games themselves being the same) is that the player must make a fairly obvious decision in order to achieve the optimal result--when a win is even possible. Aside from that, there is virtually no skill component as the player has no way of knowing whether the spin will be a winner or loser before playing and cannot do anything to change the result afterward.
While I have no problem with these machines; (regardless of whether or not they are skill as opposed to gambling) I would conclude that only the Superior Skill Games machines can even be loosely considered a game of skill while calling the others anything except, “Slot machine,” is laughable.
CORRECTION (JULY, 2021)
There is a way to win a penny. On an otherwise losing puzzle, a penny will appear somewhere on the screen and tapping it will add $0.01 to your balance. This is called the, "Take a penny," feature.