Jun 22, 2022
I’ve written previously about PA Skill Games for this site, quite a few times, in fact. In addition to the two previously linked articles, I started a companion thread and even wrote an article that I titled, “The Last Word.”
Believe it or not, the introductory paragraph does not contain links to ALL of the skill game material that I have written about for this site as two or three articles were not linked to. I’ds recommend for anyone reading this to check out that thread as it was fairly interesting.
Despite all that I have written on the subject of PA Skill Games, (some near-equivalent of which can be found in KY, GA, IA (I believe), previously VA and a few other states) there are still a number of fairly rudimentary things people don’t understand about them, so I am going to hopefully separate fact from fiction, conjecture from confirmed and rumor from…something that starts with an, ‘R,’ for the final time.
Mostly, my comments will focus on PA Skill Games, as those are the ones with which I have the most experience, but most of the discussion herein will apply to skill games in other states.
LEGALITY OR LEGITIMACY?
When it comes to Pennsylvania, there are a great many people who discuss, “Real Skill Games,” or, “Legal Skill Games,” or something along those lines. In fact, most of the verbiage you’ll see when it comes to retailers advertising their Skill Games will have the word, “Legal,” somewhere in it.
This might come as a surprise, but if you have an entity that is bending over backwards to convince you that something is legal, it’s probably because it’s not. For example, you don’t see the Pennsylvania State Lottery advertising their scratchers (instant tickets) with, “Buy LEGAL Instant Lottery Tickets!” Why not? Due to the fact that the Pennsylvania Lottery is actually a regulated state agency (regulates itself, anyway) and is actually legal, there is no reason that they need to advertise that they are legal.
Similarly, you won’t see casinos in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania making a big production of the fact that they are legal in their advertising, at least, not physical casinos. I think a few online casinos have mentioned it in advertising (mostly because the legalization of those is relatively recent), but you definitely don’t see physical casinos leading with the fact that they’re legal.
Okay, so, once and for all, are Pennsylvania Skill Games legal?
Answer: Not exactly.
The only official court ruling that has happened is that the Beaver County Court of Common Pleas declared Pace-O-Matic games (as they were the only party to that lawsuit) as, “Presumptively legal,” based on the fact that there is an element of skill to them. There are three key points to this ruling that should be addressed.
1.) The ruling would only apply to Pace-O-Matic games, specifically, as Pace-O-Matic was the only party to the legal proceedings. You can read the decision for yourself here.
On the other hand, one could MAYBE argue that the factors that would cause Pace-O-Matic games to be, “Presumptively Legal,” at least as relates Beaver County, would hold if one, or more, of those implements were to be present on other devices. Of course, being the only party to the legal proceeding, Pace-O-Matic seems to represent themselves as the only, “Legal,” (the word, ‘Presumptively’ often being conspicuously absent) skill game in PA.
Specifically, the court ruled that there were three key, ‘Skill,’ elements of the Pace-O-Matic game that separated it from being a gambling device, per se, and instead would make them, “Presumptively legal,” skill games under Pennsylvania law:
A.) The, “Follow Me,” feature:
-In the event that the player has a losing puzzle, the player will see verbiage on the screen that says, “Touch here to follow me,” and if the player chooses to do that, they will be presented with a 3x3 grid of nine colors and can go through rounds of selecting the appropriate color sequence in order to win a prize of 105% (in total) of the bet amount. This will happen only on puzzles that are either totally losing, are net losers or are otherwise breakeven puzzles.
The way that the, “Follow Me,” game is played will see the player rewarded 105% of the original bet amount (for example, $4.20 on a $4.00 bet—the highest bet that most units allow) if the player is successful in recreating the sequence of colors twenty times. The sequence will remain the same during all twenty of these attempts and will add a new color to the end of the sequence every round.
B.) The Shooting Bonus Game:
-It’s interesting that the court would mention this game because, as far as I can tell, this game is only available on maybe two of multiple, ‘Games,’ available on a Pace-O-Matic unit. Furthermore, some units don’t even have any of the games where this sort of game even comes into play.
It’s also interesting because, depending on which game they mean, a player’s performance doesn’t actually matter and the player is awarded the intended prize regardless of how they perform. I can only think of one game that I have not tested in this way, but I suspect that it is the same thing—though I could be wrong.
C.) Picking the Right Spot:
In the court document, this is actually the first reason listed, but I’m listing it third. When a player is presented with a puzzle, the player has the option to put a, ‘Wild,’ symbol anywhere on the 3x3 grid and will be paid accordingly on those puzzles upon which a win is possible.
In some instances, it’s possible for the Wild spot to be situated such that a player is paid on multiple lines at once, or alternatively, goes to a Bonus Game on one line whilst hitting a line pay on another line.
Provided a player is taking their time, choosing the optimal spot for the wild should be easy for anyone who is functionally intelligent. Most Pace-O-Matic devices that I have seen, if not all, allocate thirty seconds for the player to decide where to place the wild. More than that, the player can hit the, “Play,” button a second time (if they choose) and the game will simply spin again if a win is impossible, but it will ding at the player if a win is possible. With that, someone who is willing to play without seeing the next puzzle in advance can know that there is one, or more, winning lines almost instantly, so then it becomes a matter of looking for them.
On that note, while the court didn’t mention it directly, they alluded to the fact that a player need not ever play a losing puzzle in the first place. On Pace-O-Matic devices, a player can hit the, “Next Puzzle,” button and will see what the next 3x3 grid will look like prior to making a bet. IN the event that the player chooses to only play profitable or breakeven puzzles, then similarly with perfect execution of the Simon Says game, the player would never lose.
For all of those reasons, the conclusion of Beaver County was that the games are, “Presumptively Legal,” as skill is more of a function of the game than is chance. Had the court decided that chance was the dominating function, then the machines would have been construed as, “Illegal Gambling Devices.”
Crucially, this ruling comes from the Beaver County Court of Common Pleas, which means that it doesn’t speak for the entire state. While it is a ruling that other counties may agree with, or even choose to cite, it doesn’t automatically hold up statewide (despite what Pace-O-Matic would have you believe) and certainly did not create state law.
Simply put: Beaver County decided that the machines are legal until some state law is passed that would make them illegal.
Of course, this court ruling did lend a non-zero amount of legitimacy to Pace-O-Matic games and some would cite them as, “The only legal skill games in Pennsylvania.” Once again, that’s only kind of true—as mentioned, Beaver County holds them as, ‘Presumptively legal,’ but that doesn’t mean that all of the state’s other counties, by extension, are required to agree with the analysis of Beaver County.
Perhaps as importantly, various state entities (Gaming, State Police, Lottery) consider the Pace-O-Matic games to be illegal, however, there hasn’t been any official legislation in that regard. That said, the position of entities falling under the purview of the Executive Branch of government is that the devices are patently illegal.
In fact, the Division of Liquor Enforcement has recently cracked down on some locations with Pace-O-Matic units, which is the current subject of a lawsuit filed by Pace-O-Matic, which you can read here. The bigger issue in the complaint is that Pace-O-Matic is of the impression that their games are being specifically targeted by the agency.
Once again, even the language in Pace-O-Matic’s complaint makes clear that the state has not ruled that the games are legal, but rather, are, ‘Presumptively legal.’ The relief that they seek even alludes to the fact that the games will not become illegal if and until such time that there is legislation that makes them so, but at no point (because they would be lying in a court document) do they assert a claim that the devices are unquestionably legal—despite what their advertising would have you believe.
Because of all, or some combination of these factors, Pace-O-Matic’s advertising, or consumer misunderstanding…people are often of the impression that Pace-O-Matic games and ONLY Pace-O-Matic games are legal in the state. Furthermore, people often make comments such as the operators will always pay on, “Legitimate PA Skill Games,” and sometimes make claims to the effect that the games are regulated, even though they absolutely aren’t.
In short, Pace-O-Matic games have not been declared legal yet, but rather, “Presumptively Legal,” which is a short way of saying that they are unregulated devices that the Beaver County Court, and specifically the Beaver County Court, have determined that skill predominates over chance and that there is nothing in state law that would make the devices unlawful.
There is nothing that would compel counties outside of Beaver to be held to this ruling and nothing that would compel the state (as a broader entity) to be held to it. Legally speaking, the only thing that this ruling establishes is that, in the opinion of Beaver County, the state would have to enact legislation declaring the devices to be illegal in order to take action against them within the borders of Beaver County. That’s it. There are no far reaching implications of this ruling, once again, despite what Pace-O-Matic would have you believe.
ARE OTHER SKILL GAMES ILLEGAL?
Once again, it depends.
The first thing that we have to discuss is whether or not we are discussing Beaver County specifically. In the event that we are, then it becomes a matter of whether Beaver County looks at their ruling as having analyzed only Pace-O-Matic games, specifically, or whether all games that fit the criteria that Beaver County has decided effectuates, “Skill predominating over chance,” and therefore, the games being, “Presumptively legal,” would still apply.
In the case of Beaver County, that would be an interesting question. For one thing, I would suggest that the majority of other Pennsylvania Skill Games (or games that call themselves that) do NOT have every function that a Pace-O-Matic machine does. Some machines have one, or more, of the three functions cited by Beaver County, but not all three. There are a few games that functionally have what I would consider (in my obviously not legally-binding opinion) substantially all three of the same qualities…and MANY (in the state) that have none at all.
So, what combinations of these qualities are there?
-There are any number of machines in Pennsylvania in which, ‘Skill,’ would play no evident role whatsoever. With the majority of these machines, every game and bet level simply replays the same series of results for all eternity, so technically, there’s no randomness involved, but they are otherwise functionally the same as a slot machine.
From the perspective of most players, of course, the games are functionally random slot machines. The only way that the machines simply repeating the same pattern of results would ever benefit a player is if the player were aware of the full pattern AND were able to recognize where they were in the pattern to know if they could play to some profitable point in the pattern without losing all of their money.
Of course, a player playing indefinitely WOULD eventually lose all of his or her money, with even more surety than a slot machine, and that’s because a slot machine is random and these are not. That’s why slot machines have a, “Theoretical Return Percentage,” rather than just a, “Return Percentage.” The difference is that a, “Theoretical Return Percentage,” says that if every possible result came up at exactly the expected probability over a long enough period of play, then XX.x% would be the return of the game.
In contrast, the so-called, “Skill Games,” have a fixed net percentage that they WILL hold for each game and bet level. Imagine that the, “Cycle,” on a particular game and bet level is 200,000 results for a PA Skill Game and it returns 92% on a $5.00 bet: What would happen is that a player playing the full sequence all the way through (ignoring progressives) WOULD lose $80,000. There is no other result that is possible.
In contrast, a player making $5 bets on a slot machine, though it may be highly unlikely, may find themselves ahead or even after 200,000 spins. That can be true even if the machine also had a 92% return, which would be terrible for a $5 denomination machine, but it could be a penny machine upon which $5 is the max bet.
With that, I would argue that there is no, ‘Skill,’ difference between the two, unless the expectation is that a given player is supposed to watch every result, at every bet level, so that they can eventually recognize where they are in the pattern and play only to profitable points.
Furthermore, on many of these machines, the player does not get a choice (or even the illusion of choice). If there is any difference at all between these, ‘Skill,’ games and slot machines, it’s only in the fact that slot machines operate randomly and these do not. As a matter of fact, casinos would probably LOVE it if they could get away with these games, but they can’t, because they are regulated…and the regulations say you cannot have a predetermined series of outcomes.
For all I know, there are a small number of machines out there that truly do function as slot machines and don’t have predetermined series of outcomes, but I doubt it. The reason that I doubt it is because vendors and sellers all seem to guarantee potential retail locations a fixed percentage of net profit depending on the denomination and game, which they wouldn’t be able to guarantee if the games were random.
2.) One Skill Component:
-I have observed a few machines in the state that have only one of the skill components outlined in the Beaver County decision.
For those of you who read the Beaver County decision (or my synopsis), you’ll note that the decision was very clear in citing three factors before arriving at the conclusion that, in the court’s view, skill predominates over chance on Pace-O-Matic devices. However, there are some Skill Games in the state that have only one of the components listed:
Most of the machines that I have seen, if they are only going to have one component, have one of these two:
A.) Next Puzzle Equivalent:
-Again, one of the key things that make Pace-O-Matic machines is the fact that you can see the next puzzle in advance and determine whether or not winning (or breaking even) is possible, even if you have no desire to play the, ‘Follow Me,’ game.
There are a handful of other, ‘Skill Games,’ in Pennsylvania that have a similar component, often called, “Prize Viewer,” or, “Next Prize,” which simply show what the result of the next spin will be in terms of money earned. In many of these cases, you don’t even see anything except for a monetary amount that will show up on the screen for either a couple of seconds or until you click it away. In many of these cases, you don’t even know what specifically will cause that final result, but it will definitely happen if there is no player input decision to be made to begin with, or the player doesn’t screw it up.
There are even some games, such as one designed to look like video poker, in which a player’s decisions would appear to matter, but don’t. When the player hits, “Prize Viewer,” that WILL be the prize. The player could even deliberately hold cards that would make the intended prize impossible, (though the player generally won’t have the opportunity to do so, one example of when a player does is if the intended payout is for a flush, but the player holds two cards of different suits to prevent that) but the game will just give the player a, “Bonus,” that makes up the difference.
Some other of these games don’t have a mechanism by which the player chooses a spot for a wild or selects a spot on the layout to put one (of two) symbols. Nope. You just spin it and what happens is what happens, except you can choose to know what happens in advance.
In function, most players will play these games as they would play a standard slot machine. In other words, they won’t use the, ‘Look Ahead,’ or, ‘Prize Viewer,’ feature and will instead play the spin without knowing what the following result is going to be. In other cases, a player may look ahead at some results, or perhaps even all results, but will choose to spin anyway even with the foreknowledge that the result will be a loss. In effect, they are spinning in order to play the spin after the losing one.
B.) Pick a Spot/Choose Wild/Nudge
These are all variations of the same concept, which is that the player must make a, “Skillful,” choice in order to maximize winnings, or perhaps, in order to win anything at all.
I have detailed these in previous articles, so I am going to give a very brief refresher of the mechanisms behind these.
a.) Pick a Spot:
-Most of the time, or sometimes only when a win is possible, a player will be given a choice of one (of two) symbols to replace a spot on the grid…which is often either on a 3x3 or 5x5 game. The player can either win, or if the player would win either way, can maximize winnings, by choosing the correct symbol. The choice will often be painfully obvious, such as choosing to make a position on the reels WILD as opposed to choosing a fixed symbol. Obviously, because the WILD also acts as the fixed symbol, the WILD will always be the superior choice.
In some instances, players will choose from two fixed symbols and must choose the one that either maximizes winnings, or alternatively, enables the player to win at all.
Finally, some games will have a, ‘Free Games,’ feature that requires getting three (or more) of a particular symbol. For example, Quacky Bucks (some versions) requires that a player get three Duck Bonus symbols. Actually, I might be mixing it up with Bathtime Ducks, or something, there is a lot of crossover in game themes! Anyway, the player will want to select this symbol if there are two, or more, other like symbols on the screen. Technically, the player might even want to pick it if there is only one other symbol because, as I recall, getting only two of the symbols returns even money on some of the games.
b.) Choose Wild Spot:
Same as Pace-O-Matic, in function, but these games generally more resemble traditional slot machines in appearance.
The, ‘Nudge,’ feature is one in which a player will move one, or sometimes two, reels up or down such that three like symbols appear on the payline, thus resulting in a win.
In general, if a machine is only going to have one skill component, it is generally one of those two with the second one being some variation of B.).
Other machines that I have seen, very rarely, will have a feature by which a player can go to a, “Side Game,” and win some amount over and above the bet amount on a losing spin. However, I must admit that I don’t specifically recall seeing that feature not combined with one of the two features mentioned above…though I guess it’s possible.
Some machines have a feature called, “Take a Penny,” as the only feature on the game that can even be argued to be skill-based. Instead of a losing puzzle, quite simply, the player has the option of clicking on an icon of a penny and will lose $0.01 less than they otherwise would have.
It bears reiterating that Beaver County is the ONLY county that has ruled Skill Games to be, “Presumptively Legal,” and that such ruling, strictly speaking, only necessarily applies within Beaver County. Once again, Pace-O-Matics were the only machines specifically adjudicated upon in that decision, so it is unknown whether or not Beaver County would want to look at machines vis-a-vis the chance/skill balance on an individual basis, or alternatively, whether other games that have all three of the skill components could also be inferred to be, “Presumptively legal,” within Beaver County.
Again, the Beaver County decision noted that there was some element of chance involved in Pace-O-Matic machines, which Pace-O-Matic seemed not to deny, but given the three skill components adjudicated by the court, determined that skill predominates over luck. Would they feel the same way if the game had only one or two of these skill components? We don’t know.
3.) Two Skill Components:
-Typically, this will consist of a, “Look Ahead,” type of feature combined with one of the features listed in (B.)) above. Alternatively, this might also include a feature from (B.)) above in conjunction with the, “Take a Penny,” feature. In other words, a player’s decision will reflect the monetary outcome, but there is no way that most (functionally: all) players would know what a result is going to be in advance.
In a sense, these devices are kind of like casino video poker, except that they require even less skill. As we all know, video poker (that operates on a random number generator) combines luck and skill in the sense that a skillful player will always make optimal holds that result in the best outcome as relates to expected value. Another key difference is the, “Draw,” in Video Poker in that a player can know that they are making the best hold, but will not know in advance what the outcome of that hold will be (excluding holding all five) until the cards are drawn.
THE REST OF THE STATE
Again, we have delved into what makes Pace-O-Matics, “Presumptively Legal,” according to Beaver County. We do not know what qualities of the three, or perhaps other unique, ‘Skill,’ qualities other machines would need to have for the court to adjudicate that skill predominates over chance because the ruling only applied to Pace-O-Matics.
The only thing that we could assume, as far as Beaver County goes, is that all machines that contain all three of those components, or substantially the same thing as all three of those components, would also be seen as being presumptively legal.
This ruling does not apply to the rest of the state, so we do not know what other counties would or would not see as, “Presumptively legal.” Specifically, were it to go to a different county court, a different county could agree with Beaver County as to what the, “Skill components,” of a Pace-O-Matic are, but in theory, still decide that chance remains predominant over skill.
Personally, I think Skill predominates over chance when the games are played in a skillful way. That said, the way that most players play, I think that chance effectively predominates over skill, unless Beaver County were to hold that picking the Wild spot optimally (by itself) would be enough such that skill predominates over chance.
I say that because most players do not use the, “Next Puzzle,” feature in the normal course of their play and I have never personally witnessed anyone attempting to do the, “Follow Me,” game on a net breakeven or losing result. With that, even if it is a skill game, most players play it as if it were an ordinary slot machine—which is the goal of Pace-O-Matic, of course. It obviously would not do for the only players to be, “Next Puzzle,” lookers exclusively (like me) or to only play if they know they will complete the, “Follow Me,” game to success 100% of the time. If that happened, the machines could either only lose money, or eventually, would not be played by anyone whatsoever.
We cannot infer anything about the rest of the state pursuant to the Beaver County decision, but in terms of my empirical observations, I would suggest that the machines have been generally tolerated by local and state enforcement with only the occasional crackdown.
ONLY PACE-O-MATIC WILL GUARANTEE YOU GET PAID
Once again, because of the Beaver County findings, many PA Skill Game players are under the impression that Pace-O-Matics are the ONLY legal skill game. In some cases, people seem to believe that they are regulated.
In the Keystone State, the main entity that produces Pace-O-Matic cabinets is a company called Miele Manufacturing. Miele Manufacturing manufactures the cabinets, at which point, they are sent to various distributors who place them in different retail locations. Common retail locations include bars, restaurants, convenience stores and fraternal organizations. Additionally, I have seen PA Skill machines in some laundromats, but none of those machines have been Pace-O-Matics.
The machines operate on a revenue-sharing agreement between the retailer, the distributor and Pace-O-Matic themselves. Each entity gets a percentage of any net profits garnered by a location.
The way that split works is that the retailer will cash any winning tickets, every so often, the distributor will come around and remove cash from the machines and will pay the retailer on cashed out tickets on a dollar for dollar basis. If the amount of cash in the machine is insufficient to cover the winning tickets (relatively rare, but does happen, on occasion), then the distributor will pay an amount of cash sufficient to cover the winning tickets and there are no positive revenues to split.
In theory, retailers should have no reason not to pay out winnings, but there have been some issues with retailers that have been publicly reported.
In one instance, someone on Facebook (who will remain anonymous for the purpose of this writing) alleged that a retailer was unable or unwilling to pay on the night they hit the prize and printed the tickets, (tickets, plural, because Pace-O-Matic will only print at a maximum of $500/ticket, so you must print multiple if there are more than that) so they were asked to return the following day. When this patron returned, they were told that tickets are required to be cashed on the day they are printed, thus, the ticket is void…despite the fact that it was the retailer who was either unable, or unwilling, to payout on the ticket on the day it was printed.
There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of legal recourse when this happens because, as has been mentioned, these machines are not actually regulated by anyone. Some people have cited that they believe that Miele Manufacturing regulates the machines (they don’t), but Miele is sometimes helpful in telling affected patrons who the route operators are in a particular area and providing that contact info. They helped me get ahold of the correct operator when I had an issue with the ticket printer being backed up and had to come back.
If that ever happens, the best you can do if the retailer claims that there is no way to tell who won or how much (which I have also seen reported) is to tell the retailer that is absolutely NOT true, because the route operators CAN tell what tickets were attempted to be printed when and for how much.
If you ever have issues getting paid, my advice is to get all of the documentation you can, including:
- Contact info for the location.
- The name of the employee at the location.
- Any potentially identifying info from the unit.
- A picture of the unit you were playing. In fact, before you cash any high value tickets (whatever you might take, ‘High value,’ to mean), I would recommend taking a picture of the machine—just in case.
- The approximate time you attempted to cash out.
- The amount for which you attempted to cash out (which the route operator might want to verify).
- If you can get the person to sign something, that would probably be for the best, but is unlikely.
Whatever you do, make sure that you are polite in all of these things lest your behaviors be used as an excuse not to pay you.
One other issue that I have seen multiple reports of (which I will keep anonymous) is the issue of employees attempting to, “Tip hustle,” winning patrons. Most of these instances are what I might term, “Soft hustling,” but, in at least one instance, it was reported that an employee wanted to know the specific tip they would be receiving before they would cash the ticket.
For my part, I would take this issue as far as I had to in order to get it resolved whilst keeping 100% of the money. The only way I WOULDN”T tip someone is if a tip was demanded of me, in which case, I’d just as soon get nothing if it means they aren’t getting it either. In an instance such as this, I would get all of the information that I suggested you get above, and also, you might want to take a picture of high dollar value tickets (whatever that means to you) just in case the employee refuses to give back the ticket when they are asked.
DURING CERTAIN HOURS
A common issue that people (including me) have had is that some operators will only payout on winning tickets during certain hours, or if not hourly restrictions, sometimes the employee cannot pay out simply due to not having any cash on hand! I’ve had to go back to some establishments for tickets that were barely three digits before!
This is understandable, in a way, because many retailers are not going to want to keep a ton of cash on hand, at all times, out of concern for potentially being robbed. On the other hand, this is something you would obviously never have to deal with in a physical casino as a casino legally MUST be able to pay you at all times.
Many such establishments will at least have the courtesy to have some sort of posting to the effect that tickets cannot be cashed after X:XX, or whatever time is stated. Some have fairly vague language saying something to the effect that tickets cannot be cashed, “At night,” which isn’t exactly a subjective term, but when it officially becomes, “Night,” could be seen as subjective.
If establishments do not have any such signage and you are visiting outside of banking hours, my advice would be to ask if they will cash tickets at that time, and perhaps, consider not playing if they say they will not be able to cash tickets above a certain value.
The reason that I say that is because any tickets that I have ever seen (Pace-O-Matic, or otherwise) have language to the effect that they must be redeemed on the day upon which they were printed. While most establishments, especially any you are familiar with, will not use that against you, there have been multiple reports that some establishments have pointed out this verbiage.
I would argue that you have less to worry about along these lines (though problems remain possible) with Pace-O-Matics than with any other machines. Other machines might not even be on a route operator/retailer type of arrangement and might be outright owned by the retailer. If that is the case, and the retailer refuses to cash your ticket, then you really have nobody to complain to outside of going to the police…which might not do you any good. In theory, you can call the manufacturer of the machines, but many of them will simply tell you that the machines that have been sold, and the conduct of retailers, has nothing to do with them.
Of all of the problems mentioned, at one point or another, they have even been reported to have related to Pace-O-Matic machines, which are the only ones that have a, ‘Chain of command,’ of sorts, that can be known ahead of playing. Again, that’s because the machines are not regulated, so if the retailer is trying to pull a fast one on you, then you are at the mercy of the route operator—and don’t be surprised if the retailer trying to rip you off is going to be less than helpful in telling you who the route operator is. Most likely, the goal of the employee (or, gasp, perhaps even the owner of the establishment) is to pay themselves out on the ticket and then have it reimbursed as a winning ticket, as normal.
ARE THE MACHINES RIGGED?
There have been some who claim that machines that are not Pace-O-Matics are rigged, but in my opinion, there’s no reason to believe that for a few reasons:
1.) The stated return of the machines, as relates those manufacturers to whom I have spoken, does not exceed 97% or 98%, even at the highest bet amounts.
-Going back to my interview with Banilla Games, I was able to establish that the returns for their individual games are programmed to be no greater than the high-90% range, and even that, only occurring on the highest bet levels.
Furthermore, whilst some non Pace-O-Matic Skill Games might be different than Banilla, I also established that Banilla Games programs their machines to have a, ‘Cycle,’ of one set of spins that plays over and over infinitely. In other words, if the return on a particular game and bet amount was 95%, and you played the full set of games, then there is no possibility outside of losing 5% of your money.*
*Technically, the progressive amounts relative to when you started playing might come into play here, but that’s sort of splitting hairs.
When it comes to the lower bets, both Pace-O-Matic games and Banilla Games are generally set to pay in the range of the high-80% to low-90% area. Banilla Games have said that their games are somewhat customizable, in terms of the return-to-player, but that they cannot be programmed to be, “Much lower,” than that high-80% area.
However, it does become important to remember that these machines are NOT regulated and, technically, have never been specifically legalized—by anybody. Due to the fact that they are not regulated, a machine could have a return as low as 0%, if it wanted to, and be satisfied just to get whatever amount players unfamiliar put in until they realize that you literally never win a single spin.
Pragmatically speaking, my working assumption would be that no Pennsylvania Skill Game pays out under 75%. Honestly, 75% would be a complete ass-whipping to most players and they would likely eventually abandon those machines in favor of other skill games (or even casino slot machines) if playing a 75% game. Players aren’t going to notice the difference between an 88% game and a 90% game, generally speaking, but the difference between 88% and 75% is much more pronounced.
If nothing else, a machine that returns 75% with any appreciable degree of variance and any prize, “Top-Heaviness,” whatsoever is going to see a, “Session,” returning under 50% as often as not, or close to that. Players simply wouldn’t put up with that for very long and it would be a noticeable difference even for a player not specifically keeping track of their results.
In other words, the machines should be assumed NOT to be rigged because there’s absolutely no reason to do that. Think of it this way: Imagine a coin flipping game where you pay me $4.40 if it is heads, but if it is tails, I only pay you $3.60…would I really have any need to use a gaffed coin? Of course not! My expected profit of 10% is going to resolve itself soon enough.
However, these machines have more than a profit that is merely expected. As we discussed before, when an entire, ‘Cycle,’ is played on Banilla (or similar) games, or an entire set of puzzles is played through on a Pace-O-Matic machine, assuming that people didn’t use the, “Follow Me,” feature, the machine WILL profit some precise amount.
In the case of Pace-O-Matics, for example, the distributor has access to a screen that will tell them how many games are remaining on a particular game and bet level, how much is left to be bet on those games in terms of cash and how much remains on those games in prizes.
Going back to the coin-flipping analogy, if I have the advantage over you in terms of payouts, skill games are almost like having the additional benefit of absolutely knowing that heads will come up exactly 50% of the time. I have no need to cheat because there is no possible way that I could lose.
2.) Player Mistakes:
-Another reason that skill games have no need to be rigged, and another advantage that they have over slot machines in casinos, is that the player is capable of making mistakes that will cost the player money.
In the case of Pace-O-Matics, based on my understanding of some of their patents that I have seen (and reviewed in an earlier article), it seems that there is something of a compensatory mechanism by which a player who has made a mistake (thus resulting in a sub-optimal outcome) will cause the machine to take the difference between the intended monetary return of the puzzle, compared to what the player did get, and pay out the difference at a later time.
Once again, that’s just based on my understanding of their patents, so my understanding could be wrong. Assuming my fundamental understanding is correct, if I had to speculate, my speculation would be that the game does one of two things:
1.) Introduces a new puzzle to the set of puzzles (that would not otherwise be in the set) such that the result of that puzzle reflects the amount that the previous player lost on the sub-optimally played puzzle.
2.) Simply adds an amount, or outcome, to one of the Bonus Games or Free Spins (depending on the game in question and amount that was lost) that replaces the difference between the suboptimal result and the optimal one on a future spin.
However, from my interview with Banilla Games, I know that those machines (and, presumably, some others) have no compensatory mechanism whatsoever. Once again, the Banilla Games operate on a cycle of puzzles based on the bet amount and game that just repeats itself forever. With that, I was told that a player who makes an incorrect decision has simply lost that amount of money forever as there is no replacement mechanism on Banilla games.
Once again, compared to traditional casino slot machines, this represents yet another reason that Skill Games have no need to be rigged. With casino slots, the long-term theoretical return is generally just the long-term theoretical return, (with video poker and certain electronic Table Games being exceptions, as well as a handful of partially skill-based games) so the casino does not have the benefit of a player losing what would otherwise be a winning result by way of making an incorrect decision. The skill games either do, or can, so as a result, that’s just additional would-be return that the operator gets to keep.
And, believe me, I have seen more than one picture (Facebook) of a massive screw-up!!!
Don’t play too fast!!!
3.) They Aren’t Regulated:
-Granted, the fact that they aren’t regulated is both a reason why these machines could get away with being, “Rigged,” as much as it is a reason for them not to be.
Because these games aren’t regulated, operators and distributors don’t generally have to worry about flat taxes on revenues.
In the case of slot machines in the Keystone State (both land casino and online), the casinos pay an effective tax rate of 54% on ALL slot revenues.
“Revenues,” is a very key word, because that means that the casino chops the state 54% of all positive monies made on just the slot machines. In theory, a casino could LOSE money operating for the year, but as long as the slot machines themselves were profitable (positive net revenues), the casinos would have to pay 54% of what the slots made—their other expenses and costs do not matter.
In the case of Skill Games, first of all, you’d have to assume that all operators are properly reporting their skill game income and including it in their revenues. I imagine that a great many are, but I seriously doubt that all of them are. Even if they were, then you get into the question of whether or not that particular operation was net profitable (as a whole) for the year, and if not, it’s possible that the retailer doesn’t pay any taxes on these revenues whatsoever. Alternatively, some might simply not be reporting revenues from the machines.
In the meantime, the manufacturers, distributors and Pace-O-Matic themselves are presumably making money, but they certainly aren’t paying the state 54% of all positive machine revenues right off the top! If they were, I think you would see a great many fewer locations that even have machines, as the machines would have to perform extremely well financially, to even be worth servicing.
It’s actually pretty simple to compare when we look at the tax on slot revenue as opposed to having no direct tax on skill game revenue. Let’s compare 54% to 0% assuming $1,000,000 in total bets on a unit at a 95% return-to-player. For these purposes, we will assume that the slot machine performed exactly to theoretical expectation:
SLOT: (1000000 * .05) * .46 = $23,000
SKILL: (1000000 * .05) * 1 = $50,000
In the case of the slot machine, the machine held 5% of all bets, but immediately had to pay 54% of the positive revenues, leaving the casino with 46% of revenues, meaning $23,000. Of course, that’s before the casino pays any other expense whatsoever, so this $23,000 figure doesn’t even start to look like profit until you take a bunch of other things out.
The Skill Game does not pay a direct tax just on positive revenues, so it holds 5%, which represents $50,000 and then goes from there. The next step would typically be the three-way split between operator, distributor and Pace-O-Matic (in the case of Pace-O-Matics), with other machines, it could be some split between distributor and operator and possible that the operator is simply also the owner of the machine.
That’s not to say that your average Skill Game is getting the same amount of handle (total amount in bets) as the average machine on a casino’s slot floor every year, but you get the idea. Strictly speaking, there’s really no way to know as I don’t think such statistics are kept and made public for skill games, but more importantly, I imagine that skill game handle is going to vary wildly based on the location.
With all of that, my conclusion is that they could, in theory, be rigged, but almost certainly are not as there would be no compelling reason to rig something when you have almost absolute control over it (without it technically being, ‘rigged’) as it is. Again, if I have heads and you are paying me substantially more if the coin lands heads than I am you if it lands tails, then I have no compelling reason to ever gimmick the coin.
ARE THE GAMES PREDICTABLE?
Confirmation bias is going to confirmation bias.
Actually, Banilla Games are technically perfectly predictable as long as you are aware of the entire cycle of outcomes (which is going to be well over one hundred thousand) for a particular game, and bet amount, and can recognize that you are at a point in the cycle where you can play to some positive outcome.
Pace-O-Matics are technically semi-predictable, but only if you have seen the screen that reveals that a particular game and bet amount has a positive net outcome (for the player) for the remaining set of spins and you have enough money to play until that completes, or until such time that your profit amount is equal to (or greater than) it would be if you played all remaining spins.
Those things aside, no, Pennsylvania Skill Games are generally not, “Predictable.”
There have been mentions of a few different tactics that people claim work on Pace-O-Matics, but it’s hard to say if the people promoting those even believe them to be true, or in the alternative, might perhaps instead have an interest in people playing the machines…for one reason or another.
Of course, there are any number of myths that abound surrounding traditional casino slots, and many of the proponents of those myths (with Professor Slots being a notable exception) don’t seem to have any means of financial gain by compelling people to try their myths.
The first major myth surrounding Pace-O-Matic machines involved making a particular combination of bets, picking specific squares to put the wild on the 3x3 grid (even if doing so meant you would intentionally take a loss) and then you would be, “Guaranteed,” to hit bonus games on a particular (higher) bet amount after completing this sequence of events.
First of all, any, ‘Strategy,’ that would ever call for the intentional taking of a loss is immediately ridiculous. Most obviously, you are losing money where you could otherwise win some amount of money. Secondly, if this sequence of events actually did work, then why couldn’t you just restart it from the beginning on a different game (or different machine) after taking the winning result? For instance, if the would-be win is some sort of bonus games AND the method actually does work, why not take those Bonus Games and then restart the method on a different unit?
Quite simply, there is no possible justification for intentionally taking a loss. Frankly, it’s a stupid thing to do.
Another strategy is to play a game whilst checking, “Next Puzzles,” and to load every denomination up with, “Next Puzzle,” Bonus games, then take them all at once, and they will all combine to return more than you lost (if you lost money at all by that point) to get them showing up as the next puzzles. I have a few problems with this, “Strategy.”:
1.) It’s fundamentally stupid.
2.) One thing that we know about Pace-O-Matics is that the machine will occasionally, “Lock Up,” when it runs out of spins on a particular bet level. When that happens, it cannot be fixed or made to start playing again until the distributor of those machines comes to take care of the problem. On some occasions, this could be one or more days until it is addressed.
If that happens, then you have lost access to all of those winning spins until the distributor comes in to fix the machines. Could you imagine having Bonus Games or Free Games at every bet amount aside from $4.00, but then not being able to play them because $4.00 ran out of puzzles and the machine locked up? Unless you’re going to be able to get ahold of the distributor and be there when the distributor’s employee is there, then someone may well get all of those winning spins for free before you are able to get back to them!
3.) The main problem with both of these strategies are the fundamental mechanics of how Pace-O-Matic machines are designed to operate. Here is a brief explanation:
-Pace-O-Matic games are, “Seeded,” with a fixed number of spins depending on the game and the bet amount in question. When those spins are exhausted, the operator (location) has the option of purchasing a new set of spins to be added to the machine for that game and bet amount. On occasion, operators will choose not to do that, which is why you will sometimes see a game on a machine that lacks a bet amount (typically $0.40 if it does happen) that would normally be available.
Pace-O-Matic machines are not random in the sense that a Random Number Generator decides what symbol appears in each of the squares of the 3x3 grid. However, they are random in the sense that a Random Number Generator picks the next puzzle to be played, or seen as the, “Next Puzzle,” of those remaining in that particular seed of spins.
In other words, there is no possible way to know what puzzle is going to come AFTER the current, “Next Puzzle,” aside from playing the Next Puzzle.
The results of Bonus Games and Free Games are fixed based upon the one in the pool of possible results that happens to be selected. In the case of, “Free Spins,” for most games (possibly all) the minimum return will be 10x the bet amount. When the random number generator selects a, “Next Puzzle,” it will choose one upon which the monetary result has already been decided (provided the player makes the right pick for the WILD spot), regardless of what the player has done before or after hitting the Free Games. If the RNG has selected a Free Games that wins 10x whatever amount was bet, then that is what will happen; if it has selected a Free games that wins 100x whatever amount bet, then that is what will happen. There are no player inputs that will change this result.
Of course, confirmation bias being what it is, people who have success doing it this way once, or perhaps even twice consecutively, will assume that it is true despite other evidence to the contrary…at least, until the evidence becomes undeniable to them even subjectively. In fact, many players will say that these methods don’t, “Always,” work, but if it’s true that they don’t always work, and are not strictly repeatable, then there should be no compelling reason to believe that they EVER work. Some people will even say, “It hasn’t been working lately,” but will continue to believe in the long-term viability of the method.
Again, if someone were to somehow play all games and bet levels until running out of spins, and did NOT play the, “Follow Me,” game, then the only result that would happen (assuming a fresh pool of spins for each game) is that they would ultimately lose some fixed amount even if they made optimal decisions.
THE PROGRESSIVE PACE-O-MATIC QUESTION
There is also a belief that some players have that the progressives on Pace-O-Matic machines will pay out by some point, or that they are more likely to pay out the higher that they are.
Unfortunately, a very high progressive amount could be a good sign, but it could also be a very bad one. Let’s assume that each pool of however many spins only has ONE result that would reflect the highest line pay if the player places the Wild spot correctly. Okay, having made that assumption, a player would have to acknowledge that it’s possible that the progressive amount for that bet level has already been hit, which would explain why the progressive is so high.
Once again, when it comes to the pool of spins, if the spin that reflects the progressive payout has already been hit for a particular bet level, then it’s gone. If there is only one such result in a pool of spins to begin with, and it has already been hit, then the progressive is not obtainable (even in theory) until there is another pool of spins added to the game for that bet level.
If we assume that all possible results from a pool of spins are equally likely to be selected, and there is no reason to believe otherwise, and a greater number of spins have been played than are remaining to be played, then it becomes more likely that the progressive result has already been hit than it is that the result actually remains as available in the spin pool. Of course, a player is not generally going to have access to how many spins have been played as opposed to how many are left.
That represents another key difference between Pace-O-Matics and casino slot machines. In the case of casino slot machines, if a top payout is advertised on a slot machine, then it must be theoretically possible; Pace-O-Matics have no such requirement. Even if all possible top pay results have already been played out of the spin pool, the game will still display that prize on the paytable.
Could the progressive being really high mean that it’s going to hit at the top bet level in the relatively near future? Sure. However, it could also mean that it can’t be hit at all unless new spins are added to the existing pool.
There have also been reports of machines with high progressives at locations that were suddenly replaced by different machines, with different sets of games, and all progressives that had accumulated being gone. Again, this is something that a casino cannot generally do. In Nevada, for example, any player-funded progressives on a machine that is to be permanently removed must be relocated to some other machine (or combination of machines) upon which the result that would pay the progressive is either equally likely or more likely.
HOW DO PA SKILL GAMES PLAY?
From my observations, I would consider PA Skill Games, and particularly Pace-O-Matics, to be relatively low variance games with some occasionally high payouts. It should be considered exceptionally rare to see any result that pays out more than 200x of whatever the bet amount was. It does happen, but it’s not typical.
The variance is also reduced by the fact that, similar to multi-hand video poker, (or video poker that requires an addition to the bet for some optional feature) Pace-O-Matics will often have winning results that pay less than, or equal to, the amount that the player actually bet. Of course, that results in a net loss.
The bottom part of most paytables for most Pace-O-Matic games’ line pays go something like: 0.25x/0.5x/0.75x/1x/2x/5x/10x/20x/???x/???x/Bonus Game/Bonus Games (maybe)/Free Spins (usually).
There are a few exceptions to this payout structure. There is one game (Bombs and Bombshells) that does not actually have a Free Spins game, in fact, there is only one bonus game that consists of shooting soldiers, tanks, helicopters, planes and a battleship. The game appears to randomly choose the amounts per item shot, but this has already been decided and actually just reflects which Bonus Game you happened to get from the pre-seeded pool of spins.
Some of the games have only one Bonus Game that can be hit in addition to the possibility of hitting Free Spins. Lucky Fruit is an example of such a game, as is Lady Periwinkle, with the former having a Bonus Game that involves matching two bet multipliers and winning what you match (your result has already been determined; it doesn’t matter what you pick) and Lady Periwinkle first awarding a bet multiplier which gets multiplied by the result of what looks like a Roulette wheel; similarly, your final result has also been predetermined.
Certain games have two Bonus Games in addition to the possibility of hitting Free Spins. One example is a pirate-themed game in which a player can hit a coin-picker game, with a result that has already been determined, wherein the player selects coins until eventually hitting one that says, “Collect.” The second bonus game is one in which a player will tap on the lady (or the cannon) who will fire her pistol at a wheel that spins and gives some multiple of your bet; this continues until such time that it spins and hits, “Collect.” Finally, there are the Free Spins which, as I have discussed before, universally (all games) seem to pay a minimum of 10x the bet amount.
The only game I have seen with more than two (technically) Bonus Games is Livin’ Large, which has three. However, all three games are variations of the same game with a wheel that is spun and contains upgrades to a car that pay some multiple of the player’s bet amount; what you will get has already been determined and player inputs do not matter. All three Bonus Games are this, except one pays 1x the total amount one, one pays 2x and the third pays 3x. Additionally, this game also has the possibility of hitting Free Spins.
There are not many exceptions to the low-end of the paytable, but one notable one is Lucky Fruit that does not have a line pay that returns 0.25x bet; the minimum line pay for that game is 0.5x bet, so all else being equal (though it can’t be assumed that all else is equal) this game would have more variance than the others.
As many as four combinations of winning results are possible in one spin, but most often, it’s going to be one or two. The center spot being wild can theoretically make two diagonal line pays, a vertical line pay and a horizontal line pay. The four corners allow for as many as three simultaneous winning results in the form of a vertical, a horizontal and one diagonal. The spots that are in the center of columns one or three (from left) or rows one or three (from top) allow for up to two simultaneous wins which would always be horizontally and vertically.
For that reason, there can be outcomes in which multiple lines that individually pay less than 1x add up to 1x the bet amount, or more. There can also be cases in which a player wins on multiple lines, but still wins less than the bet amount for example, winning 0.25x on two lines simultaneously would still only be 0.5x the bet returned overall.
In terms of results, I would compare these games to Video Poker for distribution of outcomes, except with a much worse paytable.
In fact, I think that Double Double Bonus isn’t a bad comparison:
Okay, so we have thirteen potentially winning results on that game. What I am going to do is use the Beating Bonuses simulator and create a somewhat similar outcome distribution that will go as follows:
|Bonus (Standardized to 24)||.005|
|Free Spins (Standardized to 29)||.004|
*NOTE: From seeing a screen that only the distributor would normally see, I happen to know that at least one Pace-O-Matic game has an overall hit rate (results that return something) of about 35%. I have no idea as to the probabilities of individual results, but this is just to give an idea.
**Free Games and Bonus Games have been standardized to return a fixed amount. This probably would reduce variance, but there’s no easy way to account for it otherwise.
Note, there are more individual results than there are line results on an actual Pace-O-Matic game, but that’s partially to account for the fact that multiple lines can be hit simultaneously. I guess I could divide by the nine possible lines and look at it on a per line basis, but that would actually make things more complicated and it’s not possible to win on all nine lines at once anyway.
Actually, that’s also more payouts than I can put in the simulator, so we are going to go with a single result with .0001 probability for the top two that returns 319x the bet. Also, do note that the left column reflects net result, so payouts reflect the presumptive loss of the bet amount, as they would also do for a slot machine.
Okay, so this results in a House Edge of 8.55%, which is a return to player of 91.45%, so we’re probably somewhere in the $1.20 or $1.60 bet areas as I believe the $2.00 and $4.00 bets have a slightly better return than that.
There will be three simulations done, each of 10,000 players who all start with 1000 bets worth, bet a total of 10000 times and do not quit for any reason until betting is complete…unless they run out of money.
Average Return: -733.9 (Bets)
Maximum Return: +1,544 (Bets)
Chance of Gain: 5.73%
Chance of Bust: 50.87% (Lost all 1,000 initial bets worth, could not complete wagering)
Average Return: -728.8 (Bets)
Maximum Return: +1,341.5 (Bets)
Chance of Gain: 6.00%
Chance of Bust: 49.63%
*This result is interesting because the best performing player did not profit as much, but that was partially offset by the fact that we had 124 fewer players bust completely out.
Average Return: -736.0 (Bets)
Maximum Return: +1,469 (Bets)
Chance of Gain: 5.48%
Chance of Bust: 50.41%
*For this, our best performing player did not do as well as in the first simulation, and we had the second highest bust rate.
This seems somewhat plausible to me as, while 10,000 bets may seem like a ton, at an average speed of 500 plays per hour, this reflects only twenty hours of play. I would imagine a great many people in the Facebook groups have played significantly longer than that.
It should also be mentioned that some top prizes are more than 799x the bet amount, in fact, some bonus games can even theoretically return more than that, but I had to standardize for something in order to do the simulation as actual possible results (all things included) are innumerable in theory and too many to list pragmatically, even if they were all known.
With that, the actual percentage of gainers can be assumed to be slightly higher than what I have done here, but not by much, since we are talking about absolute top-tier spin results.
Some players claim to be ahead over long periods of time. There are those that would call such people out as, ‘Liars,” so we will experiment to see if any could be telling the truth. For this experiment, we will give all players bankroll of 5,000 bets worth and will have them play 50,000, 100,000, 250,000 and 500,000 total plays. Each simulation will only be done once for time purposes and we are only concerned with Chance of Gain:
50,000: 0.04% (40 of 10,000)
100,000: 0.00% (Only 1.03% did not bust)*
*Okay, unfortunately, this is where my simulation kind of breaks down. The average return is -4990 bets and the Standard Deviation is 1614.4, but most players completely busted long before finishing anyway. The best result lost 1,752 bets overall, so this clearly doesn’t work.
*I’m going to change the top result to 499x bet amount, which reflects the top single base line pay on most PoM games, anyway. The House Edge is still 6.75%, even after that adjustment, so let’s see what happens:
100,000 (Top Pay Now 499x profit): 0.07% (Max +1,799.5x bets)
This actually ended up being three more players than our 50,000 sample with the lower top pay, but it’s good enough to give an idea. Besides that, a few PoM games have a top single line pay of 250x at base amount, and some machines aren’t progressives at all. Let’s do 250,000 just to see what happens.
250,000 (Top Pay Now 499x Profit): 100% BUST Rate
Again, the paytable I am using may NOT accurately reflect a Pace-O-Matic game, in fact, I’m sure that it doesn’t; I’m just trying to get reasonably close for illustrative purposes.
The bottom line is this: If you are not playing the, “Follow Me,” game, or are not playing only when the next puzzle is a winner, then you WILL eventually lose. If you have a tremendous bankroll, then it might take a long time for that to happen, but you will eventually lose all money.
As before, even playing only with high top progressives doesn’t automatically have merit, because it’s possible that the top paying prize is simply not available in the remaining pool of available results, and as such, you are absolutely guaranteed NOT to get it, unless you play after another pool of results is added. Beyond that, the machines can be pulled out before a progressive is hit. On top of all of that, people who claim to play the Progressive method don’t actually claim to have any idea of what the probability of hitting the Progressive is anyway!!!
If you’re going to play open-ended progressives, knowing the probability of actually hitting it is a very critical piece of information to know you have an advantage!
Anyway, there may still be people who are ahead after 100,000 spins, since the payout distribution (on the top end) is probably more widely varied than in my example. Furthermore, the moderate hits might be slightly more probable, free games slightly more probable and might have a slightly higher average return.
Either way, a relatively high hit rate and a high concentration of lower than average pays tends to be bad for the player who wishes to be ahead after any appreciable length of time.
Think of it this way: Imagine I had a game where you won exactly 50% of the time, but we will also assume that the game has some house edge percentage that is more than 0%. Obviously, you can’t lose more than the amount you are betting, so the 50% that aren’t, “Hits,” reflect losses of 100% of the bet amount, right?
Okay, so let’s say every win resulted in a profit of 1x the bet amount, on average:
(.5 * 1) - (.5 * (-1)) = 0
The problem there is that game would have neither a house edge nor a positive player expectation, but we were supposed to assume that the game has a house edge, or it would not be placed, right? The only thing that could rectify that issue is another assumption that we would have to make: That the average result, when you do win, returns something less than the bet amount and is, therefore, a net loss.
Pace-O-Matics do not have a 50% hit rate that I know of, but in general terms, you still do not want very much (ideally not any) of your winning results vis-a-vis hit rate to come from results that still finalize in a net loss. In the case of Pace-O-Matics, while I do not know the specific percentage of results that end in some sort of net loss, but not a loss of the full bet, I do know that the percentage of winning outcomes that result in a net loss is substantial.
If you’re not playing the, ‘Follow Me,’ game, then every ‘Winning,’ result that you have that returns less than the amount bet is some kind of net loss. With a 0.25x win on a $4.00 bet, you haven’t really WON $1.00, but in reality, you have lost $3.00. That will seem obvious to anyone who has ever played these, but unfortunately, this partial loss results (as I call them) still count as part of the hit rate and make it more difficult to win over x number of spins as they reduce the variance of the game.
So, what is Variance? Simply put, for these purposes, Variance reflects the degree to which the average result deviates from expectation. Variance encompasses both winning and losing results and is a function of the probability of a particular result and what it pays when it does hit.
For example, let’s use the Video Poker calculator on WoO, but instead, let’s use 9/6 Double Double Bonus and cut the Royal payout in half:
Normally, the Royal Flush would return 4,000 units on a five unit bet with probability .000025 and Variance 15.647743, but instead, it returns 2,000 units with probability .000020 (because of strategy changes, which wouldn’t apply to Pace-O-Matics) and results in Variance 3.170301. That reduces the overall variance of the game to approximately 29.49 whereas it would have otherwise been approximately 41.98.
As a result, in addition to the increase in House Edge this would cause, a given number of y players all playing x hands (or until they run out of money) would have a greater percentage bust rate with the Royal paying 2,000 for a five unit bet as opposed to 4,000. In addition to the higher bust rate, (unless the initial bankroll was so high as to make busting impossible) there would be a smaller percentage of players ahead, which the Beating Bonus simulator would term, “Chance of Gain,” after x number of hands.
The best comparison that I can make is that a Pace-O-Matic game plays similarly to a three-handed Video Poker game with an extraordinarily bad paytable, by Video Poker standards. I would imagine that this same comparison would hold for a great number of Pennsylvania Skill Games.
In other words, the design of the game is such to ensure that a VERY high percentage of players WILL be net losing over a relatively small amount of play. Again, if we assume that a player plays at a pace of 500 plays per hour, then that player could complete 100,000 plays in only 200 hours of total playing time (which, I assume, many have done…after all, that’s only 200 one-hour playing sessions) and almost none of those players would be ahead after that amount of play.
Once again, I acknowledge that my simulation was merely illustrative and there’s probably a bit more variance (not much) than my simulation would have accounted for, but generally speaking, after 100,000 plays (approximately 200 hours of play) almost nobody is still ahead.
Is it possible that some people are ahead after that amount of play? Sure. That’s especially true since each of our simulations only had 10,000 players each. If you increased that to 1,000,000 players, then certainly, you would find someone who ran well enough to the right of the bell curve to still be ahead. Of course, if you increase the number of games played to some new amount, then that would no longer be true. Eventually, it would never be true regardless of the number of players.
Unless doing, “Follow Me,” or, “Next Puzzle,” what makes Pace-O-Matics even tougher is the fact that the intended net profits of the machine WILL happen when the spin pool is exhausted. In fact, unless a ton of people are doing, “Follow Me,” successfully, no other result is even possible. With casino slot machines, it is referred to as a long-term theoretical payout percentage because, given the true random nature of the game, the result is not absolutely guaranteed. With Pace-O-Matics operating on a pool of spins, provided all spins in the pool eventually get played, the result is guaranteed.
BETTER OFF THAN WITH CASINOS?
The short answer to this is: I don’t know.
When we compare the returns of casino slot machines for comparable bet amounts, at least, to those of Pace-O-Matic machines and what Banilla Games has said their returns are, we end up with comparable returns.
However, there are a few caveats that have to be made when comparing skill games to casino slots. For example, over a particular number of spins, players will generally be better off if it is not possible to win less than the amount originally bet. On some Banilla Games, you cannot win less than the amount that you are betting—this is particularly true with their single-line games. However, on some penny, nickel or dime or quarter slots in casinos, it is possible to win less than the bet amount.
In terms of House Edge, I consider it all pretty comparable across the board. However, I think you get more variance with $1 denomination casino slot machines than you would betting either $2 or $4 on a Pace-O-Matic. VERY generally speaking, I think Pace-O-Matic variance is roughly comparable to penny slot machines, and house edges are approximately the same, so just picking a machine in the dark is probably six of one and a half dozen of the other.
***I can’t emphasize how roughly I am speaking here. Really, you would have to know the pays and probabilities and hit rates of Pace-O-Matic vs. a specific slot machine unit.
For advantage players who would only play, “Next Puzzle,” on Pace-O-Matics, skill games are nice because you know that you are going to win as long as you only play breakeven or net profitable Next Puzzles. The only variance that these players would get would be on spins resulting in Bonus Games or Free Games, because those returns can vary and are not known in advance. In the case of Free Spins on a Pace-O-Matic, the advantage player knows he is getting at least 10x the bet amount, but probably doesn’t know the average or the highest possible result relative to the bet.
The only other form of variance for advantage players on a Pace-O-Matic game would come from the fact that there can be consecutive winning puzzles, so while such a player would check the puzzle after the one to be played, the advantage player obviously wouldn’t know, in advance (read: prior to playing the first puzzle he found) whether or not the one after that is a winner.
In terms of games with the, “Prize Viewer,” feature; that feature gives the net result of the spin and even accounts for Bonus Games. In other words, there’s no variance whatsoever on the spin to be immediately played as the advantage player knows, in advance, exactly how much they will win. The only variance on, “Prize Viewer,” games comes, again, from the possibility that there will be multiple winning spins consecutively.
If I were a recreational player trying to decide whether to play penny slots or a Pace-O-Matic machine, I would probably not have a preference…unless I were partial to the skill components (picking the right spot) specifically. When it comes to betting $0.40, $0.80, $1.20 or $1.60, I can’t think of any immediately identifiable reason to prefer one to the other.
If I were a recreational player trying to decide whether to play a $1 denomination slot machine, or to play a Pace-O-Matic at the $2 or $4 bet levels, I would probably be inclined to prefer the slot machine. Assuming that the overall returns to player are roughly similar, then it is my inclination to suggest that the $1 denomination slot machine (which usually does not have partial return results) will have more variance, and therefore, give me a better chance of having a net profit over an appreciable amount of play.
Of course, in both instances, you WILL lose money if you play long enough without some known component that gives you an advantage. In the case of casino slot machines, the advantage might come from it being a must-hit device with the meter in such a position that the player has an advantage overall.
Either way, both of these have a significantly better return to player than the Pennsylvania State Lottery at any bet level, which is probably why the lottery is particularly annoyed with the Skill games being in many gas stations and convenience stores. If anyone is losing revenue to them, then I would suggest it is the lottery. Of course, that might be different if the lottery didn’t absolutely suck!
I think that wraps it up for my semi-comprehensive, and hopefully final, look at PA Skill Games. I will be more than happy to address any questions in the comments, or on Facebook, and if there are enough of those, then perhaps I will turn it into a follow-up Q&A sort of article.
I hope that this article will be useful in giving the scores of players who play these Pennsylvania Skill Games an objective look at where they stand on a legal/regulatory basis, dispels some myths and lets players know what sort of results they might expect if they choose to play them in the future. If you’ve taken the time to read this entire article, then let me say that you are an absolute legend as far as I am concerned, and I hope you have enjoyed your reading and thank you for spending the time.
I have to guess PA and other states simply slipped 'skill' games in under the radar when they were first trying to get revenue from gambling ... but thinking the public was not ready for something bigger. Evidently it's one of those things once allowed, you can't get rid of it?
The beginning of the Skill Games came long after PA had legalized casino gambling. In fact, casinos had been in the state for many years prior to even the machines I'm describing starting to come in.
That said, some bars and fraternal organizations had Cherry Masters, or similar types of devices, before that...but those never claimed to involve skill of any kind. They were also kind of hush hush and always had, "For amusement only," or some other verbiage on the devices. Typically, bars would only payout on them to known regular patrons, if at all.
The Skill Games really began to enter the state as few as five years ago, but they didn't really take off until the lockdowns that Governor Tom Wolf ordered as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The casinos were all closed for a few months, but some fraternal organizations still operated (though they probably weren't supposed to) and the convenience stores and laundromats stayed open, of course.
In any event, nothing really flew under the radar, but more like, all came in at one time!
Honestly, I think we're all well aware of the downfalls of convenience gambling, such as is seen in the slot parlors of states such as West Virginia, Illinois and Montana. In Montana's case, they can actually call themselves casinos, but are mostly just bars that also function as what would be considered slot parlors anywhere else. In any event, the Skill Games undeniably prove that there is a demand for convenience gambling, so it's something of a surprise that the state wouldn't authorize parlors with a model similar to West Virginia's---though the casino lobbyists may have something to do with that.
Another thing that moving to the parlor model would do, since it would be regulated, would presumably restrict it to locations (or, at least, rooms) that a patron must be 21 to enter, similar to West Virginia. The thing about the Skill Games being placed in the open in convenience stores is that you have kids who are being exposed to people gambling...excuse me...'Playing skill games,' which is quite arguably a negative development.
They could get rid of it if they really wanted to, as the devices have only been declared, "Presumptively legal," by one county. They'd have to go through the court process in all other counties, or the code concerning, "Unlawful Gambling," could instead be simply rewritten on the state level.
Alternatively, if the state moved to a Limited Video Lottery machine model similar to that of West Virginia, then I think that would see the Skill Games mostly go away just as a function of there being a lack of demand. To wit, I've never seen a skill game in West Virginia...with legal and regulated limited video lottery parlors, it would make more sense to just have those machines instead.
The only entities seriously miffed about the Skill Games are the casinos, who haven't been terribly vocal about them, and the Lottery Department, who has been a bit more vocal. In theory, local police could do something about it anytime they wanted to, but I'd imagine most either see it as harmless or not bad enough to be worth addressing.
Of course, operators engaging in shady dealing with patrons might change the attitude of law enforcement, especially if there are enough complaints. Thus, regulated or not, they would do well (as a whole) to deal with patrons in a square way.