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Skill-Based Gaming Could Be a Lifeline for Atlantic City

Published on November 27, 2014, 4:00 pm

by Jeff Grant Twitter account Jeff Grant LinkedIn account

Mr. David Rebuck (New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement)Casinos today are filled with games of chance. To win at a penny slot machine, for example, a patron needs a little luck on his or her side. Roulette, keno, and baccarat are three other popular games of chance found in gaming halls. Recently, David Rebuck of the Division of Gaming Enforcement in New Jersey told the press he'd like to see “skill-based gambling” account for a larger portion of the offerings in Atlantic City. Rebuck doesn't worry about the legality of it; New Jersey state law already permits casinos to house skill-based games. Now, according to Rebuck, it's simply a matter of getting more of these types of games into the town's casinos.

Skill-Based Casino Games

Two broad game categories may be found in casinos: games of skill and games of chance. Skill-based games require players to make decisions and use strategies while playing. These decisions and strategies affect the player's odds of winning. Many people enjoy skill-based games because they feel they have more control over whether they will win or not. They also enjoy the intellectual challenge that games of skill provide.

Poker, blackjack, craps, and sports betting are all considered to be skill-based games. In poker, the skill lies in “knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em,” as the Kenny Rogers' song says. In blackjack, the player is constantly making decisions based on the cards he sees. Sometimes he'll choose to hit; other times he'll choose to stand, split, or double down. Sports betting is considered a game of skill because information about teams and players is available beforehand. Bettors make educated guesses as to who will win, and if they're good at analyzing players, teams, and statistics, they have a higher chance of betting correctly.

Games of Chance

Games of chance, on the other hand, do not require the same degree of strategy and skill. Slot machines, roulette, keno, and baccarat are wildly popular games of chance in casinos today. In roulette, players bet on the results of a spinning wheel. Keno is similar to the lottery in that a player selects a series of numbers; if those numbers happen to be randomly selected as the "lucky" numbers, the player wins. Baccarat is a card game in which players bet whose hand will win. Skill and strategy don't play much of a role in any of these games, although it does help to have knowledge of the rules before playing.

Rebuck: Looking for New Skill-Based Games

New Jersey, unlike Nevada, already has the legislation in place to legally acquire a slew of new skill-based games in its casinos. Rebuck told the press that state regulators are willing and ready to receive “game submissions for review.” In other words, Rebuck and his colleagues are actively soliciting new skill-based game ideas for Atlantic City's struggling casinos. Their hope is that newer, more interesting games of skill would stimulate renewed public interest in Atlantic City.

In recent years, Atlantic City has struggled to keep afloat financially. In 2014 alone, four New Jersey casinos have closed their doors to the public: Revel, the Atlantic Club, the Showboat, and the Trump Plaza. Analysts suggest that Atlantic City has lost a significant portion of its customer base to brick-and-mortar betting houses in neighboring states, as well as to online gambling. For the Atlantic City economy to survive, the remaining casinos must now find strategies to entice lost players back in.

Consistently declinig revenues of Atlantic City Casinos (2009-2012)

Gamblification: A Promising New Lead

Expanding Atlantic City's buffet of skill-based games doesn't necessarily mean the casinos are looking to install more blackjack, poker, and baccarat tables. Rather, casino officials in the Garden State are beginning to consider “gamblification” projects that take mainstream, social media games and turn them into betting adventures. Marcus Yoder, a representative of an innovative California company called Gamblit Gambling, says his company has created a “gamblification development kit” that will help game developers turn skill-based social media games like Candy Crush into casino games. With the help of Yoder's kit, other mainstream games could be “gamblified” as well, such as Angry Birds and Words With Friends. The hope is that people who already love these social media games would clamor to play them in casinos if they thought they might win cash by doing so.

Gamblification: Legal Concerns

The term “gamblification” is a spin-off of the word “gamification.” Gamification is defined as the use of a game for purposes that don't relate to the game itself. Gamblification is a similar juxtaposition of two concepts: social media games and gambling.

The fact that gamblification is catching on with the public doesn't make it legal. Critics warn that this new concept has a lot of gray areas. Any developer who takes on a gamblification project is inherently taking on a risk. Different states have different definitions of what constitutes gambling. In Florida, for example, it was recently ruled that arcade games are tantamount to gambling and are, therefore, illegal.

When it comes to introducing “gamblified” games to casinos, the unknown could be dangerous for casino operators. However, it could also be highly profitable for struggling regions like Atlantic City.

Meanings of 'Gamblification' and 'Gamification'

Non-Casino Examples of Gamblification

Gamblification doesn't just refer to the adaptation of social games to a casino environment. It also refers to the adaptation of social games to any type of betting environment. Zynga Poker, for example, allows players to use real money to buy virtual poker chips. While the chips are not redeemable for cash, real money is exchanged between the player and the company. Social game tournaments in which players buy themselves a chance to play, either with real or virtual money, are another example of gamblification.

Atlantic City needs a boost. Rubeck and his colleagues hope that skill-based games could be the lifeline the city needs to get itself back on track. Social media lovers should keep their eyes peeled for new gaming opportunities at Atlantic City casinos in the near future.


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