No fast track for skill-based slots

I was forwarded a press release regarding a company touting their skill-based slot products and their optimism about having their machines in field trial in the early part of 2016. While I wish that company well and hope their prognostications come true, I don’t share their optimism about how speedy the process will work to get skill-based games on the floor. Let me explain why.

Though the good members of the Nevada Gaming Commission passed into regulation language that effectively allows skill-based games, adjustable game pay tables, contests among players and other variations to be developed, the regulations did not address certain needs. This was not by error but design.

The idea was that technology is changing rampantly and instead of having to go to the Gaming Commission each time an unanticipated change occurs, such changes could be addressed in what are known as the Technology Standards. These are the regulations that govern the actual operations of slot machines. Whether this is an abdication of policy making by the Commission to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, is a question for the legal scholars, but the intent is that the Technology Standards can be changed more quickly at the Board level.

As the Technology Standards for these new areas have not yet been posted for comment as of this writing, and since there is a 30 day posting requirement for such proposed standards, the earliest such standards can realistically be adopted is late October. In my estimation, given the range of unique complexities being considered, it is a possibility it will be November or December before release.

Once the standards are defined the manufacturers can then build or adjust their game designs accordingly. But wait, there is more; once the prototypes are built they will be submitted to either an independent laboratory or the state’s laboratory for testing, which is likely to come back with some adjusting needed. It is very rare for a new developed product to pass without some level of change; add to that the innovative evolution being examined and extra consideration and extraordinary testing is practically guaranteed. Additionally, if the new game is really innovative and has numerous features and options not heretofore seen on a slot floor, the minimum internal controls for auditing slots are likely to need updating as well.

Another challenge will be the adoption of testing standards for some of the new game designs and features to assure the mitigation of cheating or excessive advantage play. For example, one of the now allowed features is that a skill game can have a game pay table that changes in reflection of the player’s skill level. Do not be alarmed, the regulations will not allow the pay table to change during a game but between games being played and the changes must be clearly noticed so the player knows the changes have been made. Thusly, as a player is developing higher skills in a particular game the pay table could be changed to maintain the casino’s advantage or changed to incent particular behaviors.

This in principal sounds great as long as the player ID is known and tracked by the game. But what if a skilled player is playing under a lesser skilled player’s ID? Could the skilled player have an advantage on the game until the game logic catches on to the higher skill level being played? Could the player’s skill level and reflective pay tables be remotely changed by an employee at the casino?

These are just some examples of the new areas, among many others, that will have to be examined by the testing labs and regulators.

In reality the first generation of games coming out under these new regulations are likely to be games similar in nature to various arcade games from the 70’s though the 90’s and various video games that have been played on popular home game consoles from the 90’s to the present time. They will likely be point-scoring games (the higher the point total the higher the payout) and be relatively simple to put through the system.

For the really advanced, highly anticipated adventure-style skill games though, it will likely take a much longer time for the developers and regulatory process to figure them out, but they should be well worth the wait.

The Analyst is an experienced gaming industry executive who offers insight each week on events and issues affecting the industry. Contact The Analyst at Publisher@GamingToday.com.

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