Why Casinos Are Being Forced to Make Skill-Based Slots

Monopoly Slot Machine in Casino, Group of People Excited
Slot machines have been entirely based on luck for decades. Unlike blackjack or poker, they don’t offer any control over the results.

However, a new breed of skill-based slots has begun to enter casinos. These games do provide the chance to control results to a degree.

Casinos aren’t necessarily offering skill-based slot machines willingly. Instead, they see a new trend on the horizon that could leave them obsolete if slots aren’t modified.

I’m going to discuss this new trend along why it’s forcing casinos to offer new types of slot machines. But first, I’ll cover more on how skill-based and traditional slots differ.

What Do Skill-Based Slot Machines Offer that Regular Slots Don’t?

A regular slot machine works as follows:

  • You make a bet
  • You spin the reels
  • The random number generator (RNG) comes up with a combination
  • Your results are displayed on the reels

You can see that the RNG decides the spin’s fate.

Your only control is deciding how much to bet and when to start and stop playing.

Some gamblers appreciate the complete randomness of slots. They don’t like overthinking every decision and would rather take a pure gamble.

Skill-based slot machines offer something different than this traditional setup. They feature bonus rounds that involve a high degree of skill.

Space Invaders Character IconScientific Game’s Space Invaders is a perfect example of these games. This slot is based on a 1978 arcade machine that was later adapted to the Atari system.

Here’s how this slot machine’s bonus round works:

  • You trigger the bonus with three or more scatter symbols
  • You can choose between free spins and a skill-based round
  • The latter brings up a second screen that’s filled with alien invaders
  • You control a small spacecraft at the bottom and shoot at the advancing aliens

The base game still plays like any normal slot. You spin the reels and await a random result.

However, the key difference is in how the bonus works. You improve your chances of winning money by becoming more skilled at the bonus round.

Millennials Aren’t Playing Regular Slot Machines

The main reason why casinos are trialing skill-based slots is that millennials aren’t playing the traditional machines.

This generation, which was born between 1981 and 1996, visits casino resorts for the bars, nightclubs, and amenities. They’ve even shown some affinity for table games like blackjack and mini-baccarat.

However, millennials just don’t play slot machines like previous generations. They’re not impressed by the fancy graphics and features of the average modern slot.

Simpsons Slot Machine Game, Group of Friends Excited

This group has grown up during a technology boom that’s seen online gaming and smartphone use spread like wildfire. Millennials can simply pull out their phone and play a wide variety of games ⁠— gambling or otherwise.

In contrast to Baby Boomers and Generation X, they didn’t grow up visiting casinos just to gamble. Therefore, millennials don’t experience the same nostalgia that older gamblers do on slot machines.

The average millennial sees slots in land-based casinos as more relics than anything. But casinos are hoping to change this trend by injecting skill into the equation.

Gambling venues in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City have rolled out this new class of slots. They hope that the combination of skill-based bonuses, cool features, and good graphics is enough to attract young players.

Getting Skill-Based Casino Games Right Is Difficult

Row of Skill Based Slot Games in Casino, Woman Hands Up Confused
Skill-based gaming is still in its early stages. But so far, the results have been marginal at best.

The gaming world has been offering these slots since 2015. Neither millennials nor older gamblers are flocking to these machines.

One problem is a lack of awareness. Most players don’t realize that certain slots in Vegas and AC casinos feature skill.

Another potential problem is that developers just haven’t found the right combination to draw more gamblers.

Developing a skill-based game involves a fine line between including enough skill without hurting the casino’s profit margin.

Bonuses only account for around 3-5% of total return to player (RTP). This might not be a large enough degree of control for millennials, who are used to playing skill-based video and mobile games.

One more challenge for developers is figuring out the right type of bonuses. They’re going with old arcade games for now, which is a step in the right direction.

The idea is to use simple skill-based games that don’t turn off casual gamblers. After all, a 70-year-old grandma doesn’t want to play a slot where the bonus is patterned after Call of Duty.

But herein lies another dilemma: if the goal is to attract millennials, then why focus on arcade games from the 70s and 80s?

Uncertain Future with Skill-Based Slots

Skill Based Slot Machines in Casino, Question Mark Icon
Aside from all the challenges I just highlighted above, casinos and developers must also deal with a high degree of uncertainty.

In the end, they could just be wasting their time by testing out skill-based slot machines. Nothing guarantees that these games will draw young adults.

Skill-based gaming sounds like a great idea in theory. Giving players the ability to decide their own fortunes is appealing.

The reality, though, is that skill alone doesn’t always translate into success.

Tournament.com, for example, found out the hard way that there are problems associated with such gaming.

They introduced an online betting platform for Half Life and Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) in 2007. Players could gamble on their team’s success on Tournament.com.

This idea sounds amazing in theory. Competitive gamers could win money by playing the games they love.

However, successful gamers would purposely play badly to lower their rating. They could then compete against lower-rated players and guarantee themselves more winnings.

Tournament.com was also having trouble in covering the expensive server costs needed to maintain their operation. Although an interesting idea, the platform didn’t last very long.

Casinos don’t face the exact same set of trials as a video game betting site. But they too must worry about if the gambling world is ready for a new concept.

What Will the Future of Slot Machines Look Like?

The same skill-based slots that we see today may or may not ultimately win players over. In this case, what will the future of slot machines be?

Woman Thinking, Skill Based Slot Machine ScreenObviously, I can only speculate on the matter. But future slots will likely be closer to both social gaming and console/computer games.

Social games like Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and Plants vs. Zombies have become highly popular over the years. These games walk the fine line between being both entertaining and easy enough for the average person.

Casinos are already on to this theme by incorporating simple arcade-style bonuses into slots. However, they may need to modernize the concept by using social gaming bonuses.

Many millennials would appreciate a more-hardcore gaming experience in casinos. After all, a good CS:GO player won’t get much stimulation from shooting Atari aliens that move at a snail’s pace.

Therefore, complex video games could make their way onto casino floors. Players would gamble on their abilities in games similar to CS:GO, Call of Duty, and Halo.

GameCo is already experimenting in this category with Danger Arena. This first-person shooter involves betting on your ability to blast armored soldiers.


The slots world is always evolving. Once three-reel games played on mechanical drums, these machines have transformed to reflect modern gaming better.

Nevertheless, they still aren’t catching on with younger gamblers. Millennials would rather visit a casino nightclub or spa than sit on a slot machine.

The good news is that these same visitors are still spending money. The bad news is that they’re not playing the casinos’ cash cows.

The industry fully realizes that they’ll be in trouble if they don’t find something that appeals to millennials. Skill-based slot machines are the first step in figuring out what young adults want.

The jury is out on whether these games are a success. They’ve only been available in casinos for a few years and haven’t been major hits thus far.

Developers may need to tweak the subject matter for the bonuses. Their early efforts include arcade adaptations that mainly appeal to older gamblers.

Both social and complex video gaming would very likely be popular among millennials. The fact is that gambling on games like Candy Crush and Halo hits closer to home with young players.

Again, these efforts are still in the early stages. But it’ll be interesting to see the end product of what finally does attract millennial gamblers.