Las Vegas Sun

August 18, 2019

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Nevada field trials for skill-based games are only months away

Danger Arena GameGo

Special to the Sun GameCo.

GameCo Inc.’s skill-based “Danger Arena” is in Caesars Atlantic City properties, with 21 machines operating at Caesars, Harrah’s Resort and Bally’s Wild Wild West

Nevada will soon begin testing skill-based games in casinos, one of Nevada’s main gaming regulators said this week.

Manufacturer GameCo boasts that its products are the first skill-based games to be approved by any gaming regulator in the United States and are now operating in Atlantic City casinos. And field testing could begin soon on very similar games in Nevada, said A.G. Burnett, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Board.

“If I could guess, I would say in a couple of months we could see something on a field trial,” Burnett said. “Maybe sooner. But it depends. I’ve been in communication with our lab guys and dialoguing with the independent test labs in terms with where they’re at. They are in the system, but we all are aggressive and want to get to field trials as soon as possible.”

“Danger Arena” is the first title GameCo has on its machines in Atlantic City. It’s a first-person shooting game where the player fights robots. If the player kills six robots, he wins half his money back.

The CEO of GameCo, Blaine Graboyes, compared the skill versus randomness aspects of his game to blackjack.

“Even the best blackjack player sometimes gets a hand that they can’t beat,” he said. “So in this game there are more than 10,000 maps. And the only random element to the game is which map you’re playing in each game session.”

Maps are video game jargon for the environments where the action of the game takes place. For people playing “Danger Arena,” the equivalent of a bad blackjack hand would be finding yourself in unfamiliar or particularly hard map.

So when it comes to what’s more important; skill or luck, “It’s really about what map you’re playing,” Graboyes said.

Burnett wouldn’t say if the Control Board is looking at first-person shooters or even what companies will be the first to start field testing in Nevada.

“I can’t comment on whose game it is or what it is, but we do have several things we’re looking at,” he said.

But in one sense, it doesn’t matter what game gets through Nevada’s approval process first.

Because even if it were a GameCo product, it still wouldn’t strictly speaking, be the very first casino games in the world to incorporate skill.

“Actually, we have had stuff out for few years,” Burnett said. “Although it’s not pure skill like the new stuff.”

Specifically, Burnett was talking about "Pong," a game Bally Technology introduced in 2007.

Originally, “Pong” was one of the first video games consumers could buy and play in their homes. Bally Technologies incorporated a version of that consumer game as a bonus round in a traditional slot machine it began selling seven years ago (Bally Technologies was purchased by Scientific Games in 2014).

“Yes, we did have some skill games,” Scientific Games spokeswoman Laura Olson-Reyes said. “One was ‘Pong,’ another was ‘Breakout.’ We launched the games in 2006, 2007.”

And Burnett said there were others.

“There were some others that had what you would call bonus features with skill,” Burnett said. “IGT did one. I think Aristocrat and Shuffle did, too. I think I'd make a mistake to try to accurately say who had what. But it's safe to say that skill has been in Nevada games for nearly 10 years but only as a bonus feature. Now, with SB9 and our regulatory changes, it can be the main game.”

However, until the new games get through Nevada’s approval process, if you want to actually gamble on “Pong” or another skill-based game, you’ll have to do some searching.

“We don’t believe there are any out there,” Olson-Reyes said. “But we don’t know that for sure. We are no longer actively selling them.”

“We do actually have a new skill-based game we will be launching in December or January based on the classic game arcade game ‘Space Invaders,’” she said.

But once again, Nevada gamblers will have to wait. “We expect to launch it in another jurisdiction initially,” Olson-Reyes said.

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