Goodwin Gaming
March 28, 2016

Massachusetts Regulators Pave the Way for Skill-Based Slots

The game of skill vs. game of chance debate has been the focus of gaming law for years now.  Until recently, it was largely discussed in the context of poker and fantasy sports betting.  A new arena for debate is now upon us, however, with developers working on skill-based slots.  Think casino versions of fan favorites such as Angry Birds or Pac Man, but with some sort of tangible payout.  Once rolled out, one reporter has described the end result for brick and mortar casino gaming as “Bellagio meets Dave and Buster’s.”

While the slots themselves are still in development, regulators are trying to stay ahead of the technology on this one.  On Thursday, February 18, 2016, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission released draft regulations for public comment.  These regulations build off of the discussion of skill-based slots in the original legislation legalizing gaming in the Commonwealth.  That law defines slots, in part, as machines “the play or operation of which, whether by reason of the skill of the operator or application of the element of chance, or both” may result in some sort of tangible payout to the player.

The Massachusetts regulations for skill-based or skill/chance hybrid machines incorporate and amend the Gaming Laboratories International, LLC (GLI) Standard GLI-11: Gaming Devices in Casinos and Standard GLI-24: Electronic Table Games.  Those standards make clear that innovation is not to be discouraged by the regulation of slot technology and that the regulations should “not be read in such a way that limits the use of future technology.”  Translation: let’s not let the politicians stymie gaming innovation here.

Among other amendments to the GLI standards, the Commission has increased the percentage payout required.  Under Standards GLI-11 and 24, the required theoretical lifetime payout is 75%.  Under the Commission’s proposed regulations, this percentage would increase to 80%.  The Commission’s proposed regulations also make clear that operators are to provide consumers with clear notice on skill-based slot machines that the game is affected (either in whole or in part) by the skill of the player.  This move likely envisions fall-out were traditional slots enthusiasts to accidentally find themselves in the world of skill-based play.

Massachusetts follows the lead of New Jersey and Nevada in regulating skill-based machines.  But don’t expect to see these games at a casino near you any time soon.  This may be one of the rare occasions when politics has outpaced technology, with companies only starting to roll out prototypes of these machines at G2E in October 2015.