Video Games and Gambling: Can These Two Get Together?

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Image Credit: gamerbolt
Image Credit: gamerbolt

There is no question of where the future of casino gaming is going online or on location at the world’s great casino resorts. It is headed for a collision course with video games in a clear and determined effort to meet the challenge of stirring up new revenue streams in formats that capture the hearts, minds and wallets of the next generation.

The problem is simple. Whether we call them Generation X,Y or Z, up and coming gamers do not play those ubiquitous one-armed bandits that casinos bank on for a large share of their revenue. In so many words, their parents played the slots, but they do not.

The numbers are daunting. According to the Nevada Gaming Control Board Gaming Revenue Report, as posted on the website Fact / Myth, those one armed bandits that make up the backdrop for chase scenes in so many movies, are actually the big money maker for U.S. casinos. Revenue from slots in 2016 topped $7 billion, which was more than the money earned at all the other gaming tables combined, which came to just over $4 billion.

But to the younger generation, who grew up with Halo, Skyrim and Call of Duty with 3D imagery, background music, theatrical maps of fictitious countries and the ability to play against other gamers around the world, the idea of sitting in front of a slot machine and pulling a lever until three cherries appear in a small display is like the difference between ice hockey and shuffleboard. It’s the difference between water skiing and bingo.

In a word: Boring!

Enter a New York City company called GameCo. Inc. and the intriguing idea of melding some of those 3D action sequences with gaming – that is with real money exchanging hands – and the casino industry is all ears. Some of those early games, with the expected early glitches, are just reaching casinos in a testing stage now.

To clarify, these glitches are not technical problems with the games, but more on the order of psychological pitfalls that companies like GameCo will have to figure out.

Ask a real casino owner what works and they will likely tell you about games like poker, blackjack, slots and horse races, all of which have been tried and true gambling games for many centuries. Meanwhile, check in with the still young gaming industry, just 25 years or so past the invention of Pac-Man and the concept of winning and losing has always been theoretical. But casinos want real money.

Where the perfect marriage lies is difficult not so much by trying to find a gambling game that holds a gamers interest. There are already pretty fair formulas for that and if a formula doesn’t work, casinos can always borrow from ready-made blockbusters. GameCo has already announced it will be creating games based on popular movies, like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Mission Impossible and “Paranormal Activity.” Just around the corner are games based on Terminator 2 and Judgment Day. As you can see, the sky is the limit here.

It turns out the main glitch doesn’t come from the gamers side of the equation, it comes from the casino side. All gambling games in the United States – and almost everywhere – are highly regulated. The basic regulatory mandate that underlies all others is the idea that games have to have a certain payout. If the house wins all the time – or 99 percent of the time – then it isn’t gambling; it might be conning the public, fraud or simple theft. So casino games are carefully watched to make sure a certain portion of the earnings is returned to the customer in the form of winnings.

Take the same concept and try that on Generation 2X or whatever we’re calling them and it changes the premise of video games in a strange way. Who wants to play Call of Duty or Halo when it is rigged to allow the gamer to win a certain percentage of the time?

That ties into psychological issue No. 2. Casino games are very quick. You put your money down, the wheel spins or the cards are dealt and within a few minutes – give or take a few, depending on the game – and a winner is declared. A poker hand takes five to 15 minutes to play. A horse race usually takes two minutes or less. Slot machines are p.d.q. – pretty darn quick.

In contrast, a gamer can spend hours just choosing the custom for his avatar and spend an overnight session battling it out or searching for clues or treasures in a video game. To turn that into a game with a two-minute turnover means isolating just one quick scene out of a massive video game.

How many gamers want to just repeat the same scene over and over again? That brings us to hurdle No. 3: Gamers are used to figuring things out. After sixteen deaths at the hands of a fire-breathing sci-fi demon, gamers learn when and how to make their move. But how do you rig a casino game so that the gamer can get better and better at the game itself. This would change the odds of winning as the gamer went along. How do you make sure that casinos earn money promoting games in which the gambler is expected to learn how to beat the game over time?

Glitches or not, these problems will be figured out in time. There’s too much money at stake for solutions to not be found.

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