Skill-Based Games Invade An Entirely New Arena: Atlantic City Casinos

skill-based gambling in NJ
For several years we’ve been hearing about the imminent introduction of skill-based gaming machines to casinos. During this time, skill-based machines have been flaunted at gaming conferences as the lure that would finally reel in the millennial gambler.

The wait is now over. But for all the hype, the rollout of skill-based gaming machines was a slow process.

Skill-based games needed to be approved by regulators, and companies not only had to make their games comply with casino regulations, but they had to prove their games would function properly before they would be allowed on a casino floor.

The first skill-based game made an appearance on a casino floor on Nov. 2, when GameCo’s Danger Arena was unveiled at Harrah’s. Danger Arena game terminals were later added at two other Atlantic City casinos, Caesars and Bally’s.

There are a total of 21 Danger Arena terminals in the three casinos, with nine at Harrah’s, and six each at Bally’s and Caesars. The games aren’t buried against a back wall either; they currently inhabit prime space on the casino floor.

I had the opportunity to try Danger Arena during a recent trip to Atlantic City.

A Danger Arena primer

The basic gameplay is simple, and it’s easy enough to play.

Overall, the payout structure seems pretty good. Even though I bricked out on all four games I played, I did manage to hit five targets twice, so I wasn’t too far from landing on the pay table; you need to hit a minimum of six targets to see a return.

Here’s how the game works.

Instead of pressing buttons, Danger Arena uses a video game controller affixed to the front of the machine.

In video game parlance, Danger Arena is a first-person shooter game, where the goal is to destroy up to 10 robot targets in 45 seconds. If players hit six targets, they win .5 times their bet.

Bets can range from $.25-$20. If they hit all 10, the payoff is 25 times players’ bets.

To meet the minimum payout requirements set by the state of New Jersey, there are randomly awarded bonuses. I received a $5 power-up bonus during my time playing the game.

Adding to the randomness, and to make sure the casino maintains a house edge, some of your targets are randomly invincible, and simply cannot be killed. Sometimes you’ll run into one or two invincible bots, and sometimes it will seem like at least half are invincible.

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Several criticisms

As interesting as Danger Arena is, it’s not without its issues.

Too complex

Despite being a stripped-down, simplistic video game, the game is still too complex for the masses. Millennials will have little problem with the game (they might dislike it for other reasons), but casino patrons tend to skew older, and I just don’t see it appealing to very many baby boomers.

I’m not sure how people are going to respond to a video game masquerading as a slot machine that requires a walkthrough demo to understand the game mechanics and practice time with the controller to get a feel for it.

Speaking of the controller…

The fixed controller was rigid and clunky. A couple of millennials I encountered playing the game were quick to complain about the controllers’ lack of movement.

Furthermore, I understand the desire to use a more modern controller (Danger Arena’s controller is very similar to an Xbox controller), but I would have preferred to see an old NES or Sega-style controller. One joystick pad and a couple buttons.

This would make the game:

  1. Easier to play; and
  2. more appealing to Gen X’ers and maybe baby boomers.

30 seconds of nothing, followed by 15 seconds of frenzy

Finally, the game doesn’t have enough action in the early going.

It’s sort of like Fruit Ninja, only slower. Danger Arena starts out slow and crescendos in the final 10-15 seconds when the robots are all around the player. The first 30 seconds or so seem almost like filler time.

Final thoughts

Danger Arena is an interesting concept, and the skill element will make players want to keep trying it, since they will quickly improve once they become familiar with the controls (especially if they’re managing to land in the money).

If I was presented with a traditional slot machine or Danger Arena, I would choose to play Danger Arena. However, I don’t think I would seek out this game in a casino, or tell people they had to go play it.

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Steve Ruddock


Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.