Breaking the Illusion of Skill: The Hidden Risks of Skill-Based Machines

In Nebraska, a new lightly regulated gambling trend is rapidly gaining ground, but not without its share of controversy: so-called “skill games.”

Skill games are a type of gaming machine commonly found at convenience stores, restaurants, and retail stores across the state. They resemble traditional slot machines in many ways, but with one dangerous and misleading catch. These machines are marketed as “skill-based,” implying that the player can influence the outcome of the game.

That means these machines are lightly regulated and are perceived differently than traditional gambling devices.

The surge in skill games.

While gaming companies and convenience stores alike refer to these machines as “skill games,” the state of Nebraska more accurately describes them as Mechanical Amusement Cash Devices, or “cash devices” for short.

Unlike slot machines, which are highly regulated and less accessible, these cash devices are advertised as simple entertainment—and can be placed in a variety of stores and businesses across the state.

Over the past five years, the number of locations that offer cash devices has grown at an astounding rate.

Today, nearly 5,000 cash devices are available in convenience stores, restaurants, and retail locations in Nebraska—a number that jumped 27% in 2023 alone.

This statistic is concerning because greater access to gambling increases the risk of gambling addiction. As the number of cash devices available outside of casinos increases, so does the risk that more Nebraska residents (including teens and young adults) will gamble on these machines, especially when they’re marketed as skill games.

Skill games vs. slot machines. Why does the nuance matter?

The distinction between skill games and slot machines goes beyond a few differing letters. It changes players’ perception of the risks associated with the machine.

Skill games that are marketed as being based on your ability to ‘time’ the game or otherwise beat the system appear to be easier to win. Plus, because they’re unregulated, players are further led to believe skill machines are not a gambling device. When it comes to skill games, and all gambling devices, this Illusion of Control falsely suggests the outcome of the game is up to you—and causes many Nebraskans to gamble more than they can afford.

According to our research at the Nebraska Problem Gambling Assistance Program (NPGAP):

  •   19% of new clients became addicted to gambling on skill-based devices

  •   22% gamble at convenience stores (where skill games are kept) more than anywhere else, compared to 32% who usually gamble at casinos.

  •  Skill games are second only to slot machines in terms of the problems these devices cause for the Nebraskans who have participated in our program.

Skill games put our youth at risk, too.

A Nebraska Examiner article released in October, 2023 noted that skill games are often located out of sight, in the corner of the store or gas station. That makes these devices difficult to monitor, and the 19-year-old age restriction hard to enforce.

As a result, many locations that have skill games don’t watch for minors who may be gambling on these machines. That poses a significant risk to teens who aren’t aware of (or prepared to combat) the risks of developing a gambling addiction.

Here at the NPGAP, about 68% of new clients seeking help for gambling issues started betting before they turned 19—revealing just how prevalent underage gambling, particularly on these unmonitored skill games, has become.

If you or your teen are struggling with gambling, we have resources that can help.

The rise of skill games, alongside other forms of gambling like sports betting and online platforms, has created an environment where gambling is more accessible than ever. That widening accessibility can be particularly challenging for young Nebraskans who don’t understand the real risks associated ‌with gambling.

That’s why it’s important to remember that when it comes to betting money, the names of everyday games and “skill” machines can be misleading, and even well-intentioned individuals can find themselves struggling to control their gambling before they realize what’s happened.

At the NPGAP, we have a range of resources and professional support that can help you change your gambling and take control of your situation.

Whether it’s skill games or another gambling device, reaching out for help to break old habits and start healthy new ones is a great first step to take.

When you call or text Justin Antons, the NPGAP Problem Gambling Specialist, he’ll connect you with our team of professionals. Together, you can get the help you need, for yourself, or someone you love.

Call 1-833-BETOVER (238-6837) or text 402-806-7344 to connect with us now.




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