Gambling or a Video Game? Nebraska Struggles with Tavern Machines

Here on GamePolitics we have – by design – ignored issues relating to electronic gambling games.

That’s because, as a form of entertainment, video games are quite distinct from gambling. But that line may be blurred a bit by a new generation of tavern games which appear to require video game-like skills to win, rather than mere luck.

The Omaha World-Herald reports on one such game, a billiards affair called Bank Shot. While games of chance are considered illegal gambling under laws in Nebraska and many other states, Bank Shot seems to require skill:

The makers of the machine [say] that it is a game of skill that is no different from a game of Trivial Pursuit or a dart tournament sponsored by a bar or tavern. They also argue that the video game was carefully constructed to comply with Nebraska law…

The difficulty for law enforcement is in determining when a game requires more chance than skill, or more skill than chance.

Players can bet from $0.25 to $4 per game. To date, the largest jackpot has been $17,000:

The game centers on nine pool balls arranged in a grid formation. The player pushes a button that starts the balls flashing quickly in various formations. The player then pushes “stop” on a particular pattern, which helps to determine whether or not a player wins.

There are 30,000 patterns of pool balls built into the game. About 27 patterns flash in a given minute… players become more skillful at spotting the winning patterns after playing the game for a period of time…

Nebraska law enforcement officials are hoping that the state legislature will provide guidance on the issue.

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  1. 0
    Kamil says:

    Gaming is such fun but from the time it becomes commercial or takes the form of gambling that’s when everything turns different. Its no more gaming for fun but gaming for money. The best or the worst gamblers will visit a gaming parlor with the intent of making money whatever might be the sum but they do not wanna lose and they want to leave with some money in their pockets.

    Why no play a game of pool on the video game just as a stress buster.

    Fun on a snooker table

  2. 0
    JDKJ says:

    That one’s rigged, too. The bottles are arranged in such a manner that it makes it impossible for the ring to fall over the neck of any bottle unless it’s falling at the steepest of angles. And all the carnies who work the games know how to make the toss with the right steepness of angle induced. So they toss a few rings over a bottle as if there’s nothing to it while encouraging you to cough up your 10 cents a pop to try and do what they’ve spent days and countless throws learning how to do.

    Just like the hoop of the basketball game isn’t merely smaller than regulation. It’s actually bent out of shape into an elliptical, not a true circle. That’s why most of the shots taken by the uninitiated bounce "in and out." But the carnie knows how to put that needed English on the ball and have it sink. He makes it look easy.

    And the sights of them air rifles and their barrels are never pointed in the same place. They’re deliberately off just enough to make hitting what you’re actually aiming at an impossibility. But the carnie knows how to compensate for the "off" by aiming at the point slighty to the left or right or above or below or wherevere in order to actually hit the target.

    One of those investigative T.V. shows did a segment on carnival games. They actually got an NBA player who was top-ranked in free throws to shoot the basketball. He could hardly make 1 outta 5.


  3. 0
    Father Time says:

    Do the ones where it’s obvious you have poor odds count, like throwing a ring around a bottle, at 10 cents a pop to win something huge?


    Debates are like merry go rounds. Two people take their positions then they go through the same points over and over and over again. Then when it’s over they have the same positions they started in.

  4. 0
    JustChris says:

    Though, you’ll have to exclude the games that are rigged to reduce the impact of a person’s skill in winning a game. Like for instance, making the basketball hoop smaller than regulation size so it is very hard to sink in the ball.


  5. 0
    ZippyDSMlee says:

    All the more reason to make it so the monoplies suffer from fair competition, not to mention force cable TV to sell  by the channel 😛


    I am a criminal because I purchase media,I am a criminal because I use media, I am a criminal because I chose to own media..We shall remain criminals until Corporate stay’s outside our bedrooms..

  6. 0
    Neeneko says:

    Because it brings in competition to the established gambling companies, and no offical (elected or otherwise) wants to piss off powerful companies with massive tax bases without some significant benifit to themselves.

    Every wonder why you see so few coin op archade machines in New Jersey?  Casinios put a lot of energy into insuring that similiar forms of entertainment are not permitted.  Getting non-casino-cartel machines to be legally sold in the state is a horrible expensive multi-year process.

  7. 0
    JDKJ says:

    Because (a) I’d imagine that the revenue from the machines is already subject to taxation in the form of income to the machines’ owner/operators and those who win jackpots, therefore the State’s already levying income taxes on the earnings and (b) Nebraska’s current laws do not recognize non-tribal electronic gaming devices as gambling. The only legal forms of gambling in Nebraska are lotteries, raffles, pickle cards, scratch tickets, bingo, horse racing and tribal gaming. If it is indeed gambling, then under current law it is illegal. The State can’t legally tax an illegal activity. They’d have to first rewrite the gambling laws to include the game as a form of gambling. 

  8. 0
    ZippyDSMlee says:

    *sigh* why not just tax them as gambling and be done with it….banning it only means you are loseing out on tax money….


    I am a criminal because I purchase media,I am a criminal because I use media, I am a criminal because I chose to own media..We shall remain criminals until Corporate stay’s outside our bedrooms..

  9. 0
    Neeneko says:

    *nods* this is why, in another post, I mentioned how much of a headache the maze of laws can be.  What is true in Navada is not elsewhere.  You also get differnt prefernces from operators based off how big a place they run.  Big casinos are a very differnt beast then small operations with less then a dozen machines (which the mentioned product is geard tward)

  10. 0
    JDKJ says:

    In Nevada and by the State’s gaming law, the probability on any particular combination of characters coming up on the slot’s wheels is fixed in the machine’s software and doesn’t vary over time. That’s how the house ensures that it stays ahead of the player. For example, if the probability of a four "7s" jackpot coming up on a 25 cent-per-play slot machine is 1 in 100,000, this simply means that the machine has been programmed to allow the four "7s" to only come up once every 100,000 bets. And State law also says how much of those 100,000 25 cent bets the house gets to keep and how much of it they must pay out for the four "7s" coming up on the wheels. This is why the house can never lose on a slot. They’re programmed to keep more than they pay out. Now, it’s entirely possible that the four "7s" come up on bet 100,000 of one 100,000 bet cycle and on bet 1 of the following 100,000 bet cycle (back-to-back jackpots) and again on bet 2 of that same cycle (back-to-back-to-back jackpots). Of course, this means that the machine will now have to go through at least one 100,000 bet cycle without coming up four "7s" in order to compensate for coming up four "7s" twice in one cycle. But the house could care less as long as over the life of the machine it averages itself out to no more than 1 in every 100,000. 


  11. 0
    Neeneko says:

    The notion of payouts being correctly distrubuted may or may not be correct.  Granted I am only familiar with SWP (and not the fully random devices), but many devices incorperate what is called an ‘anti-rapist’ element to their calculations.. i.e. they will adjust the odds based off the short term payout percentage.

    So if an operator has a machine set to, say, a 30% payout over lifetime, there will be a long term ‘make the patterns winable only 30% of the time) plus a seperate curve for ‘make sure the last 15 minutes have an average of 30% payout too’… thus if someone wins big the game quietly makes it’self more difficult for the next few players in order to combat really skilled players.  Conversly if people have been really sucking it will make the odds easier so someone gets some minor payouts.

    Thus a good tactic is loose badly for 10 minutes THEN try really hard.

  12. 0
    JDKJ says:

    Which is the exact opposite of a slot machine. The randomness cannot be taken out of the game and it is completely non-deterministic. What winning "patterns" appear and the frequency of their appearance is left entirely to chance. The only thing which isn’t left to chance – and how the house maintains it’s advantage – is the ratio of winning patterns to losing patterns (i.e., how often the machine pays out on a winning pattern of any sort).

    That’s why the notion that a machine which has just paid a big jackpot will not pay out another jackpot for a while is completely ufounded. It could very well pay back-to-back jackpots. How frequently it pays a jackpot is random. What isn’t random and what it won’t do over the long haul is pay out more in winning jackpots than it has taken in losing bets.

  13. 0
    Michael Chandra says:

    Actually, that depends on the definition of gambling. In the Netherlands, the Holland Casino holds the solitary right to gambling games like roulette. Other casinos have to use games that involve skill so not just pure luck, this allows them to legally run a casino. Were they to use default roulette, they’d be breaking the law.

  14. 0
    Austin_Lewis says:

    As long as you put money in AND can receive money out, it’s gambling.  If you put money in and get NO tangible payoff, or if you put money in and get tickets or tokens that can be exchanged for PRIZES (not money), it is NOT gambling.  Having said that, this seems to be a game of skill, not chance, and that would make it less likely to be labeled ‘gambling’ in a legal sense.

  15. 0
    Neeneko says:

    Case (1) is how these grey machines usually work.  Many of them have a tournament system where it costs you more to play but you are registered in the tournament and get a cash payout at the end of the run.

    Another method is you show the bartender your score (still on screen) and they give you an immediate cash payout.  Some grey market machines have some software support for this method but they quickly hit gambling laws and get shut down.

    Case (2) is how SWP machines generally handle things.  They have a maxium payout (in cash) that is based off the best you could possibly do in the game.  The payout then scales down if you do less then perfect.  In the UK at least, I think it runs 0-20 pounds or 0-40, I can’t recall which.  In order to qualify all randomness has to be taken out of the game (you can seed the random number generator at the very begining, but after that it must be deterministic), with all random seeds having a ‘maxium score’ associated with them. 

    I believe Canada works the same way.

    The US is.. ahm.. a bit more complex.

  16. 0
    JDKJ says:

    Actually, most carnival games are games of skill, not chance (e.g., toss the basketball in the hoop, throw the baseball through the hole, pop the balloon with a dart, shoot the target with the air rifle, etc., etc.). A true game of chance is one in which the player has absolutely no way of influencing a possible outcome (e.g., a slot machine or a roulette wheel).

  17. 0
    Vake Xeacons says:

    Good points, but there’s a couple things you have to consider.

    1. Sporting tournaments, such as real billiards or bowling do require a standard entry fee, and offer cash rewards for winners. If putting money in to get money out qualifies as gambling, so do tournaments such as I’ve mentioned.

    2. Games that offer tokens, such as skeeball at Chuck E. Cheese or D&B’s, don’t have an out-and-out "win" or "lose." You get tickets for the score you earn; the higher your score, the more your tickets. You get something each time you play.

    But, yes, "gambling" is often decided on whether you get prizes or cash. Carnival games, for instance are all luck, often lose, but give prizes not money. Therefore, they qualify as "games" instead of "gambling."

  18. 0
    Neeneko says:

    Having worked on these SWP games… I can say that the headaches involving ‘does this count at a gambling machine’ are significant and vary from state to state and country to country…..

    The units we built had to vary their functionality based off where the machine was installed in order to comply with the maze of local laws.

    GP: Maybe you could do an interview with some of the legal or marketing execs up at Merit, since they build these machines and are local to philly?  They have been building these ‘in between’ systems for 30 years now…..

  19. 0
    JDKJ says:

    That’s 27 patterns per minute out of a possible 30,000 total patterns. A proper calculation of the odds would require knowledge of the number of winning patterns contained in the 30,000 total patterns and the frequency with which they appear — and also assumes that the player is familiar enough with the winning patterns to know which patterns to select for a win (that’s the "skill" part). 

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