Nowadays, one type of slot machine that is gaining a lot of traction is the skill-based slot.
Skill-based slot machines can be found online and in land based casinos.
But “skill” is not something you probably think of when you picture slot machines. Aren’t slots supposed to be based purely on luck?
Well, skill-based slots are not so far removed from traditional slots. In fact, you will probably find that you like them if you enjoy regular slots and are looking for something a little different.
In this guide, we will introduce the concept of skill-based slots. We will go over the history of how skill-based slots became popular, discuss their features and how they work, and clear up some common misconceptions about them. Let’s begin!
What are Skill-Based Slot Machines?
A skill-based slot machine is a slot game that includes a skill-based mini-game.
The majority of the time spent playing a skill-based slot is no different than the time you spend playing a regular slot. You simply push the spin button as usual, and await the results of your spins.
Sometimes, as with regular slots that include bonus rounds, one of the pay lines will trigger a mini-game.
You will now be taken to a different screen where you can play the mini-game. But whereas that game would also be completely luck-based with many other slot machines, with a skill-based slot game, you have an opportunity to use your skills to your advantage.
After the mini-game is complete, you return to the regular screen. You then resume pushing the spin button.
A History of Skill-Based Slots
Many people believe that skill-based slots sprang into existence relatively recently. But actually, their history dates back longer than you might think.
As early as the 20s, slot manufacturers such as the Mills Novelty Co. were experimenting with skill features in slot machines.
During the 60s and 70s, more slot manufacturers started experimenting with similar features.
Among the earliest types of skill-based slot machines were those that featured a “skill stop button.” Manufacturer Zacharias Anthony pioneered these.
By pressing a “skill stop” button, players were able to stop the reels early.
The reason that this feature existed actually had nothing to do with player demand; it was just that gaming laws back then prohibited games of complete chance. So, casinos had to comply.
Eventually, the gaming regulations that required these skill-based features went away, and skill-based slot games went away with them.
Nevertheless, skill-based slot machines would eventually make a comeback, but in a different form and for a different reason.
Over recent years, more and more of these types of slot machines have started showing up.
As already discussed, the modern variety of skill-based slots features mini-games as bonus rounds.
Casinos have not been eager to develop and market these skill-based slots, but have had no choice but to do so because of factors involving market demand.
The issue has to do with Millennials, who have proved a much harder market to capture than older gamblers.
There are a lot of reasons why this demographic has never really taken to regular slot games. A few factors include:
- Growing up playing video games that involve skill, and preferring those types of games as a result.
- More exposure at a younger age to gambling, and a greater awareness of the fact that the house always wins.
- A generally lessened interest in gambling owing to a lack of novelty and a lack of funds. The fact that land based casinos have become more expensive to play at than they were in past decades is another negative factor.
So, casinos asked themselves how they could appeal to this younger generation that was not so fond of games of pure chance as their parents, or their parents’ parents.
They came up with the idea of offering slot machines that incorporated an element of skill.
Simultaneously, they raised the minimum stakes at many table games in order to further dissuade Millennial customers from frequenting them.
In case you are not aware, casinos traditionally have made the majority of their income from slot machines. This is why it has been important for them to continue to funnel younger customers toward them and away from the table games.
Oftentimes, the mini-games these skill-based slots feature hearken to early video games, and remind Millennial customers positively of their childhoods.
Although these slots seem to be popular enough to justify a continued investment in them, they have had a somewhat alienating effect on some older gamblers.
I believe that much of this effect has less to do with the quality of the games, and more to do with a misunderstanding of how skill-based slots work.
Plus, it may be more of an issue offline, where older gamblers have a limited selection to choose from. The new skill-based games may be supplanting some of their old favorites.
But online, this is not an issue. New games do not replace old games. They simply add to the selection. Nobody has to lose anything they enjoy. They just get access to a broader range of games and experiences.
Skill-Based Slot Game Features
Now that we have discussed the history of skill-based slots, let’s talk a little bit more about what it is like to play this type of slot game.
Skill-based slots have many of the same features as regular slots. The main gameplay is essentially identical.
There are multiple ways that a skill-based bonus round could be triggered. It depends on the rules for each individual game. But a common example would be getting three scatter symbols.
Let’s say that happens. What are some examples of the types of skill-based play you might encounter?
- You may need to race a motor vehicle against one programmed to race against you.
- You might need to fly a spaceship around to avoid asteroids or fight enemy ships.
- You could have to solve a puzzle.
These are certainly not the only forms that a skill-based bonus round may take. There are many other possibilities.
Additionally, some skill-based slot machines will offer you an option if you trigger a bonus round.
Instead of forcing you to play through a skill-based section, they might allow you an alternative, such as accepting a number of free spins.
So, with games that offer such a choice, both those who enjoy skill-based games and those who do not can have a good time.
Where to Play the Best Skill Based Slot Machines (A Top 3)
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“Skill-Based Slot” is Kind of a Misnomer
One question you might have right now is, “Just how much does my skill matter? Will it be the main determining factor in my outcomes?”
If you are awesome at the bonus round, does that mean that you can break even or even beat the house?
And if you are terrible at the bonus round, will that absolutely devastate your returns?
In truth, neither are going to happen, because the outcomes of the skill-based bonus rounds are only minor contributors to your overall returns.
The luck-based main game where you spin the reels repeatedly determines your returns for the most part.
Indeed, because this is the case, one could misunderstand what a skill-based slot machine is based on the name.
It is far more accurate to describe these games as luck-based, but with a small element of skill exclusively during the bonus rounds.
It is likely that the decision to market them as “skill-based” was made in order to maximize their appeal to Millennial gamblers.
Of course, it is arguably this marketing more than the nature of the games that has driven away older gamblers from giving them a try.
How Much Control Do You Actually Have With a Skill-Based Slot?
So, let’s talk in numbers now so that you can get a better idea of how large an impact your skill will have if you are playing this type of game.
You can find out just how much of an impact you could potentially have on your returns by looking up the RTP range for the game you want to play.
Yep, that is right. RTP works a bit differently for a skill-based slot than a regular one.
With a regular slot, the return-to-player is just one number, like:
But the whole point of a skill-based slot machine is to give you a way to impact your returns. So, it is not possible for one number to represent the RTP.
Instead, there is a minimum RTP and maximum RTP for each skill-based slot game, constituting a range that the RTP can fall within depending on the skill of the player.
Let’s take an example of 90-95%.
If that is the RTP for a skill-based slot game, the lowest expected return-to-player over very many spins it is 90%, and the highest expected return-to-player over very many spins is 95%.
It is the skill level of the player that makes the difference between those extremes.
So, if you are at the absolute bottom of the barrel in terms of your skill level, you would still get a 90% RTP from the game.
If you were to perform perfectly every time you played the bonus round mini-game, the game would deliver you an RTP of 95%.
The usual caveats apply. It is important to remember that RTP is calculated based on millions of spins.
There can be significant variations over a smaller number of spins.
For that reason, it is possible that you could get higher or lower returns outside of the listed RTP range for a skill-based slot game over the short-term.
This is no different from how it is with a regular slot game.
Regardless, as when you are choosing a regular slot game, you should take RTP into account when you are selecting a skill-based game.
A higher RTP is always better. It means that your bankroll ultimately stretches further if you play a lot of spins.
Should You Avoid a Skill-Based Slot if You Lack Skill?
Another question you might have is, “Is it worth it to play a skill-based slot machine if I know that I am unskilled?”
If you are happy with the bottom of the RTP range, my answer is, “Sure, why not?”
Plus, your main goal is to have fun, right? It does not really matter in the end if you are good at shooting spaceships or racing cars or solving puzzles—it just matters whether you enjoy it.
Also, it is important to remember that skill-based games are something you can improve at.
I suspect that a lot of people who do not play skill-based slot machines think to themselves, “I don’t play video games. I don’t know how to do this stuff. I wouldn’t be good at it.” Then they just don’t.
But that means they never discover whether they can become good at it. With some practice, you might find out that you actually can learn how to master these skills.
And if you don’t ever acquire a taste for skill-based slots, there is nothing wrong with that. There are plenty of other slots for you to enjoy, especially online.
Do Skill Stop Games Still Exist?
We have discussed skill-based slot games that include mini-game bonus rounds. But earlier, we mentioned how some of the earliest skill features in slot games from decades past involved pressing the stop button to make the reels stop early.
You might be curious whether any of these games still exist.
There are still slot games that include a stop button. In fact, they seem to be reasonably common.
But that stop button does not do what it used to on the retro slot machines we referenced earlier.
Slot machines work differently nowadays in terms of technology, and the previous regulations that those retro slot machines were made to satisfy no longer apply.
So, casinos don’t have much of an incentive to make the stop button a skill-based feature.
The mini-games in today’s skill-based slots have more of an appeal to Millennials than a stop button would.
Further, whereas old slot machines were mechanical, today’s slot games are not.
Online as well as land based slot machines use a random number generator (RMG) to generate their results.
So, if you see a slot game today with a stop button, the way it works is this:
- You push the “spin” button to make the reels turn.
- A random number generator produces a pre-determined outcome that you do not yet see.
- As the reels are turning, you can push the “stop” button.
- The animation of the reels spinning stops early.
- You see the pre-determined outcome the RNG came up with.
I attempted to give a very literal explanation above concerning what takes place when you use a “stop” button on a modern slot.
Pushing the “spin” button is what both initiates the animation and causes the random number generator to crank out a result. That result exists before it is displayed on the screen.
When you push the “stop” button, what you are telling the game really is, “Please display the result of my spin to me early.”
You are not telling the game to calculate a new result with the RNG. And you certainly are not stopping the spinning of mechanical reels.
That means that there is no skill involved in using the stop button, and also no control over the results.
At that rate, there is not even a change in the results. For any given spin, the outcome will be the same whether you push the “stop” button or not. It is fixed from the moment the RNG produces it.
All that changes is your perception, since you have the illusion that you stopped the reels early to produce a different result.
Have any modern slots been an exception to this rule?
The only one I have been able to find is a game called Blood Life by Reel Edge, and I haven’t seen a lot of info on it.
So, you can pretty much assume that if you see a stop button n a slot game in today’s world, it is not likely to have anything to do with skill. That is true whether you are gambling online or at a brick-and-mortar casino.
Benefits of Skill-Based Slots
Now that you know more about how skill-based slots work and what types of skill-based slot features you can expect, let’s go over the advantages and disadvantages of these types of games. We will start with the benefits.
- The interactive nature of skill features on slot machines can be engaging and fun.
- You can enjoy challenging yourself and a sense of achievement.
- You can increase your potential RTP.
- You can enjoy video game nostalgia.
- On some games, you can choose whether or not to play skill-based bonus rounds.
- For the most part, skill-based slots offer the same features and fun as traditional slots.
- Skill-based slots offer a “best of both worlds” balance of luck- and skill-based play.
One major draw to skill-based slots is that they are more interactive than those which are not part of this category.
If you want to be doing more than just pushing “spin” again and again as you play slots, you will probably enjoy the greater degree of interaction and variety in skill-based slots.
Because there are many different types of slot machine mini-games, you should be able to find something that suits your interests.
Plus, if you try games that are outside of what you usually would play, you could discover that there are types of skill-based mini-games that you enjoy that you might not have thought would suit you.
Traditional slots that do not include a skill-based element do nothing to challenge you. This is part of their attraction, but sometimes you want a challenge.
When you do, skill-based slots offer you an alternative to table games that involve skill.
Not only can you have a good time bettering your skills, but you can feel great about what you accomplish as you improve.
You may be able to enjoy a very competitive RTP if you are a skilled player on some of these games.
That is a pretty nice payoff for doing something that you are already having a good time doing.
At the same time, even if you do not play with great skill, you might still get a reasonable RTP.
Most players are probably going to perform somewhere in the middle of the range.
Did you grow up playing arcade games, or games on Atari or the original Nintendo? If so, you may miss some of those old games quite a bit.
If you have been looking for a way to relive those days in a new context, there are a lot of skill-based slots out there that are aimed directly at players like you.
Like the arcade experience, a skill-based slot entails putting money in a machine. And the mini-games often resemble those same games of yesteryear.
But unlike those old arcade machines, skill-based slot machines may end up giving you money back.
As I mentioned earlier, you can find some games that give you options when you trigger a bonus round. You can play the mini-game, or you can take free spins as an alternative.
These games offer the highest degree of flexibility. They are perfect if you think that sometimes, you will be up for a skill-based segment, while other times, you might want to just keep pushing “spin.” They make it easy to enjoy skill-based slots at your own pace.
I think that a lot of Boomers assume that a skill-based slot is a wildly different experience from a traditional slot, and this is simply not the way it is.
Really, all slot games are luck-based. Some of them just have a skill component that kicks in from time to time when you get lucky enough to trigger a mini-game.
For the most part, they offer the familiar slot machine experience that you know and love.
The mini-games are just there to spice things up a bit.
Some gamblers prefer games that involve no application of skill at all. But others are interested in skill-based gameplay, yet may be intimidated by games like poker that involve a lot of complexity and a steep learning curve.
For those that are looking for something in the middle ground, skill-based slots are at the ideal “best of both worlds” option.
These games are mostly driven by luck, and are easy to play. But the skill-based mini-games are also straightforward and easy to learn. They do not involve the complexity of a game like poker or blackjack.
Something else to consider is that even when you are playing a skill-based mini-game, there is still an element of luck at play.
Nobody can play with perfect control, and sometimes, it is a lucky moment that allows you to shoot a target or solve a puzzle.
That interaction between luck and skill can itself be exciting.
Drawbacks of Skill-Based Slots
Now that we have gone over the benefits of skill-based slots, and let’s consider some of their downsides.
- Not everyone wants an element of skill in their slots.
- You can only raise the RTP by a few percentages.
- You cannot beat the house with a skill-based slot.
While skill in gambling is attractive to some players, to others, it is entirely undesirable.
If you fall into the latter category, you will probably find these types of slot machines annoying.
If you perform at the highest possible skill level when playing a bonus round, you can expect to have an RTP advantage of around 3-6% (depending on the specific game) compared to a person who is performing with the lowest possible skill level.
It is not a massive advantage, although every percentage in your favor is still beneficial.
You are never going to find a skill-based slot that features an RTP of 100% or more based on maximum skill performance.
Even those with very high RTP ranges will always favor the house.
So, you cannot, for example, play skill-based slots the way you would video poker, and expect to pull a long-term profit.
The skill-based aspects of these games are there mainly for your entertainment, and also to give you the chance to make your bankroll last longer.
You Might Enjoy Skill-Based Slots If…
You are a Millennial gambler. As these slots were developed for that generation, it is reasonable to expect that if you are a member of that target population, there is a significant chance you will like the games.
You enjoy video games, especially classic arcade games. If you are fond of classic games, the mini-games in slots should be right up your alley.
You like the idea of being able to use your skill to improve your RTP. If you are dissatisfied with your RTP being fixed and determined entirely by the way a slot machine is programmed, having the ability to boost your RTP through your skill may satisfy you.
You enjoy traditional slots, but are looking for something more interactive. Because skill-based slots are a lot like regular slots, they should appeal to gamblers who like slots as they are for the most part, but just want more to do than pressing the same “spin” button time and again.
You want a luck-based game to play that involves a little skill. Those looking for just a little bit of skill-based play that is simple and easy to learn, but otherwise want a luck-based game, should like these slots.
You just want to shake things up a bit and try something new. If you have yet to play skill-based slots and are getting tired of the same old thing over and over again with traditional slots, you might enjoy having a fresh experience with a skill-based slot game.
You are simply curious. Just want to find out what a skill-based slot is like? Give them a try and scratch your curiosity itch.
Play Skill-Based and Regular Slots Today
Skill-based slots have become prevalent since casinos have started targeting Millennial gamers who prefer games of skill. Nevertheless, a lot of older gamers continue to avoid them.
But now that you are familiar with some of the benefits of skill-based slots, you might be interested in trying them if you have not given them a chance yet.
But even if you are not, there are hundreds of slot games out there to enjoy that do not involve using any skill.
Whatever types of games you are interested in, you can read reviews of our favorite slots here. Have fun discovering new games to play!
And We’ve Got Some More Stuff About Slots For You Here As Well!