People who play skill-based gambling machines (SGMs) have higher rates of gambling harm and problem gambling, a recent study by Central Queensland University shows.

The study – named Skill-Based Gambling in Australia – was funded by Gambling Research Australia to investigate how innovations impact gambling behavior and may contribute to gambling harm.

Skill-based gambling machines (SGMs) differ from traditional EGMs in that a player’s skill or perceived skill, rather than pure chance, has a role in determining wins and losses.

Alison Parkinson - Director NSW Problem Gambling, skill-based gambling machines
Alison Parkinson, Director of the NSW Office of Responsible Gambling

“Skill-based gambling machines represent a real change to how gaming machines operate. As with any new product, it’s important we understand whether these innovations may increase the risk of gambling harm,” Alison Parkinson, Director of the NSW Office of Responsible Gambling,’ said in the report.

“This study shows that skill has little impact on the outcome of these games, and that participants should be aware of their real chances of winning.”

SGMs had slowly been introduced in the US over the last decade and only recently introduced in Australia. According to the study, these games present unique risks that are not present in other EGMs, despite similar game mechanics.

‘This report provides evidence that skill-based gambling machines are particularly attractive to vulnerable groups, including people with gambling problems, young people and culturally and linguistically diverse populations. The protection of these vulnerable groups should be a priority to prevent gambling-related harm,’ the report suggests.

More luck than skill

The study also underlined that the inclusion of skill-based elements in these games can create confusion for players about how much skill can influence the outcomes, with these games appearing to be ‘more skill-based than they are’.

‘The large chance component is almost a logical necessity for operators, since otherwise even a small minority of highly skilled players could play the games intensively to reliably win money from operators. Thus, if skill-based gambling machines give the impression of being winnable, given enough practice and investment, this creates an additional mechanism for encouraging irrational cognitions and excessive expenditure,’ the research adds.

‘Skill-based gambling machines can be compared to carnival or fete games, where the outcome appears to be governed by skill but is largely influenced by chance,’ indicates the report.

The study also concludes that temporarily forgoing skill-based gambling machines would not be considered a missed opportunity, as they represent ‘only a small fraction’ of the EGM market in places like Nevada and New Jersey, where they are widely available.

These games may become more compelling in the future but currently represent a high risk to players without clear evidence for compensating rewards in the form of broad-based player enjoyment, the study indicates.