'Pac Man' for cash? States weigh rules for new kind of slots

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BOSTON >> It's like "Guitar Hero" that pays you back, if you're any good.

At least, that's the pitch gambling regulators across the country are hearing as they consider whether to allow casinos to offer slot machines that mimic video and arcade games in an effort to attract younger gamblers.

The latest is Massachusetts, where the state Gaming Commission is discussing draft regulations governing the new machines on Thursday.

Marcus Prater, executive director of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers, a Nevada-based slot machine industry trade group, says so-called "skill-based" slot machines are meant to appeal to millennials who tend to skip over traditional machines because they see them as old-fashioned.

"This is something totally new," Prater said. "Players have never had the option, in any market in the world, to influence the outcome of the game."

But anti-gambling activists say the machines have the potential be more addictive than their predecessors because, among other things, they blur the line between children's games and wagering.

"They're trying to find new ways to get people hooked on gambling," says Les Bernal, national director of the Massachusetts-based Stop Predatory Gambling. "It's an incredibly predatory business for that reason."

Christopher Moyer, spokesman for the American Gaming Association, says there's no evidence to suggest such games would be more addictive than current machines.

Prater says it's too soon to pass judgment. The new machines are still in development and haven't hit casino floors.

But that hasn't stopped states from considering how to regulate them. So far, two states — Nevada and New Jersey — have laws and regulations in place.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are also considering legislation allowing them, while policymakers in New York, Maryland and other states have discussed the issue.

Gambling laws vary by state, but many will generally need a combination of legislative and regulatory approvals to bring the new games to market, Prater said.

Massachusetts' 2014 casino law already included a provision allowing for skill-based machines, so only regulations need to be created, for example.

"Skill-based" slot machines cover a broad range of ideas being tested by manufacturers.

Some have unveiled machines giving gamblers the option of playing classic video games like "Space Invaders" and "Pac Man" as a sort of bonus round to earn more betting credits in between typical slot machine play.

Others are toying with gambling versions of pinball, auto racing and shooting games commonly found in arcades, as well as those created for gaming consoles, like "Guitar Hero."

Still others are developing games with a "social" component — in which gamblers can compete against each other for cash, rather than against the house — or are developing casino gambling versions of popular smartphone games like" "Angry Birds" and "Words with Friends."

"That's kind of the beauty," Prater said. "We don't know what kind of creativity this is going to generate. It'll be all over the board."

Wynn Resorts and Penn National Gaming — two of Massachusetts's licensed casino operators — say they're reserving comment on the regulations until they've had a chance to review the draft proposal, which wasn't expected to be released until after commissioners discuss them Thursday.

Wynn is developing a Boston-area casino and Penn National Gaming operates the Plainridge Park slots parlor and harness racing track in Plainville.


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