Vegas Gambling 2.0 Takes Casinos to the Next Level
This past New Year’s Eve weekend, a revolution took place on the Vegas Strip. It may not have been heard (no doubt drowned out by the din of all the nightclubs), but it was a revolution nonetheless. At the flagship property of the world’s biggest gaming hospitality company (and biggest company in the state of Nevada, for what it’s worth), 12,000 square feet of valuable casino floor space was devoted to skill-based gaming.
The space at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino is called Level Up, and it looks like the future of all casino floors—maybe.
Skill-based gaming, for those who don’t know (I’m guessing most), is a combination of the video games we love—anything from Frogger to World of Warcraft—with Vegas jackpot-style games like slot machines and video poker. Instead of just “trying your luck” against a computer algorithm, you get points for playing well. Actual money. Also, you can play against other people—friends or strangers—and rather than winning the house’s money, you’re winning their money. It’s eSports with real payoffs, and Vegas is hoping it solves a serious problem.
“Not adjusting for inflation, since 2008, the Nevada slot win is down 15 percent,” David G. Schwartz (director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research) noted in a recent issue of Vegas Seven magazine. “At the same time, non-gaming spending is at its highest level ever.”
Level Up features up-to-four-person table games by a company called Gamblit, currently including Gamblit Poker and a variation on 21 called Cannonbeard’s Treasure.
There’s also a treasure hunt slot machine (apparently we like pirates) with a bonus round that uses a joystick, which is where the real skill-based money winning comes in; Deal or No Deal; and Frogger, which plays like basic Frogger, except when you get to the bonus round. Even cooler than those is a big live gaming “arena” with virtual versions of table games like roulette, where up to 40 other players participating help determine the payoffs.
The space also includes Golfstream, a laser golf course that combines a typical virtual golf range with an articulating green that moves to different positioning for each of the 18 holes and has guidance projections for the novices. Maybe most importantly, they have tournaments with real money wins starting at $500. That’s a lot of avocado toast.
It’s also worth noting that not every square foot at Level Up is made for winning and losing, itself a radical notion for a casino floor. There’s a bunch of just-for-fun stuff, like interactive TV tables in the bar area (hard to explain—just go try them), traditional pool tables, foosball, ping-pong, quadair hockey (that’s the four-player kind), giant Connect Four and Pac-Man, and some pretty slick beer pong. The space also features chill-out couches, free phone charging, and lots of cool hand-painted murals by local artists. If this sounds a bit like Dave & Buster’s with a hip factor and real money… now you’re getting it.
MGM isn’t the only player in Vegas getting into skill-based gaming. Caesars has made a major commitment as well, with Gamblit tables (same games, for now) already in play at Planet Hollywood, the LINQ, Caesars Palace, and Paris casinos (and two in Reno/Tahoe). In the Freemont Street area—which is where this really feels like it belongs—the Downtown Grand has also been experimenting with it. Although neither of the latter two has created a truly dedicated experiences for this, Caesars has committed to having as many as 200 Gamblit tables across all of its properties nationally.
Will every casino look like this in 10 years? Maybe, maybe not.
“I don’t think it’s the ‘future’ per se,” says Anthony Curtis, editor of Las Vegas Advisor, one of the leading independent sources for professional gamblers. “They’re trying to nab a new market, [but] it’s not going to kick video poker or real slots to the curb.” Curtis admits he hasn’t spent much time with the skill-based games, and that it’s far more complicated to determine players’ advantages—the primary appeal of video poker and similar games to regular gamblers. On the other hand, he questions whether you can create the sort of “status” with these games that is a big draw for eSports players. Cearly there are bugs to be worked out.
In the meantime, though, it seems like a pretty cool place to hang in between club time, pool time, and nap time. Check it out for yourself.
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