Video game gambling arrives in Atlantic City – NorthJersey.com
Thousands of slot machines stillÂ await visitors to any Atlantic City casino, as they have for almost 40 years.
But at Tropicana and the three Caesars Entertainment casinos, a handful of new machines amidÂ the slots areÂ intended to lure those seeking a different gambling experience.
The words âVIDEO GAME GAMBLINGâ on the sides of the Danger Arena and Pharaohâs Secret Temple games beckon patrons, andÂ last week, the games â the first such skill-based gamesÂ at any casinos in North America,Â game maker GameCo Inc. saidÂ â attracted some novices.
“Danger Arena is a first-person action game that appeals to a more ‘core’ gamer audience, similar to XBox games like Call of Duty,” said GameCo founder Blaine Graboyes. Â “Pharaoh’s Secret Temple appeals to a more casual audience and is similar to mobile ‘match 3’ games such as Candy Crush.”
Danger Arena machines debuted in October, while the latter game was just installed at Tropicana last week. Both are now offered at each of the four casinos, with a total of 30 machines.
Part of the goal of the casinos is to getÂ millennials âÂ many of whom play video and social media games regularly but arenât attracted to slot machines â to spend more time and money because ofÂ their enjoyment of the games. Atlantic City casinos are eager to find new profit sourcesÂ because the city’s combined casino revenueÂ hasÂ fallenÂ by more than 50 percent since Pennsylvania and New York opened their casinos near the New Jersey border in 2006. The number of casinos has declined to sevenÂ from 12 in 2014.Â The video games are an example of efforts by state regulators to consider a variety of gambling options to help boostÂ Atlantic City casinos and raise more tax revenue.
Reaching millennials is not just a concern in Atlantic City. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority saidÂ the percentage of visitors there who gambled had declined to 71 percent in 2014Â from 87 percent in 2006. The percentages of those who gamble by age group is telling. Seventy-eightÂ percent of baby-boomer visitors to Las Vegas gamble, followed by 68 percent ofÂ Generation XÂ and 63 percent of millennials.
GraboyesÂ saidÂ video games have been around so long that even someÂ people in their 40s and 50s are experienced players. (DuringÂ several hours at Tropicana and Caesars, no senior citizens were observedÂ even considering playing the video games.)
“We staff brand ambassadors at the games to answer questions and collect exit interviews, and from that we know that 60 percent of players so far have been under 40 years old,” Graboyes said. Graboyes, who founded GameCoÂ in 2015, said in September that the company had raised $8.3 million in venture capital to fund the launch at the Atlantic City casinos.
Peak activity, not surprisingly, has been nights and weekends. Half of the players interviewed said they would not have gambled if not for the video game machines, which Graboyes said bodes well for casino revenue. About 90 percent of the money gambled has gone back to the players, Graboyes added, which is similar to what casinos pay back on slot machines.
Atlantic City was chosen as the first location for the games,Â Graboyes said, to pay homage to his childhood visits to Atlantic City from Bucks County, Pa.
âThis is the first time Iâve seen something like this, so I figured Iâd give it a try â it looks kind of fun,â said Kayla Jones, 30, of New Haven, Conn., after a couple of rounds of Danger Arena. âGuys will definitely like this.â
Another millennial, Mike Wasyliszyn of Carteret, looked over the Danger Arena games but then walked away.
âI like to gamble, but I wouldnât gamble over video games â itâs two totally separate things,â Wasyliszyn said. âI play Xbox and I like video games, but if I want to do that, Iâll just stay home. Here, I prefer games like blackjack or craps.â
Justin Miele, 38, of New Rochelle, New York, perused the games as well but said he declined because he is ânot a big video gamer.â
âI have some friends who would be interested in this, though,â Miele said. âThing is, I havenât seen anyone actually playing it yet.â
Indeed, the games drew little notice at Tropicana at lunchtime on Feb. 17, a Friday, even with the PresidentsÂ Day holiday weekend ahead.
Carlyn Davis of Queens, though, did take a chance on Pharaohâs Secret Temple.
âIâve played this type of game on my [smart]phone,â Davis said. âI have younger relatives who play slots, but theyÂ would prefer to do this, I think.â
Yeong Kim, who was visiting from Fairfax, Virginia, said he didnât much care for Pharaohâs Secret Temple after a few tries at Caesars. (Ballyâs and Harrahâs also offer the games).
âMy wife likes it more â she says itâs like Candy Crush,â Kim said. âMy kids would love it, though;Â they are 27 and 25. Iâll tell them about it.â
David Gargaro of Baltimore found that the Temple game reminded him of Bejeweled, another popular video game.
âBut thereâs too much skill involved,â Gargaro, 30, said with a laugh. âItâs more daunting when youâre gambling with real money, I suppose.â
Only Jason Mejzak, 42, of Williamstown,Â in Gloucester County, found his experience so unappealing that he has written off the games â for good.
âThe screen doesnât work, itâs too greasy,â Mejzak said.
Players can choose five price points from 50 cents to $20 with either game. With Danger Arena, players must wipe out seven ‘botsÂ in 45 seconds to break even â while knocking off 10 of the cartoon robots gets you 25 times your money.
There are 10,000 unique âmaps,â or virtual locations, with Danger Arena â each with a different level of difficulty. That means that as with poker and blackjack, luck as well as skill plays a role because an easy board could lead to easy money, while even a very skilled player could be overmatched by one of the most difficult maps. The maximum payout in one game on Danger Arena is $5,500,Â if a player lucks into the maximum instant cash prize of $5,000, then bets $20 and knocks off 10 or more ‘bots to win 25 times his or her bet.
Graboyes said he plans to roll out more new games â racing and martial arts fighting are among the other types â and inÂ more locations overÂ the course of the year. Some of the new sites will be other Atlantic City casinos.
How to play Danger Arena
- Players have 45 seconds to “shoot” as many ‘botsÂ as possible in this “first-person action game.”Â
- Vanquish six ‘bots, and you get half your money back. Get seven, and you break even.
- A player makes money by shooting down eight ‘bots (2.5 times your bet), nine ‘bots (fiveÂ times your bet), or 10+ ‘bots (25 times your bet).
- The betting categories are $1, $2, $3, $7.50, $10Â andÂ $20.Â
- The maximum winnings, therefore, is $500 for one game â except for occasional bonus prizesÂ randomly offered of up to $5,000.