man in front of digital slots machine

Should gambling 'video games' be allowed in Ontario bars?

Ever walk into a bar in small-town Ontario and see a tiny entertainment system that looks like a slot machine you might find in any casino?

If you have wondered how these types of pseudo-gambling machines are allowed in bars, outside of casinos, you’re not alone.

After all, playing these games called Got Skill? involves all the same mechanisms as a slot machine, according to CBC: “You sit in front of a screen, slide in your cash card, press a “spin” button and watch a wheel of symbols go around and around, hoping for a match.” If it’s your lucky day, you could win up to $2,000.

These machines have been classified as skill-based video games by the Ontario courts in a September ruling, not as a form of gambling.

Ontario’s Alcohol and Gaming Commission took the case to court in 2017 and lost, though declining to comment to CBC, the Commission is appealing the verdict.

“We’re working constructively with the new Ford government on a resolution that hopefully does not negatively impact us, including the many jobs we support,” said Got Skill? president, Tony Carvahlo.

“We’re confident that if it does go through a court process that the courts will determine once again, that our games are of skill.”

Got Skill? was launched in 2015 and I now available is as many as 200 bars across Ontario. Participating bars do not have to pay for the Got Skill? machines to be placed in their establishments, but do collect a percentage of the profits.

In a Sudbury Overtime Sports Bar and Grill, three Got Skill? machines were installed six months ago. Some patrons and bar staff continue to question the legalities.

“You see the same faces playing it over and over again. I don’t think it draws too much [more] traffic in my situation,” said bar owner Atillio Langella.

If a bar accepts a Got Skill? machine into their establishment, bar staff are trained in the technicalities of the software, but not in how to “identify problem gambling”.

Carvahlo from Got Skill? says there is no concern to be had based on the “very small” prizes offered in the game.

“We are confident that what we put in place is something that would not cause any issues from an addiction perspective,” he said.

CEO of the Responsible Gambling Council, Shelley White, “strongly disagrees with that.”

“Studies have shown that this particular type of machine is one of the riskiest,” said White. Thirteen percent of users are prone to problem gambling on similar machines, versus two percent for “other kinds of betting”.

Got Skill? is classed as a video lottery terminal (VLT) by the Responsible Gambling Council. VLTs are legal in a range of provinces from Manitoba to Nova Scotia. They have been similarly criticized for “spreading addiction and social problems.”

White wants the province to establish guidelines on these bar VSTs, especially for the staff who she believes should have some of the same training as casino workers.