Skill-based gaming growing thanks in large part to Graboyes

Skill-based gaming growing thanks in large part to Graboyes

February 21, 2017 3:01 AM


It’s been 3½ months since Blaine Graboyes’ skill-based, video-game gambling machines hit the casino floors in Atlantic City. Within a few more months, Graboyes expects to be in casinos here in Nevada.

“We’re targeting being there in the first half of 2017,” Graboyes said. “Chairman Burnett (A.G. Burnett, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board) and his team in Nevada have been incredibly supportive of what we’re doing. I’ve been meeting with them for the last two-plus years. That’s been getting more frequent. We’re negotiating with an array of launch partners in Vegas and Reno. It will be a few casinos in Las Vegas, on the Strip, off the Strip and downtown.”

One of those undoubtedly will be the Downtown Grand, which was the host of a non-revenue version of the machine for demonstration and testing purposes.

Graboyes is the CEO and co-founder of GameCo, Inc., the New York City-based company that created these video-game gambling machines (VGM), the first of their kind in the world.

They launched in November at three Caesars properties in Atlantic City, N.J., before expanding to Tropicana Atlantic City just before Christmas. Next up are expected to be Connecticut and Florida, along with a number of tribal casinos. The projection is to be operational in most major gambling jurisdictions in the United States by the end of the year.

“This is something that a lot of people told us, ‘It’s off the wall, it would take 10 years, it would never be approved, it would never see the floor,’” Graboyes said.

They were wrong.

“It’s been confirmation of this vision that I invested really everything I had to make happen,” Graboyes said.

Steve Callender, general manager for the Tropicana in Atlantic City, said his casino has nine of GameCo’s machines set up “in some key places where millennials tend to frequent.”

“They’re enjoying them,” Callender said. “We have a couple groups that come in and are giving us some good feedback. I think they like the fact they feel they’re in their own realm competing.

“It has to grow like anything else. Right now, during the week I don’t get a lot of play on the games because those folks don’t come in until night time or on the weekends. But it is going to be part of our floor going forward. I think it will grow in popularity and get stronger.”

Much has been made about casinos needing to find new ways to attract millennials, considered the next generation of gamblers and generally defined as those born between 1982 and 2004. The chance to make money by playing one of their favorite video games could be the solution to this problem.

At least that’s the hope of some in the casino industry. Graboyes, however, insists his target audience is far greater than just millennials and the trends he’s seen so far in Atlantic City have confirmed this for him.

“I know there’s a preoccupation of sorts with millennials because of the size of the market and the fact that they don’t play slot machines,” said Graboyes, 44, who grew up in suburban Philadelphia. “But this isn’t just about millennials. This is about gamers. That’s the market. Gamers are all ages. Our very first customer was a Vietnam veteran in his 70s. We’ve seen a majority of players under 40, so that includes Gen X and millennials, but that also means about half the market is over 40, which includes boomers as well.”

GameCo’s first machine is called “Danger Arena,” in which players shoot robots during a 45-second segment. Taking out six robots assures a return on the investment while 10 results in the highest payout. The machine features 10,000 different “maps” or versions of the game that a player could encounter.

The company announced last week the addition of another game, “Pharoah’s Secret Temple,” where a player collects rare treasures. A basketball shooting game, “Nothin’ but Net,” is set to be released next month.

Graboyes plans to start putting one to three new games into the market every month now. Among those coming soon are “Mission Impossible,” “Ferris Bueller,” “Paranormal Activity,” and “Terminator 2.”

At least two other companies, Gamblit and Competition Interactive, are trying to catch up with GameCo at this point.

“Honestly, I wish there were more,” Graboyes said. “While we like being the first, it puts a lot on our shoulders to be doing all the legwork with regulators and all the marketing to bring in this new game customer to the casino. What we’ve been able to prove is there’s market demand and opportunity, and also that these skill-based games can generate meaningful revenue for casinos.”