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Dave & Buster’s is adding real money betting options to arcade staples

Enlarge / It’s a good thing this kid is too young to bet on Skee-Ball, because his dad is getting beat.

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Anyone who’s been to a Dave & Buster’s location in recent years knows the arcade’s heavy reliance on so-called redemption games makes the experience more like an ersatz casino than the quarter-munching video game halls of the ’70s and ’80s. On the vast majority of D&B games, you end up wagering money (in the form of gameplay chips) to win virtual tickets that can be traded for trinkets at the rewards counter.

Now, the massive arcade chain has announced that players will soon be able to use the D&B app to directly wager on the results of arcade games through “real-money contests.” The arcade giant, which has over 200 locations across North America, is partnering with “gamification layer” platform Lucra on a system that will let D&B Rewards members “digitally compete with each other, earn rewards, and unlock exclusive perks while competing with friends at Dave & Buster’s,” according to Tuesday’s announcement.

Neither Lucra nor Dave & Buster’s has responded to a request for comment from Ars Technica, so we’re still missing extremely basic information, like what games will support app-based wagering, minimum and maximum bet sizes, or what kinds of fees might be involved. CNBC’s report on the announcement suggests the system will be launching “in the next few months” to players 18 and older across 44 states (and specifically mention Skee-Ball and Hot Shots Basketball competitions). Lucra’s webpage simply says the integration will “provide… social connectivity and friendly competition,” suggesting you’ll probably face off against friends playing in the same location.

Lucra’s system has previously been integrated into Dupr (a Pickleball ranking platform) and TennisOne to let players make casual bets on recreational sports. The company says it has handled $20 million in bets from 150,000 customers across its platforms since its founding in 2019.

Money match

Gambling on arcade games is far from a new concept. Wagering on early pinball games was so common that many US cities banned pinball entirely starting around the 1940s until a landmark 1976 court case determined the tables weren’t games of chance. And the fighting game community has a long tradition of money matches that can often be found along the fringes of major tournaments to this day.

New York Police Commissioner William O'Brien destroys a pinball machine as part of a citywide crackdown on "gambling devices" in 1949.
Enlarge / New York Police Commissioner William O’Brien destroys a pinball machine as part of a citywide crackdown on “gambling devices” in 1949.

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Still, Dave & Buster’s officially integrating real-money wagers into its arcade experience feels like the most direct acknowldgement yet of the ongoing casino-ization of the video game arcade. It’s important to note, though, that the arcade games being played at Dave & Buster’s have to have an element of skill, setting the arcades apart from real casinos that can offer purely chance-based wagering. CNBC reports this distinction lets Lucra and D&B avoid the complex web of regulations and licensing required to open a true casino or take bets on professional sports.

Ironically enough, though, many of those traditional casinos have been experimenting with so-called “skill-based” slot machines for years, in an attempt to draw in younger players who want to feel more in control of the experience. But at least one casino’s website admits “the influence that each player has on the reward [in a skill-based slot machine] is minimal, at best,” so maybe there’s still some distinction between arcades and casinos on that score.

Even without a gambling app, though, so-called “advantage players” have long made a lucrative business of racking up jackpots on Dave & Buster’s Redemption games and then selling the high-ticket prizes on eBay.

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