Artaev at Law advises companies looking to launch new technologies and tap into the skill-based real-money game market in the United States. In keeping up with the latest legal and regulatory trends, we do a lot of research, and we have seen a lot of misleading and downright false information on the internet. Do not be deceived and get the facts backed up by legal analysis – Artaev at Law is the trusted, experienced, and accurate source to answer your questions and dispel the most common myths about real-money skill gaming.
1. MYTH: Online gambling games are the same as “real-money games of skill.”
FACT: No. Words matter. “Gambling” is term of art used in state laws across the United States to define heavily-regulated casino-type activities, usually with reference to an element of “chance.” Federal laws like the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (“UIGEA”) also regulate and prohibit banking institutions from facilitating unlawful gambling. But paying an entry fee to a cash-prize tournament or wagering on yourself in a head-to-head contest is not the same thing as “gambling.” These real-money games of skill rely on the relative skill of the players to determine the outcome and do not involve any element of chance, so they cannot be considered “gambling,” which has a specific definition under the law. I have even seen other law firm websites make this mistake and misuse the term “gambling” to refer to anything that involves the wagering of real money. There are also a lot of questionable websites that attempt to equate online casinos to video games or pure-skill games in an attempt to confuse and generate clicks and get people to transfer money to off-shore operations. Do not be deceived – and contact a knowledgeable lawyer if you have questions.
2. MYTH: States only regulate “games of chance” and if the real-money game does not involve “chance,” the game is automatically legal everywhere.
FACT: No. There are 50 states in the United States and each one of them has their own laws that regulate gambling. Each state has its own definition of “gambling” and what exactly is and is not allowed depends on the nature of the game offered, as well as specific regulations. Some states specifically allow participants to wager real money on “bona fide contests of skill.” Others prohibit wagering any real money on any game, even if chance is not involved. Note that wagering on the play of others, even if they are involved in a contest of skill, is prohibited as gambling. After all, that is how sportsbooks work – wagering on the competition of others. This is a constantly evolving regulatory area – the major real-money gaming websites themselves disagree where to offer real-money gaming – some offer cash games in 45 states, others in 41, others in 35, etc. Whether your particular game is legal (and where) is a case-by-case analysis that requires an up-to-date legal opinion.
3. MYTH: Real-money games of skill are those shifty-looking slot machines that you see at truck stops or those internet cafes that offer sweepstake games.
FACT: No. Those slot machine looking things are in fact slot machines (with some extra features added to attempt to claim that they involve “skill”) and internet cafes try to disguise game of chance gambling as sweepstakes. Law enforcement in many states have used existing gambling laws to shut down these establishments. Real-money games of skill are in fact played predominantly on mobile devices or computers at home. They are nothing like slot machines or sweepstakes and allow players to compete head-to-head for real cash prizes. There are card based games (like Solitaire that awards points based on speed to completion), bubble shooter games, Tetris clones, knife throwing games, and many others. The head-to-head (or tournament) contests are more akin to entering a pool tournament for a chance to win a cash prize, rather than any sort of randomized game of chance.
4. MYTH: Skill games or are just a different type of gambling video game that Las Vegas using to try to appeal to Millennials who are not interested in the traditional casino games.
FACT: No. Skill-based real-money gaming is not something that involves or depends on land-based casinos. While the regulatory bodies in states like Nevada and New Jersey did adopt regulations to encourage a new type of slot machine that involves an element of skill, there is no indication that these types of machines enjoy any sort of popularity. Like many other forms of entertainment in 2021, skill-based real-money games are based online. Advanced internet and mobile phone technology and accessibility is making these games an especially lucrative business.
5. MYTH: There are no legal implications for organizing or running a real-money video game tournament (FIFA, Tekken, Magic: The Gathering, etc.) because the outcome depends on the skill of the players.
FACT: No. There are two distinct problems with this assumption. One, is that legality depends on the nature of the game being played. Is there an element of chance? This could be determined by not only the nature of the game, but how the match-making or team selection function works. If chance is present, how much, and does it predominate over the skill element? That will determine whether the particular game passes the state-level “gambling” test. Two, there are intellectual property issues. The game studios own copyright and trademark rights in their games and do not endorse third party websites that enable real-money wagering on their games. Studios like Epic Games have publicly announced their view that these websites are misappropriating their intellectual property, and legal action is likely forthcoming.
Skill-based real-money gaming is an exciting and emerging form of entertainment worldwide. But there is a lot of misinformation online. The regulatory landscape is always changing, and Artaev at Law are the experts on the facts, trends, and the law about real-money skill-based (or pure-skill) gaming.
Disclaimer: This guide is for general informational and promotional purposes only. Nothing herein constitutes legal, investment, or tax advice. Every situation is different and faces its own unique set of challenges. Do not take any action or sign any contract until you have obtained specific guidance from a qualified professional.
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