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Casinos Offer New Ways To Win With Games Based On Skill


And now to a story we first heard on this program a few months ago - a story about gambling. Casinos are looking for new ways to make money, and rather than focusing on games of chance, like roulette and slot machines, they're now toying with games based on skill. David Kestenbaum of NPR's Planet Money podcast went to Atlantic City to see who's playing these games.

DAVID KESTENBAUM, BYLINE: The game was a simple one - throw a ball through a ring 10 feet off the ground, 15 feet away, otherwise known as a basketball free-throw shooting contest.

KAMAL HUNT: I'm pretty sure I'm going to win. My chances are very, very high.

KHADIJAH HUNT: My chances are looking good. I'm going to win, anyway. I'm going to beat him, so it doesn't matter, OK?

KESTENBAUM: That's Khadijah Hunt (ph) and her brother, Kamal. They'd come to the Borgata Casino, paid 20 bucks each for a chance at winning thousands. Though unlike most casino games, chance did not have much to do with it. Someone said, you should go interview that guy over there, Ed Palubinskas - the guy with the ring.

What's that ring you're wearing?

ED PALUBINSKAS: That's the LA Lakers. I was a shooting coach for the Lakers.

KESTENBAUM: Any player in particular?

PALUBINSKAS: A guy by the name of Shaq - I worked with him.

KESTENBAUM: A guy by the name of Shaq (laughter)?

PALUBINSKAS: Yeah, we - I improved him from 38 to 69.

KESTENBAUM: Percent free-throw shooting?

PALUBINSKAS: Yeah - biggest improvement in history.

KESTENBAUM: Ed is in his mid-60s, balding, wire-rimmed glasses and a total ringer.

What percentage free-throw shooter are you?

PALUBINSKAS: Ninety-nine-point-three.

KESTENBAUM: Ed stepped up to the line. Every shot - perfection.

In. In. This is the greatest free-throw shooting I've ever witnessed in my entire life. In. Oh.

He just missed one. One potential problem with a casino offering a skill-based game like a free throw contest is that only one person comes - Ed. Who'd want to go up against Ed? Apparently, plenty of people - hundreds and hundreds came. A lot of them were young. That was one of the reasons for this experiment. Young people apparently don't want to sit quietly in front of slot machines. Casinos worry about that. Part of the appeal of games with dice and cards is that anything can happen, but even in games of skill, there are still surprises. Shaq's free-throw coach amazingly got knocked out. And when the pool finally narrowed to two finalists, neither was a ringer. One was a first grade teacher. The other finalist, a guy named Wayne Nelson, had a very surprising strategy. He hurled every ball off the backboard, which was genius. He'd realized something about these hoops.

WAYNE NELSON: I used to have one of these backboards when I was younger, and it's a dead backboard - no bounce. It works, you know?

KESTENBAUM: Just hurl it against the backboard in the same spot?

NELSON: Hurl it against the backboard at the same spot, it goes in (laughter).

KESTENBAUM: There are all kinds of skill - being good at free-throws, and just being smart.

Off the backboard - in. Off the backboard - in.


KESTENBAUM: Nelson ended up losing to the first grade teacher, but he still took home 6,000 bucks. I cheered, though some of that prize money came from me. I paid 20 bucks to compete, made one basket out of 15. I was sure I would hit more, and we all were. Lots of people who had lined up to compete told me they were going to make all their shots. No one did. In that sense, games of skill are not that different from games of luck. At the slot machine, we think we'll be the lucky one. At the free-throw line, we think we'll sink them all. Overconfidence - that's how casinos stay in business. David Kestenbaum, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.