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Skee-Ball: Rigged? Skills? Chance? Gambling? – 12 Things to Consider

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Skee-Ball looks pretty harmless. After all, even preschoolers can play it (badly). Yet, Skee-Ball is regularly played for tickets exchanged for a small prize. Within certain groups, this sets off a moral panic over gambling. Then there is the issue that carnival games are frequently rumored to be rigged. 

Skee-Ball is a game of skill, but it is popular in venues that offer prizes. Thus, while there are Skee-Ball leagues that play for points, much like bowling or darts, you can also play it at an arcade or casino. However, rigging Skee-Ball, while not impossible, is harder to do than standard slots. 

Humans are tenacious and creative, meaning they can turn anything into a hustle. People even bet (gamble) on chess, and the mental sport relies on the gambling industry for sponsorship. But unlike Skee-Ball, chess isn’t found at your typical arcade or carnival, which are considered low-brow. 

1. Skee-Ball Is Classed As A Redemption Game

Skee-Ball is a redemption game, a term for arcade games that provide a reward based on the skill of play. In short, the higher the score, the greater the rewards. 

Sports events like tennis or a marathon do not adjust their prizes on the scale of a win. Sure, the press and fans get excited about a player that bagels their opponent or break a racing record. 

However, running a marathon faster than anyone else has before doesn’t result in a larger reward. A win remains a win, and the prizes and medals don’t reflect all-time high scores or record times.  

The potential of increasing the reward makes Skee-Ball susceptible to being classed as gambling. 

2. Skee-Ball Is “Betting” In Some Venues

Skee-Ball is a betting game in some venues, such as casinos. For example, take the introduction of Skee-Ball slots in Mr. AC Casino back in 2012. The game requires bets before play, which makes it gambling.  

In addition, the game is not necessarily one of skill. This “video game” makes it easier for the computer to override any “skill” involved in the finger swipe. Thus, Skee-Ball becomes more of a game of chance. How “rigged” these electronic games are will depend on the programming and algorithm. 

3. Skee-Ball Was Once A Chicago Outlaw Like Pinball

Skee-Ball’s money for prizes has been equated with gambling outside the casino sphere. Thus, like its arcade cousin pinball, Skee-Ball has had moments of notoriety. For example, there was a time when cities such as Chicago outlawed business owners from having a Skee-Ball machine.

Yes, your business could be raided for owning Skee-Ball. The old-fashion, non-casino kind. Honest.

4. Atlantic City Declared No Skee-Ball On Sundays

Cities banning Skee-Ball wasn’t its first time getting the side-eye. Atlantic City, where Skee-Ball first rose to fame, had once found the game to be too rambunctious. Thus, for “God,” noise control, and good breeding (joke, maybe), it was not allowed to be played on Sundays. 

5. Skee-Ball Leagues Are Not Gambling

Skee-Ball leagues differ from playing the game on your own at an arcade. Skee-Ball leagues have rules and a set number of rounds and balls and run very similar to bowling. You can see an example of a league’s rules here.

In these Skee-Ball games, a player can’t keep feeding the machine coins and carry on. Scores are limited by what a team can achieve within a set of parameters, including the number of rounds and balls played. Even the order of players is required to be established, similar to how baseball teams have a batting order. 

6. Skee-Ball Is Hard To Rig, But Not Impossible 

Skee-Ball, in its original form, is more challenging to rig than games involving a computer or moving machinery. Yes, many modern Skee-Balls have an electric scorekeeper, but these components have no influence on the ramp, the holes’ size, or the balls’ weight. 

This isn’t to say a carnival or arcade can’t make the game more difficult. They can sand down balls to make them subtly misshapen. Ramps could be altered a fraction. The rings in Skee-Ball could potentially be tampered with to make it harder. 

7. Rigged Skee-Ball Isn’t The Same As A Rigged Slot Machine

A traditional Skee-Ball game isn’t rigged in the same way an electronic slot machine can be rigged or even a game like “The Claw.” 

While messing with a Skee-Ball machine is rigging and even illegal in many places, it still hands over control to the player. There isn’t a computer that can suddenly alter the odds or influence the game. Thus, a player could potentially practice on that machine and get better, despite the tampering. 

Whereas in slots, a rigged machine can ensure you never gain back more than a specific percentage of the money you put in. The Claw, too, can be programmed to simply not close its “fingers” to a certain amount, preventing folks from ever snagging certain high-value prizes. 

8. The Price Is Right Used Super Ball (Skee-Ball) For Prizes

The Price Is Right used Skee-Ball closer to the spirit of the arcade version than how it is used in casinos. The show called the game “Super Ball,” and contestants won balls after guessing the prices of various household items. 

Once the contestant had their balls, they used them to play Skee-Ball. Each throw awarded the contestant a prize. The better the throw, the more impressive the reward. 

As game shows are regulated, Super Ball was unlikely to be rigged. Also, unlike the wheel, which arguably could have altered results through the motorized mechanism, Super Ball lacked such components. The results depended on how well somebody could throw. But for some, the game was too complicated

9. In The UK, “Rigged” Games Are Labeled Category D

Some places insist venues label games of chance that are rigged against the player’s interest. For example, in the UK, venues, such as an arcade, must alert consumers that it is a “game of chance” by putting a “Category D” sticker on the machine. 

These games are like lotto tickets. Yes, there are winners, especially of smaller rewards. However, no skill is involved in allowing the consumer to influence the outcome. Even The Claw is rigged. But in the UK, Skee-Ball generally is all about how well you play. Thus, the control is with the consumer.

10. Skee-Ball Can Be Considered A Game Of Probability

While Skee-Ball is a game of skill, it is also one of probability. Skee-Ball scores can work on mathematical probability. Just as a toddler could randomly (and slowly) roll a bowling ball down the lane and have a mathematical probability of hitting certain pins, there are odds of hitting various Skee-Ball holes. 

11. Skee-Ball Doesn’t Regulate Their Balls

Like bowling, Skee-Ball has different-sized balls. However, unlike bowling, the players don’t select the ball size. The balls that come with that machine are the balls the players use. Thus, a person’s play can be impacted depending on the equipment.

12. Skee-Ball’s Ramp Is 10-Feet, But Not Always

Unlike most sports and respected competitions, Skee-Ball doesn’t have a regulated ramp length. When the game began, the ramps were epic, 32-36 feet long. But these ramps were too long to fit in most venues. Thus, licensed Skee-Ball manufacturers switched to a 10-foot ramp. 

However, people can make their own Skee-Ball machines. It isn’t a complicated build. Also, some venues and carnivals design their own version. So, if a person plays at a random arcade, there is no guarantee that the ramp is 10 feet. These variations will impact a person’s performance.  

However, most Skee-Ball leagues have rules about the game’s setup, including ramp length. But this is not necessarily true for a version that pops up at a carnival or a venue that doesn’t host Skee-Ball teams. 

In Closing

Skee-Ball isn’t easily classified as a sport or gambling but a redemption game. However, there are Skee-Ball teams that play for sport. But some casinos use it for gambling. Thankfully, despite certain aspects of the game not being standardized, it is tough to rig. Thus, it is mainly a game of skill and some chance.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.