Gas Station Slot Machines: Everything You Need to Know

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Gas station slot machines also referred to as skill games, have become a common sight in many convenience stores and gas stations across the United States. To those who like to test out their luck, they offer a chance to win cash prizes by playing games that resemble traditional slot machines.

In this article, the functioning of these machines is delved into, identifying what makes them different and/or similar to traditional slot machines and their current legal status and distribution across the country.

How Gas Station Slot Machines Work

Gas station slot machines seem to be fairly similar to traditional casino slots, but the difference is in the incorporated element of skill. The skill part is most often connected to memory, and in smaller portions, also problem-solving and quick thinking.

Players insert cash, use a touchscreen or lever to start the game, and aim to align symbols on the screen to win prizes. The inclusion of a skill element, such as solving puzzles or employing strategy, makes these machines different from traditional slot machines, allowing them to operate in states where gambling is otherwise restricted.

This skill factor allows the machines to operate within a legal grey area, as they can be no longer considered games that depend purely on luck, and therefore excluded from certain gambling laws.

The legality of gas station slot machines varies according to each state’s jurisdiction. Some US states, such as Utah, outright prohibit all kinds of gambling, regardless of whether the slots require skill or not.

Other states are more flexible, and that allows skill games to flourish. 

Unlike casinos, most gas stations do not require a gaming license to operate. They license or buy games that allow them to provide gambling by exploiting legal loopholes. The reason is to save on game delivery costs.

States where gas station slot machines are legal 

The level of legality for gambling is determined by state law, which can vary widely. If we count state-operated lotteries, 48 out of 50 states in the US permit some gambling, with Hawaii and Utah being the only states that don’t allow any sort of gambling.

Hawaii prohibited gambling before achieving statehood, while Utah, due to the strong influence of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), explicitly forbids gambling in its state constitution. 

As for the other states, each of them has a certain level of tolerance towards gambling and slot machines, and as a consequence, gas station slot machines can operate more easily in some states while outlawed in others.

In 2021, there were 15 states in the United States that allowed the operation of these machines under certain conditions, such as licensing requirements and restrictions on who can play. These states monitor the machines to ensure fair play and compliance with gaming laws. 

Among the states with the most liberal gambling laws are Illinois, Virginia, and New York. They lead in hosting the highest number of gas station slot machines, each of them with more than 1000 spots, and the numbers continue to grow. On the East Coast and in the Central East, finding a gas station slot machine is remarkably easy.

Unsurprisingly, the gambling capital of the world, Nevada, hosts more than 650 spots. Georgia, Arizona, and South Dakota are also catching up, while some states like Missouri have just about 13 spots that provide this sort of entertainment.  

States where gas station slot machines are illegal 

The legal status of slot machines in gas stations is constantly changing, as they operate in a so-called grey area. Very curiously, the state where the skill games first started popping up in large numbers back in 2018 – Virginia, has recently made gas them officially illegal.

In November of 2023, after a long process, the court decided that the skill element doesn’t exclude these machines from state gambling laws. Owners who continue operating the devices face a misdemeanor charge and fines of up to $25,000.

Then, of course, there are states where all slot machines are illegal, such as Nebraska, South Carolina, and Tennessee, so there was never any chance of them appearing in the first place.

Other states like California, Texas, and Florida enforce stringent gambling laws that make it illegal to host or play slot machines in unlicensed venues, which includes most gas stations. In these regions, authorities actively pursue violations, leading to fines and the removal of machines.

As something relatively new to authorities, in many states, these machines were often operating illegally for months or even years before police would intervene. Recently, this trend has been changing, with police raids across the country targeting unauthorized slot machines in gas stations.

Gas Station Chains with Slot Machines

While specific chains that feature slot machines can vary by region due to local laws and franchisee policies, well-known gas station brands in states where such machines are legal might offer them an added convenience for customers.

It is hard to say which one of the gas station chains is a leader in this business, as many small chains prioritize owning slot machines, while some larger ones include them only in certain gas stations. 

Shell, for example, was one of the first gas station chains to introduce slot machines, and they can be found in many of the more than 12,000 gas stations that this company owns across the country. 

Of course, these machines can exist only in the states without legal issues.

Other than the legal status and availability of the gas station slot machines, there is another strong factor for everyone who wants to try them out - the RTP (return to player) rate.  In short terms, RTP is a percentage that indicates how much in winnings you can expect to get back on average from a specific game.

The RTP rate for slot machines, in general, is around 96% on average. That means that a player can usually get 96 dollars back for every 100 he invests into a slot game.

We could ask, then, whether the skill factor, in the case of gas station slots, decreases the RTP rate. Well, it doesn’t. To ensure that the gambling economics of these machines stay consistent with traditional slots, the RTP rate remains largely unaffected.

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