“A man becomes preeminent; he’s expected to have enthusiasms…”
-The Untouchables (1987)


Well, I may not rise to the title of “preeminent,” but I do have a pastime that draws my admiration and gives me joy-fishing.

Yes, depending on the season and the weather, I am one of those people you see down on the river with hip waders and a fly rod, or at dusk on an ocean beach surf casting, or at the lake trying my luck with a spinning reel and a handful of lures. Over the years I spent thousands of dollars on this hobby, endured sunburn and tick bites, cuts on my and hands and hooks embedded in my flesh.

I’ve tried to explain this passion to the 90 percent or so of the population that are not avid anglers, who can’t understand how I can spend hours in the heat or cold, often with so little return. No doubt, part of the attraction is the fact you actually are outside, in nature, and doing something physical. I think most people understand that, especially those like me who spend hours each day in an office at a computer.

The other reasons are a bit more esoteric. I can’t deny the competitive aspect of the experience-having the smarts and ability to know what kind of fish you should be angling for, the best equipment and methods to catch it given the circumstances, and catching it while others can’t. Then there’s the element of surprise since, for most types of fishing, you can’t actually see what you’ve caught until you reel in the line and the fish comes out of the water; every tug and pull on the line is a mystery waiting to be revealed. If I was to parse these aspects of fishing down to a couple of words, I would use “skill” and “reward.”

This might also help explain why the concept of skill-based casino games is such a draw to me. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy and understand the current slot machine experience presented by gaming facilities, which, in a nutshell, can be described as offering affordable entertainment with a chance for substantial prize. But if I were to equate slot gaming to fishing, I’d say it’s people endlessly throwing baited lines in the water and waiting for the inevitable fish to bite, a circumstance where luck trumps skill, which annoys me to no end. Which is why the very idea of a skill component added to a slot excites me-especially if it is something that I can practice and master that eventually improves my odds of winning. So bring on Big Buck Hunter and its ersatz rifle and targets and the promise that as I improve my aim, I improve my odds of winning.

But, unfortunately, this really is not what slot vendors are able to offer with today’s skill games-most gaming jurisdictions insist machine results must be truly random, which, really, is the antithesis of skill. So no matter how much I fine tune my skill of shooting electronic ducks on the wing, the chances of my winning the grand prize from a skill slot are no different from someone who feeds in a dollar and mindlessly spins the reels-not necessarily a bad thing from a casino business standpoint, but disappointing to me nonetheless.

Here’s hoping skill slots will evolve to truly integrate skill into the game mix. Indeed, there are already some online casinos that combine video game-style play with real-money wagering. I’m not saying this will become commonplace in land-based properties, but I like to think there’s space for these types of games on the casino floor, if for no other reason than they may attract younger clientele.

It’s a big tent idea-I hope casinos are more successful with that concept than some political parties have been.