Real Money Skill Games
In the gambling niche, real money skill games (also known as "cash games") are games in which the outcomes are determined by skill rather than by chance. In certain jurisdictions, this distinction makes these games legal rather than illegal. Some states and countries make a distinction between gambling on a game of chance and gambling on a game of skill.
This page takes a look at what constitutes a game of skill versus a game of chance. It lists and categorizes most of the major games of skill that people play for cash online. It also provides a broad overview of some of the larger companies on the Internet that provide these cash games.
Games of Skill vs Games of Chance
It's helpful to define terms from the beginning. Some games can be agreed upon as being games of pure skill—the outcome of such games is determined by the player's skill level. An example of a pure game of skill might be chess or checkers. All of the decisions are made by opposing players, and neither game includes a random element.
Some games can be agreed upon to be pure games of chance, too. An example of a pure game of chance might be Candyland or the card game War. No amount of skill can help you succeed at either of those games. All of the outcomes are determined completely at random.
Pokeris a great example of a game that combines random chance with skill. Chance determines which cards you're dealt, but your decisions about how to play those cards determines your outcome. You can make all the right decisions and still lose at poker, but in the long run, if you consistently make good decision, you'll be a winning poker player.
Fantasy sports are another example of a game which combines skill with luck. Knowledgeable players who can identify value in salary cap draft leagues can achieve more success than players who just pick their teams at random. But on any given Sunday (as the expression goes), anything can happen. In fact, you can count on at least one major upset every week in the NFL. So an unskilled fantasy football player can win individual matches against skilled fantasy football players.
In the world of online cash games, skill games are often divided into multiple categories. This page takes a look at those categories and provides examples below.
Arcade games are the kinds of games we used to put quarters in as kids in order to play. Examples include pinball machines and most video games. The golden age of arcade games ended a couple of decades ago, but those style games are still prevalent on the Internet, especially in the real money skill games market.
One example of an arcade style game that's played for real money against opponents online is "Tetris Burst", which is based on classic Tetris. It's played in much the same way, but it offers some new features called "power-ups". For example, you can get a "Mino Shower", which is a power-up you can use to fill the Matrix with Minos. It instantly clears all your completed lines. The Double Up feature allows you to double the points you're earning over a 15 second period.
Another example of this style game is Bejeweled.
When Bejeweled is played as a real money version, you compete with other players to see who can achieve the highest scores. This is done tournament style, with the highest scoring players getting a percentage of the total prize pool.
These are just two of the better-known examples. Other unique games from a variety of providers include such colorful titles as Big Money, Swap It, and Swipe Hype.
One might think that all card games involve such a great degree of chance that it would be impossible to classify any of them as games of pure skill. But that depends largely on how the games are played. Many sites offer card game tournaments where players each play against the computer but are dealt the same hands. Think about this as being similar to playing a duplicate bridge tournament.
For example, you might play a game of solitaire in a tournament style. You get points based on how quickly you create your tableau and make your moves. Your opponent gets the same cards you do, so you both have the same opportunity to score points.
We've also seen variations that combine popular gambling games like blackjack with a solitaire style play. Catch 21 is one of the most popular of these. Spades is another game that's played in this style. You're dealt a game of spades, and you play it out against 3 computerized opponents. Your score is compared to the other players' to determine who the winner is.
For example, most cardrooms online, including PokerStars, Party Poker, and Merge, would argue that their games are predominantly skill-based, even though the laws regarding such games might disagree. Poker is just the most prominent example, though. Spades is also considered a game of skill by many, even when played in a traditional format instead of in the tournament format we described above. Rummy is another popular example.
Game show-themed games dominate the casino floors at most land-based casinos. We can't recall the last time we stepped into a casino without hearing the Wheel of Fortune theme playing repeatedly because of the slot machine based on that game show.
But in those cases, these game-show themed games are entirely chance-based. Online, you'll often find game-show based games that are predominantly skill-based.The skill games based on game shows that we find ourselves returning to are versions of classic game shows like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. Believe it or not, you can play versions of these actual games online, for real money and prizes.
How does it work? Sites providing real money game shows games all operate a little differently, but the basic premise is the same. You play a game against online opponents, then your score is translated into a point system by the site hosting the game. You can exchange these points to purchase tickets for cash drawings, so long as you are over the age of 18. Many of these sites also offer non-cash prizes for players under the age of 18.
This is an important distinction to make. When you play a slot machine based on a game show, you're gambling for real money directly. When you play one of these games at a skill games site, you're actually playing the game. The goal is also different. In gambling games, you're betting real money, hoping to win a jackpot. With skill-based games, you're hoping to win points toward the claiming of a future prize.
Word games have been popular as long as the written word has existed. The use of anagrams and acrostics goes back to ancient times. This proto-word game is still taught in schools, and though acrostics aren't one of the word games available for real cash bets that we cover on this page, it's certainly evidence that human beings have loved to play with words from time immemorial.
Many of the sites offering word games with cash prizes do so under tournament systems that would not be unfamiliar to gamblers familiar with slot and poker tournaments. These sites host word games like Scrabble and Boggle in tournament formats, where the prizes and overall outcomes are based on players' actual skill at the game. Under this format, players start by paying an entry fee. The winners will then be paid a percentage of the total prize pool, based on a tournament rubric known to all players beforehand.
Still other sites pay prizes for word game performance by rewarding points or tokens based on your final score. Over time, you accumulate enough points to exchange for tournament entry fees, raffle tickets, or prizes as identified at the site or through the cashier department. These games are less like traditional gambling than the tournament format described above, but they're actually more popular. It's tougher to win prizes in a tournament, and by earning points at your own pace, you can play when and where you want.
Real Money Skill Game Sites
Excited to play skill games for money? The Internet is awash in sites offering a variety of games like the ones described above that you can play in exchange for prizes, including cash rewards and jackpots.
We researched dozens of real money skill game sites. Below are ten of our favorites, as reviewed and evaluated by our writers. The games aren't listed in any particular order; we like number ten just as much as number one. It's safe to say that these represent a good chunk of the overall cash game market. Below, you'll find details on each site, such as the games they offer, their real money options, and some notes on their user interface and other technical details.
World Winner doesn't have a huge list of available games, and we have some technical issues with the site. Those things being said, we like the dynamic high score tracking, low entry fees, and variety of reward styles available.
World Winner currently hosts just twenty-two games, broken up into the following categories: arcade games, card games, game show games, strategy games, and word games. Some of the classics are here – Wheel of Fortune, the Price is Right, Solitaire, Spades, and Tetris. Where World Winner falls behind is in overall variety. Still, if you're a fan of traditional skill games, your needs will be well met here.
World Winner offers the two standard formats for real money competition. You can pay a deposit of $10 and enter tournament-style competitions in any of their hosted games. Entry fees for these tourneys star at $1. You can also compete at a slower pace, earning tokens to exchange for cash and prizes at a later date.
Our biggest knock on the design of World Winner is the fact that you have to reload the title you're playing each time you start a new game. We understand why they do this – so that the dynamic high scores feature is accurate. Still, it slows down our overall cash game experience, and we don't miss that dynamic scoring feature at other cash game sites that don't offer it. We suggest they get rid of it in favor of faster play, better graphics, and a revamped library of games.
If you're a fan of backgammon, you should bookmark DiceArena and give it some serious consideration. We love DiceArena because it hosts instant-play backgammon, uses quality software that's easy on the eyes, and hosts players in either Fun or Real Money modes. Registration is a breeze, and while Dice Arena isn't overflowing with traffic, the competition should be enough to keep even veteran players interested.
Backgammon, in both instant and download versions, is the only game hosted at Dice Arena.
You'll find the list of real money games and tournaments taking place immediately upon entering the gaming lobby. While there, you can choose to play a single game, a full match, or a tournament. All modes are available for either Fun Money or Real Money. Tournaments are scheduled well in advance, and require registration. They work similar to Sit & Go poker tournaments, with a wide variety of available stakes.
Don't expect too much in the way of fancy design. The site runs smoothly and quickly, in part because its graphics can be a bit primitive. Some may find the design of the virtual game tables to be too cartoonish. In an industry where realism is becoming the norm, Dice Arena's choice to produce relatively-ugly graphics is interesting. We imagine that the site admins put more emphasis on designing a quality game that doesn't require a download than designing something beautiful.
King.com has among the smallest libraries of any of the cash game sites on this list. We don't like King.com for its mind-blowing library – instead, we like that it does one thing, and does it very well. King.com offers all the latest social games, a unique type of skill game that's taken hold mostly in younger players.
The list of eighteen games available at King.com is made up entirely of social games. If you're not familiar with these games, here's a list of the most popular:
a switching and matching game in which you try to stop an evil raccoon from eating your garden
a switching and matching puzzle game, starring candy and other sweet treats
a puzzle game in which you rescue neighborhood pets from criminals and dog-catchers
a matching game in which you play a miner digging for diamonds and other precious stones
a trading and matching game in which you take over the administration of a tropical island
No tournaments are offered; instead, players earn points by playing against their friends. They can then exchange these points for various prizes, including raffle tickets that hand out gift card and cash awards.
King.com could use a makeover. The games look okay, and they function well, but the interface is just plain ugly, and it's difficult to navigate around the site with confidence.
Game Duell is a massive multi-platform cash and social game provider based in Germany. Though not yet as well known in the US as it is in Europe, Game Duell is easily one of the top two or three providers of these simple but addictive games. Besides a large game library, Game Duell can boast one of the best-looking and best-performing interfaces in the industry, and a large active customer base. The site claims more than 5,000,000 games are played every day by some 130 million members.
Available in two formats – cumulative and tournament-style. The site's tournaments are "every man for himself," time-limited contests in which the goal is to score the highest point total. In cumulative play points you earn for regular rounds of games accumulate over time, until you exchange them for contest entry fees, cash, or other prizes.
No tournaments are offered; instead, players earn points by playing against their friends. They can then exchange these points for various prizes, including raffle tickets that hand out gift card and cash awards.
Put simply, Game Duell is attractive. It's easy to navigate. Everything is where you expect it to be. The graphics aren't flashy, with tons of animations and purpose-built music. Instead, the operators of Game Duell have created a games site that actually works the way you'd expect a games site to work.
Stargames is a unique entry on this list, because it's basically set up as an online casino, rather than a traditional skill games venue. That means the majority of the games here are traditional online gambling contests. Though the site does host a Skill Games category, the emphasis on gaming at Stargames is the titles that would perform just as well on a casino floor.
Stargames breaks up its library into five categories: slot games, casino games, poker, bingo, and skill games. Each category is stuffed with dozens of titles, ranging from classics like basic single-payline slots to more complex modern titles like Royal Crown blackjack. All told, Stargames is home to 69 titles, all of which are playable for real money as "skill games."
Two ways to play for real money exist at Stargames – you can game the traditional way on table games, slot machines, and bingo, or you can play in skill- and card-game tournaments, in which the prize pool is made up of all entry fees divided by the number of winners. It's a bit confusing, especially if you're used to skill games and not playing at casino titles. Still, we find the tournament-style games similar in many ways to every other skill games site listed, so we don't think you'll have too much trouble adjusting.
If you've spent any time gambling at casino websites, you'll recognize the style of Stargames. It's not the prettiest site on this list, and it's not the ugliest. The interface is about average for online casinos, too – it can be difficult to navigate your way to the sections of the site you want to visit.
If you're as big into Spades as we are, you'll absolutely love Spadester. When we visited last, some 3,500 players were actively playing or waiting for a game. Yes, you can play Spades for cash at Spadester. The site has no real competition, though other cash game sites host Spades and Spades variants, this is a site dedicated entirely to the game. The level of competition is better, and so are your chances of winning big prizes.
Spades is the only game available at Spadester. They offer instant play, download games, Fun Money tournaments and games, and Real Money tournaments and matches that reward prizes and even cash money.
The site offers three ways of playing Spades:
Play for Free
You can participate in both Spades matches and Spades tournaments without spending a dime.
Play Matches for Prizes
You can play individual matches to earn points, which can be redeemed for prizes.
Play Tournaments for Cash
You can play in poker tourney-style events that reward cash prizes to a small percentage of entrants, with prizes varying based on the entry fee and number of players.
For the most part, the "prizes" you can exchange points for take the form of free entry into tournaments and tickets into cash prize raffles, with amounts hovering between $25 and $500, depending on the cost of the ticket and the overall odds.
Spadester isn't much to look at. The game itself (and the props, such as playing cards) are well-rendered, and nothing about the design or the game animations makes the game harder to play or less entertaining. But we get the feeling that the operators of the site spent very little on its design, and we're not sure what that says about their overall business practices. Be warned, we found more than the usual number of customer complaints about payment issues online. Do your homework before you decide to sign up, and test the site out with a small deposit first, just to be sure.
Play65 is probably the best backgammon gaming site online. The site has thousands of active players from all over the world, and offers both Fun Money and Real Money action. The site is well-designed, so you'll rarely experience lag or glitching. The tournament schedule is regularly-updated and lively. Games take place around the clock. Basically, Play65's operators took the best of the online casino industry and applied it to this addictive skill game.
The only game available at Play65 is backgammon, though you can play it in a few different forms. You can play for real money, or just for fun. You can play single games, longer matches, or tournaments. Instant backgammon AND downloadable backgammon are both available, with the download game available at no cost.
The standout feature of the site is its varied tournament schedule. Play65 is home to a variety of tournament styles: Sit & Go, Event, Satellite, Knockout, and Swing tourneys are a regular feature of every calendar week. Each of these tourney styles involves a different setup, slightly different rules, and a unique payout system to determine and reward winners.Tournaments aren't the only way to win at Play65. When you play any non-tournament game or match, you can earn points. These points can be exchanged for prizes, raffle tickets, tourney entry fees, and other goodies.
The site is plain-looking, and we're not crazy about the ultra-light color scheme. It's hard to read a pale blue font against a bare white background, and that no doubt contributed to our larger issues with navigating our way around the site. But we have to give the site credit for having responsive games that look great and allow for legitimate backgammon play, instantly or via download, 24 hours a day, around the world.
Casinorip provides online casino and skill games to a global audience. Casinorip is one of the few sites on this list of ours that hosts both cash games, as described in the early part of this page, and traditional games of chance and skill used for gambling. As such, Casinorip may not be legal in some parts of the world where the other skill game-only sites on this list are.
Casinorip's collection of games includes: slots, table games, lotto games, board games, and skill games. The only games of interest to us are those board games and skill games. These are fully-functional versions of classic games like Monopoly and Uno, but designed to reward a player with tokens, which players can exchange for goodies like merchandise and tickets to cash raffles. Casinorip doesn't offer any skill or board game tournaments, only the play-for-points system. It appears, from reading reviews, like most members of the site use the skill games to build up their bankroll for the site's traditional gambling games.
Sorry, tournament fans, the only way to play skill games for real money at Casinorip is by earning points based on your score.
Casinorip is designed to appeal mainly to online gamblers. That makes it one of the better-looking and better-designed sites on this list. Everything is intuitive, the menus are really useful, and the site is easy on the eyes, with a dark color scheme punctuated by light fonts and flashes of gold and silver.
Unique on this list, BETandRACE is a virtual racing game in which player skill can lead to actual cash prizes. The game replicates real tracks in real cities, with landmarks, authentic cars, real driver opponents, and (naturally) the ability to make real wagers with real cash.
The only game hosted here is street racing. But there's a unique training mechanism by which you can improve your in-game stats as you improve your driving skill.
The site offers a "Play Money" mode, in which you race against three other real opponents to increase your stats. In the "Real Money" mode, you can race against up to seven opponents, though you must be over 18, and you can only wager within a limited set of stakes.
The game is just gorgeous, replicating the experience of street racing in a dozen world cities as perfectly as you could expect from an online game. The realistic environment is backed up by a solid wagering system that doesn't allow for outrageous wagering or collusion. We like everything about BETandRACE, even though racing cars is normally a bit outside our wheelhouse.
Our final entrant is another unique site – one that pays users cash prizes and bonuses as they play the video games they know and love. Kickback isn't a site – it's more like a skin that players add to their existing game format, integrating with the game to match opponents, prevent cheating, and create a deposit and withdrawal system.
Right now, just two games are hosted – Minecraft and Counter-Strike. These are massively-popular games, and the site has done well for itself with just these two offerings. Now that Y Combinator has come out in support of Kickback (in a big way), we expect them to expand their library to include even more traditional video game favorites.
Users are matched up (player-vs.-player style) and rewarded points based on in-game performance. In the case of Minecraft, points are awarded according to a specific rubric and fan voting. IN the case of Counter-Strike, it's all about the player-vs.-player kills. Most stakes are really low, as are the prizes, typically around $5.
We love that Kickback is partnered with PayPal, and operates fully legally in the US and Canada, two countries where playing anything online for real money is often difficult. But we also love the seamless way Kickback integrates with these video games, creating a whole new way to interact with games millions of people already love and obsess over. We wish Kickback would do more with the "Play for Fun" feature, instead of focusing pretty much exclusively on the "Pay for Play" real money feature, but maybe that will come with time.
Cash games pay real money rewards in exchange for player skill, rather than the luck of the draw. These are legal games in most parts of the world, even those where online gambling is outright illegal. Though we often lump skill games in with games of chance, for purposes of brevity and simplicity, it's important to understand the distinctions between them, especially if you're new to online play.
The future of skill-based games looks bright. As the world goes fully-mobile, the cash game industry is ready to respond, producing beautiful smart phone- and tablet-friendly titles that offer the same functionality as the Web-based games of a few years ago. As long as the legal landscape remains steady, in the face of opposition to things like daily fantasy sports, people all over the world should continue to have access to cash skill games for years to come.
If you're interested in learning to play skill games, you might be interested in the following game guides we've written.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: March 2016
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