The San Diego, California-based company (formally known as Super Money Games), a pioneer in skill-based challenges for indoor golf, is taking a big swing with its AI-driven, cash-based challenges on golf simulators. It’s the latest startup from serial entrepreneur Sameer Gupta.
Skill Money Games recently closed a $5 million funding led by EBCI Holdings, with notable board members and investors including Ernie Moody, Seth Schorr, Chris Grove, Gavin Isaacs, Kevin Hwang, and Joseph Assell. Skill Money Games has created its own app with a new kind of golf game and it has partnered with allies Full Swing and Swing Social.
Skill Money Games aims to transform the indoor golf experience with its patented AI technology, offering personalized, skill-based cash challenges. This venture focuses on indoor golf where you can play a Closest-to-the-Pin real money challenge, catering to players of varying skill levels. It’s being showcased at venues like Swing Social in San Diego.
Bryan O’Reilly, CEO of Skill Money Games, said in a statement, “We add the thrill of winning money to indoor golf. It’s a win for the players, a win for the venues, and a win for golf overall. With our technology, golfers of all skill levels can play for real money on any simulator. Hit a good shot and get paid immediately.”
The core innovation lies in the AI technology, which analyzes players’ swing characteristics and performance in real-time. Unlike traditional tournaments that reward the best shots, Skill Money Games crafts contests tailored to each player’s skill level, ensuring that novices and pros alike face challenging yet achievable goals, making every swing an opportunity to win.
Gupta previously created startups like RivalMe in 2011, Golfstream in 2014, Bet on Yourself Gaming in 2016, and BettorView in 2018. Golfstream was an indoor moving golf putting green with patented laser guidance. Skill Money Games was formed in 2020.
Many of the ideas involved betting on sports games in bars, restaurants and casinos. In those startups, Gupta enjoyed reaching product-market fit.
“I like tinkering. The idea there is that there’s a perfect bet for somebody,” he said.
Gupta came up with this idea while ideating with a college friend Seth Schorr, cofounder of Skill Money Games. They applied for a patent and created a new company while still doing other work. When he patent issued in 2019, they recruited Brian O’Reilly, who helped bring Top Golf to Las Vegas, as the CEO of Skill Money Games. They recruited a CTO, Andrew Costello, to focus on the machine learning and AI technology.
The idea for the game came in 2017 with a patent filing that was granted in 2019. The patent is fairly broad in that it uses AI to assess how good you are at a sport and then set a condition for you to beat in a game of skill against someone else who has their own unique skill assessment from the AI. It could be for golf, as is the case with Skill Money Games at the moment, or with bowling or baseball.
“The concept was, you should be able to win money purely on your skill,” he said. “All real money gaming has been tournament contests. But with advanced AI, I can probably set a line for you on whatever you’re doing.”
How it works
The AI can recognize you and bring up your past history. And it can capture you with your golf swing and figure out how good a golfer you are. Then, with contests like the Closet to the Pin, it can set an accuracy circle for you to compete on equal odds against another golfer, who will have a different circle based on skill level.
“Golf is fascinating because in many ways it’s the most visual representation of probability. We predict for every player where your shots land in a scattershot diagram. And then we draw a circle within which 50% of your shots should land within that circle,” Gupta said. “That’s your fair circle. And depending on how good you are, that circle is smaller. If you’re a beginner golfer, that circle is larger, and then that drives our patented skill-based engine. We use simple pay table mechanics and give you larger circles or smaller circles that give you a different payout.”
In a demo, Gupta showed how the simulator will recognize you when you walk into the gameplay area in front of a big screen. It shows you the hole on a golf course where you need to hit the ball. The context engine draws a circle around the pin to give you the target for where you have to place the ball to win.
You perform your swing and then hit a ball that impacts the screen. Then the simulator shows you where the ball would land. If you get it close to the pin inside your skill circle, then you score.
On the top right of the screen, you can see a number like $10 for the amount of money you’re betting at that moment. Gupta played three times and by the third time he won. The game can work in pretty much any simulator in any indoor golf facility.
“As soon as you take your first shot, the interface and the gameplay is so intuitive,” Gupta said.
The growth of indoor golf
The timing is good on another front. Last year, the number of indoor golfers—those going to simulators, driving ranges and venues such as Topgolf—surpassed that of outdoor golfers in the U.S., according to the National Golf Foundation.
“The indoor golf market is booming. Last year was the year that more people played golf indoors than on courses,” he said. “The tipping point has been reached.”
Places like South Korea have reached that point already, given how scarce real estate can be. Skill-based gaming has also taken off. Since golf is all about skill, the activity can’t be classified as gambling in most states, as gambling involves randomness.
“It is appealing to us who grew up with video games and want to have agency over the outcome of an event,” Gupta said.
Rolling it out
Full Swing is a company that makes indoor golf simulation platforms such as the official licensed simulator of the PGA Tour. And Skill Money Games has designed its games to run on platforms like Full Swing, which operates the indoor golf league TGL.
Full Swing’s roster of champions are PGA Tour stars Tiger Woods, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth and many more along with the NFL’s Patrick Mahomes & Josh Allen and the NBA’s Steph Curry.
Ryan Dotters, CEO of Full Swing, said in a statement, “This is a total game-changer that adds an extra layer of excitement and challenge for golfers and competitors everywhere. We’re thrilled to bring this next evolution of indoor golf and entertainment to select Full Swing locations nationwide.”
Swing Social is an interactive sports bar that has indoor golf simulators. Currently available on Full Swing’s indoor golf simulators at Swing Social in San Diego, Skill Money Games plans a national expansion of this unique AI-driven gameplay experience in 2024.
Dana Shertz, head of business development at the RMD Group, operators of Swing Social, said in a statement, “We are excited to be the first to offer Skill Money Games to our guests at Swing Social. It’s like Topgolf meets DraftKings. Our customers who have tried it, LOVE it. And we are confident it’s going to be a home run for golfers to both test their skills and entertain themselves in groups.”
Customers will pay a fee for each game. The games are quick and there can be anywhere from 60 to 100 contests per hour.
The company is also exploring opportunities to apply its AI technology to other sports. The team has 20 people, with a headquarters in Las Vegas.
“Conceptually, it is fascinating,” said Gupta, who believes this could be a whole new category of gaming. “The idea that you could literally win money every time you do anything, and that it’s really skill that’s driving the outcome.”
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