For many years the mental image conjured up by the word ‘casino’ was made up of one of two things. It was either gaming tables surrounded by people rolling dice, holding playing cards or placing bets on a roulette wheel, or it was row upon row of flashing slot machines.
For a long time this image was more or less accurate as far as bricks and mortar casinos were concerned, but in recent years things have begun to shift, and that shift has been powered, more than anything else, by the rise of online casinos.
The Decline of Casino Slots
Statistics covering the state of gambling per se, and the popularity of casinos, tend to be collected by bodies such as the Gambling Commission, and to cover the industry as a whole. It is possible, however, to find lots of evidence which focuses clearly on the issue of slot machines and shows how casinos in all parts of the world are shifting away from relying on them.
According to the Wall Street Times the casino capital of the world, Nevada, home to Las Vegas, experienced a slump in revenue from classic slot machines in the nine years leading up to 2016. While overall revenue from table games dropped in the same casinos by 3% during this period, the decline for slot machines came in at 17%.
A similar shift has happened in other parts of the world. Macau, a part of Asia famed for its super casinos and somewhere which has earned itself the title of the world’s largest casino market in revenue terms, saw income from slot machines drop by a massive 20% in 2014, despite the fact that the previous seven years had seen a period of steady growth.
The UK is not immune to this phenomenon, and it is not confined to the floors of casinos. Over the past sixteen years the revenue from slots pulled in by JD Wetherspoon pubs has dropped by a massive 50%. Nor is this confined to just the one pub chain. For many years the flashing lights and tinkling music of a slot machine were pretty much a fixture in every bar or pub in the country.
In 2017, however, it emerged that annual takings across the sector from slot machines had dropped by as much as £600m during the previous decade. The natural result of this is that fewer and fewer pubs and bars are bothering to install slot machines, taking the logical view that those customers who want to play slots while drinking will be doing so via their smart phones in the comfort of their seat.
This decline is a genuinely global phenomenon. In the Czech Republic, for example, a 21.3% drop in gambling revenue during 2018 was reported by industry specialists iGaming Business. Although this drop is, in itself, a notable enough figure, the genuinely striking aspect is the fact that the bulk of the fall was accounted for by a massive 42.4% drop in the revenue pulled in by land based slot machines.
The response to this drop in revenue has been as predictable as it is understandable. Many land-based casinos have simply started to remove the slot machines from the gaming floor, accepting that they no longer provide – as used to be the case – a major driver to their profits. A report compiled by Deutsche Bank, for example, found that the number of slot machines operated by casinos had been declining steadily since as long ago as 2007. The report analysed the strategy enacted by 12 major US casino companies operating no fewer than 120 properties.
It found that the number of slot machines had gone down by 21%, which represents the removal of as many as 43,400 slot machines.
More individual examples from the US include the Harrah’s casino, Pennsylvania, which saw revenue from slot machines drop from $332.8 million in 2008 to $199.7 million in 2017-2018, and the three largest casinos in Maryland which have got rid of 1,350 slot machines. Over the period between 2001 and 2014, the number of slot machines across the whole of Nevada has dropped from 217,000 to 175,000.
The rise in online slots
The shifts outlined above have taken place against a backdrop of online slot machines becoming increasingly popular. This rise has been part of the general upward trend in the world of online gambling as a whole. A few striking facts and figures underline just how huge online gambling has now become:
- At the end of 2016 the global industry was worth $41.78billion
- This figure is predicted to reach $80billion by the end of 2020
- 11% of all total online traffic is now generated by people using online casinos
- The online gambling sector in the UK has grown by 300% since 2014, to reach $6.7billion
The rise in online casinos has been fuelled, to a very large degree, by the popularity of online slots. The figures speak for themselves. The gross gambling yield (GGY) refers to the money which online casinos pull in, and the GGY of online casinos includes 65%, or £1.69 billion, which is brought in by online slots. Compared to this, online table games bring in just 16% and card games 7.8%.
The reasons for the popularity of online slots are varied. The first of these is convenience and accessibility. If you want to play an online slot then you can simply do so by pulling out your smart phone or tablet or logging on to your lap top.
Once you’ve done so, of course, you have a massive choice of games to play. The average online casino boasts more than a hundred different online slots, ranging from simple five or ten reel games to hugely complex multi-level games featuring computer game style graphics, gameplay and a huge array of player options.
When you also include the fact that many online slots are available to play for free in order to ascertain whether you enjoy them, and that most online casinos focus their bonus offers on the slots which they offer – giving away the likes of free spins – it’s not difficult to understand why many people who are new to online casinos choose to dip their toe in the water via online slots.
The other hugely appealing aspect of online slots is the massive jackpots which become available when you opt to play progressive slots. In September 2018, for example, a player won $21.7 million on the Mega Moolah slot, and the only details which the casino was willing to give out were that the player had won the huge amount with a stake of just 75 cents and after less than 50 spins of the wheel.
As innovations such as VR and AR gaming are introduced, and the line dividing slots from computer games continues to blur, it seems certain that online slots will become even more popular in the years to come.