Online or offline, slot machines are always the biggest draw in any casino. They’re easy to play, inexpensive, and come branded with lots of pop culture themes. It’s then perhaps a little strange that the industry’s decisionmakers are predicting (and planning for) a future without the classic reels or, at least, without quite so many of them.
According to Statista, 48% of all casino visitors in the United States flock to the slot machines compared to just 6% of people who cite poker as their favorite game. Ironically, the same site indicates that the number of slot machines in Nevada casinos has fallen from 213,000 in 2000 to 169,000 in 2016, citing data from the University of Nevada.
So, what’s happening? Why is a pastime that’s a consistent crowd-pleaser disappearing from casinos?
The popularity of online casinos and iGaming sites has obviously played a part in the decline of physical slot machines. A brand like Energy Casino, a sportsbook and live casino operator, can appeal to gamers with welcome (100%) and deposit (50%) bonuses as well as opportunities to take part in slots-based tournaments. Furthermore, it provides a good example of themed machines, as it features Creature from the Black Lagoon and an officially licensed Battlestar Galactica title.
However, it’s arguably portability and convenience that sets online casinos apart from land-based alternatives. Energy Casino’s games can be played anywhere on a tablet, laptop, or mobile phone. In contrast, the idea of getting dressed up for a night out at the local casino seems more like an expedition, which is bound to involve some additional costs, from gas to drinks and parking, if not some snacks too.
Online and offline brands do have a shared concern, though – the casino’s audience is changing. The maturity of so-called millennials or “Gen Y” -people born between 1982 and 2004, is forcing the industry’s innovators to create experiences that suit the feedback-driven, instant gratification lifestyle the generation has grown up with.
What’s so special about millennials? Firstly, it’s worth noting that millennials aren’t just students fresh from the cocoon of university as per their frequent portrayal in the media; the elders of the generation are already thirty-five. Consequently, they’re now one of the most powerful groups in the United States as far as spending power is concerned, and will overtake baby boomers in the category by 2020.
Of all games, slots will see the biggest changes as casinos strive to appeal to Gen Y, with skill-based, arcade-style titles superseding the classic reels. Imagine playing Space Invaders and earning a cash prize for the number of spaceships destroyed after each round. The shift has already begun in Las Vegas and Nevada – Harrah’s in Atlantic City installed “Danger Zone”, a first-person shooter, in November of last year.
On a related note, Justin Andrews, vice-president of slot machines at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, told the Daily Mail that there’s an eleven-year age gap between players of mechanical games like slots and ones that have made the transition to computers, even if the games themselves are the same. The continuing popularity of casino is therefore as much a question of presentation as of relevant entertainment.
An additional benefit of the new skill-based games is that there will be a greater variety of experiences on offer at casinos, both online and offline. Millennials aren’t solely interested in blowing stuff up; puzzles, strategy, sports titles and possibly even virtual reality games could follow the likes of Danger Zone into casinos in the future.
Finally, to answer the question in the title – no, a truly slots-less future is unlikely. The reels have already endured multiple generations with stern competition. A decline is probably inevitable now but the fact that slots are included as a gameplay mechanic in Danger Zone says a lot about how reluctant the industry is to dispense with an old favorite.