For all its recent innovations – inclusive of mobile and virtual reality casino – some argue that the casino industry has been slow to adapt to changing tastes among its core demographic, to the extent that the maturity of millennials (or people born after 1982) into one of the most powerful consumer groups in the world has been met with panic rather than gleeful anticipation.
Casinos have a problem; namely, the popularity of slot machines is in decline. According to the Wall Street Journal, a gaming paradise like Nevada – the home of Las Vegas – experienced a 17% slump in revenue from the classic reels in the nine years to 2016. Compare that to the 3% slide in table games and slots’ overall decline stands out as unique on the casino floor.
The game’s fading glory is a concern worldwide. In Macau, the world’s largest casino market by revenue, income from slot machines fell 20% in 2014, despite year-on-year growth for the preceding seven years. Even in the UK, where fruit machines have been a staple of pubs for decades, revenue from slots is falling, to the tune of 50% in sixteen years at JD Wetherspoon.
The issue is compounded by the fact that slot machines have long held the lion’s share of casino-goers’ affection. Slots were the favourite game of almost half (48%) of visitors surveyed by Statista in 2014 and so gaming establishments tend to be built around hundreds or even thousands of machines. Montreal Casino, for example, has more than 3,200 slots.
So, in summary, casinos are faced with a situation in which their main source of income – slot machines – is living on borrowed time. But why is the decline in slots happening at all? The simple answer is that the slot machine’s old guard (chiefly middle-aged women) is ageing and the next generation, millennials, have no love for classic casino games.
In other words, it’s time to start afresh.
It’s not all bad news. Millennials aren’t beyond the reach of casinos but offerings need to evolve with the times; after all, a generation raised on social media and endeavours like Angry Birds, Dark Souls, and Mario was never going to get their kicks from slot machines, a pastime based on simplicity and accessibility.
Skill-based casino is, therefore, the future of slots. For example, Smoothie Blast, a match-three app in a similar mould to Candy Crush, recently joined Brew Caps Squad (a table-top memory game) and Danger Zone (a first-person-shooter) as the heralds of a new type of casino. The emphasis here is on competing against the computer or a timer to win cash prizes, rather than relying on luck.
Gameplay that can be influenced by player ability creates a whole new paradigm for casino, and raises a number of important questions. For example, will odds still play a part? Will gamers be able to “beat” an experience with sufficient practise? It’s interesting to note that Danger Zone (above) maintains a slot-based element, perhaps to maintain the influence of the house on proceedings.
Theoretically, the millennial-friendly casino will have far more in common with a classic video game arcade or combined entertainment venue (e.g. a bowling alley) than something like the MGM Grand. There’s no reason why basketball throwing and even classic carnival games like hook-a-duck and ring toss can’t be gamified for the casino floor.
Elements that encourage competition, like leaderboards and player vs. player games, are also not far away according to James Murren of MGM Resorts. “You can have more social settings [with skill-based slots], more interactive games, more social games where people are playing against one another.” Casino is evidently trying to ape aspects of modern video games and consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One.
Slots have been changing in subtle ways for years, swapping mechanical functions for entirely computer-based ones, for example. However, the next stage in slots’ evolution will have different aesthetics too, resembling a giant flat tablet with touchscreen capabilities. They’re designed to act as the centre of an experience and can be used as a table as far as food and drink is concerned.
So what does all that mean for classic slots? It’s almost inevitable that some machines will be removed to provide space for skill-based games but it’s hard to imagine a casino without the sound of the reels. Their pick-up-and-play nature does provide some insurance against the creep of modernity; after all, slot machines have weathered more than one upstart generation during their long tenure in the casino.
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