Posted by Harry Kane on Wednesday, October 27, 2021
We all know that the UK leads the way when it comes to the global iGaming market, with this driven by a progressive regulatory landscape and growing national demand (an estimated 44% of the UK population regularly takes part in one online gambling discipline or another).
This all contributes to a rapidly growing online GGY, with the market primarily driven by a slots vertical that has enjoyed sustained and exponential growth since the roll out of the 2005 Gambling Act on these shores.
In this post, we’ll explore the relentless growth of slots in further detail, while discussing some of the primary reasons behind this trend.
The Role of Slots in the UK’s iGaming Market
We’ve already touched on the rapid growth of the wider iGaming spacing, while online gambling is also evolving to claim a larger share of the overall marketplace.
More specifically, iGaming verticals account for an estimated 38.6% of the wider gambling industry, with online slots absolutely imperative to the success of virtual casinos based throughout the UK.
This is borne out by the wider statistics, which show that offer the total online GGY in the UK, slots account for a staggering 69.3% (more than two-thirds) of this haul.
To put this into further context, roulette is the second-most popular game with just a 13.5% share of the total iGaming haul, with a further 6.1% of the online GGY being accounted for by blackjack.
Clearly, the slots vertical is an incredibly dominant niche, and one that appears to grow in line with increased demand and rising diversification.
Even the UK Gambling Commission’s (UKGC’s) own analysis of the iGaming market found that the total number of online slots bets increased to a staggering six billion in December 2020, with this representing a record for this fast-growing vertical.
At the same time, the number of active accounts at gambling sites, such as Grosvenor casino, increased to around three million in December, suggesting that a growing number of new players are being attracted by the diverse and popular slots vertical.
The global slot machine market is poised for further growth too, with some studies suggesting that its revenues may reach an impressive £10.77 billion ($14.9 billion) by the year 2024.
The UK will undoubtedly be a key driver of this, as it continues to blaze a trail for other countries to follow when it comes to the development and popularisation of online slots.
A Brief History of Slots
The history of slot gaming can be traced back to the late 19th century, when the world’s
first ever upright slot machine was developed by the New York-based form Sittman and Pitt in 1891. Back then, gamblers couldn’t use top online slots bonuses to their advantage.
By 1907, the Chicago-based manufacturer Herbert Mills had also produced a slot machine called the “Operator Bell”, with this launched across an array of shops, bowling alleys, salons and tobacconists within the subsequent 12 months.
The next major milestone in this space came in 1964, when the first fully electromechanical slots called “Money Honey” was released by Bally. With this machine, the reels were operated entirely by electric means, although a mechanical lever was still used by players to set the reels in motion.
Not only did this machine introduce the concept of large and impressive jackpot payments, but it also laid the foundation for the first ever video slot game in 1976.
Produced by the Las Vegas company Fortune Coin, the game featured a modified, 19-inch Sony TV as the display, while it made its debut in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel in 1977. Shortly afterwards (and following some further testing and cheat-proofing modifications), the slot earned approval from the Nevada State Gaming Commission and became a fixture of the iconic Vegas Strip.
In 1978, Fortune Coin was acquired by IGT, with the latter having subsequently emerged as one of the market leading software houses in the contemporary iGaming marketplace.
By 1996, the WMS Industries Inc. developer had launched its ground-breaking “Reel ‘em” slot title, which was the first video slot to feature a second screen bonus round (this is now a staple feature of most slots). It was developments such as this that also set the modern-day precedent for the dominance of online and video slots, as games like Reel ‘em accounted for around 70% of the average virtual casino’s income during the late 90s and early noughties.
Of course, online and video slots have become increasingly sophisticated and diverse in the 25 years since, especially when you consider the introduction of themed and pop culture-inspired slot titles (we’ll touch on this further a little later in the piece).
Since 2010, the growth and acceleration of online slots has been particularly pronounced, once again in line with increased diversification and the wider expansion of the UK’s well-regulated iGaming marketplace.
More specifically, online slot gaming activity has increased by more than 300% during this time-frame, while this vertical has incrementally strengthened its dominant position within the iGaming market. That’s one of the main reasons why the best new online casinos are packed with many different slot games.
This trend shows no sign of abating either, with slots expected to become even more dominant between now and 2030 (and potentially beyond).
Why are Slots So Dominant and Popular Amongst Players?
One question that remains, of course, is why are online slots and themed titles so incredibly popular in the digital age?
In fact, online slots hold several advantages in the current marketplace, and we’ve listed a few of these below for your perusal!
#1. Slots Often Feature as Part of a Casino’s Welcome Offer
The iGaming market in the UK has become increasingly competitive in line with its sustained growth, creating a scenario where brands have had to become more creative in their attempts to claim a viable market share.
This has seen operators promote increasingly generous welcome offers, which typically take the form of a 100% deposit match up to a predetermined value and a fixed number of free spins.
The free spins portion of this type of bonus is particularly interesting, as it may be made available for one or a selection of slots and will typically cap the value of each spin at £0.10. Players are likely to then see any winnings (which are usually capped in line with the value of the offer) subject to basic wagering requirements, creating a measure that’s indicative of value and total returns).
There’s no doubt that the development of deposit and no-deposit free spin offers has helped to popularise online slots, at a time when software houses have looked to prioritise this vertical and build substantial and slots-focused games’ libraries.
Such promotions at casino sites, such as 888casino, have also helped to turn titles like Starburst and Book of Dead (which regularly feature as part of free spin bonuses) into truly iconic games, which are now synonymous with the best UK casinos and large amounts of free gameplay.
#2. The Slots Vertical is Incredibly Diverse
If you cast your minds back to the classic retro slots of the mid-90s (and indeed the fruit machines that used to sit in pubs and casinos worldwide), you’ll see that they feature the same symbols and are entirely devoid of themes or narratives.
This is no longer the case, however, with the growth of the online slots’ vertical having seen the introduction of creatively themed slots games as a way of meeting rising demand effectively.
A quick glance at the current market confirms this, with titles such as Game of Thrones, Guns ‘N Roses and Jurassic Park having evolved from clear pop-culture influences to dominate the marketplace and earn a cult following amongst players.
In addition to slots that have been inspired by popular television, film and music franchises, we’ve also seen cultural influences drawn from the video gaming realm. Similarly, character-themed slots have proven to be incredibly popular amongst players, with titles such as Gonzo’s Quest, Aldo’s Journey and Jungle Jim and the Lost Sphinx having introduced another layer of adventure to help wow casual players.
Themed slots have also empowered software houses to become increasingly creative in their efforts, allowing for a diverse set of titles that appeal to a broad and ever-changing range of players.
#3. Varied Gameplay and Variance Levels
On a similar note, slots also boast a high level of diversity from the perspective of gameplay and the types of variances on offer.
For example, there are low variance slots which tend to deliver frequent but relatively modest wins, with this type of game likely to be preferred by casual and risk-averse players with restricted bankrolls. Such slots are also renowned for boasting relatively high return-to-player (RTP) rates of 96% and above, with this referring to the amount that you can expect to recoup for every £1 wagered on average.
So, if you play a low-variance and certified slot with an RTP rate of 97%, you can expect to earn back £0.97 for every £1 that you stake on the game. However, if you aren’t concerned about your budget, you can always grab one of the top high-roller casino bonuses, and dive deep into the games.
Conversely, there are medium and high-variance slots available to suit more serious gamblers and risk hungry players, with this renowned for delivering infrequent but larger payouts (including progressive jackpots in some instances) and offering RTP rates of between 90% and 96%.
The catch here is that you may have to spend considerably more in the pursuit of returns here, but those with larger bankrolls are likely to be rewarded with significant prizes and payouts over an extended period of gameplay.
Regardless, this diversity of variance and gameplay offers choice and convenience to players, which is crucial in a crowded market that can be difficult to navigate at times.
#4. Slots Appeal to the Increasingly Influential Female Demographic of Players
Last, but not least, we touch further on the wider appeal of online slots, with the rising popularity of this vertical having coincided with the growing number (and influence) of female players in recent times.
While men still dominate the iGaming market in the UK (and indeed, across the globe), women are growing to account for an increased share of this sector. Females have definitely found their way around the new rules for online slots.
More specifically, 30% of all gamblers in the UK are now female, with this number markedly higher than the European average of 28%. Only Germany within the region has a larger percentage of female gamblers than the UK, and there’s no doubt that developers are reacting to this by diversifying their range of games.
Similarly, it’s inarguable that slots are most likely to appeal to the female demographic, thanks to their strong cultural themes and the cultivation of titles that have been specifically designed to suit this market.
Because of this, the slots vertical has also played a key role in growing the number of active gambling accounts on these shores, while creating a more diverse demographic players both in terms of age and gender.
The Last Word
As we’ve already touched on, the global slots market is set to grow exponentially through 2024 and beyond, with the UK undoubtedly at the forefront of this trend.
But what should we expect in the future in terms of design and gameplay? Well, there’s little doubt that VR-inspired slots will become increasingly commonplace in the near-term, creating an additional gameplay dimension that bridges the remaining gap between virtual and physical gaming.
What’s more, themed slots will also continue to borrow heavily from various elements of popular culture, from ground-breaking television shows and popular Marvel films to the very latest bands and music tracks.
Interestingly, the scope for themed slots knows relatively few bounds, so this will remain a genuinely fascinating space to watch in the future.
One potential cloud on the horizon may exist in the form of legislation, especially with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Gambling-Related harm having recommended that all online slots wagers are capped at £2 going forward (mirroring the controversial FOBT cap introduced in April 2019).
If this was passed, it would undoubtedly minimise the appeal of slots, both from the perspective of players and operators. Even though operators wouldn’t necessarily lose out in terms of profitability in this instance (as they would reduce the value of wins in line with falling stake amounts), this in itself would have a dramatic impact on the overall popularity of slot games.
If you’re looking to play some of the most exciting slots, you should first choose a reputable operator. Afterwards, all you need to do is see if the gambling site has slot machines that you like. You can also reap a lot of benefits if you know how to compare welcome bonuses online.
However, it’s more likely that some form of compromise will be reached on any future betting cap, especially when you consider the tax revenues generated through slots gameplay on an annual basis.