For years you’ve been stopping by your local for a pint after work with friends. It’s common enough to see patrons dropping their change into the slot machine in the corner to maybe win some extra beer money. But enjoy them while you can. Casino slots are not going to be found in pubs forever and here’s why.
A quick history of slots in pubs
It’s hard to believe that the popular staple of pubs and casinos was only introduced to the UK in 1999. These days, it’s estimated that about 33,000 slot machines provide hours of entertainment for gamblers who like nothing more than to while away the time at their favourite machine.
It’s been 20 years now since the fruit machine first took its place in English pubs, enticing punters to try for the jackpots or exchange their loose pennies for a chance to win a handful of coins. But as we march to the beat of progress, times are changing and so is the fate of the English pub slot machine.
1. Demand for food and family venues make pub slots less appealing
What is more English than a pub? They’ve not only been an important part of community engagement for centuries, they’re also the third most likely attraction to be visited by tourists. But did you know, pubs have been in decline for several decades now?
According to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), and Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of public houses in the UK has fallen by 20 percent (or 12,450 pubs) between 2000 and 2017, and by a further 12 percent from 2011 and 2017. Reasons include the smoking ban regulation of 2007, the recession in 2008, increased taxation, as well as an increase in the number of people choosing not to drink alcohol, and a demand for food and entertainment venues that are family-friendly.
One of the main reasons for the demise of the pub slot machine is context. As pubs embrace the latest décor and gastronomical trends, the friendly face of the little fruit machine seems out of place in many upmarket pubs these days. The space once occupied by the gambling machine is being replaced by an extra table to seat happy families. In fact, one of the UK’s largest pub companies reported in 2019, that their income from slot machines had dropped by 50 percent in the last decade.
2. Uncertainty around the draft gambling bill
In recent months there has been a clamping down on illegal gaming machines in pubs while at the same time new legislation has been proposed that is described as having the potential to shake up gambling laws and turn pubs into amusement arcades. Unsurprisingly, this is causing enormous confusion in the industry.
In May 2019, it was found that a number of gaming machines were being operated illegally in UK pubs. The machines were seized and the evidence gathered by the Gambling Commission which urged landlords to double-check that their slot machines adhered to the letter of the law.
At the same time, new gambling laws are proposed that will make it much easier for landlords to operate slot machines on their premises. At the moment, publicans must apply for a separate permit for each slot machine they have on their premises. If passed, the new legislation will automatically allow two machines in every pub while a publican need only apply for one license. The British Beer and Pub Association is asking that in order to keep many small pubs afloat, landlords be allowed to have up to four slot machines on a single license.
If restrictions are lifted, many worry that this could nudge out the traditional English pub in favour of casino-type bars or games arcades that would allow publicans to pull in a lot more money than they could ever hope to make from the sale of beer alone.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has assured the public that public houses will only be allowed to operate machines that have a maximum stake of 50p and a maximum prize of £25. In the future, pubs that run bingo games with weekly prizes exceeding £1,000 will have to apply for licenses.
3. The rise of online gambling
We’ve come a long way since gambling became popular in pubs in the 1400s. In fact, they’d become so popular by 1495 that Henry VII clamped down on indoor games because they’d become a major distraction for pub patrons who’d been inclined in the past to indulge in a spot of archery while enjoying their favourite tipple.
Then the world woke up to the internet in the mid-1990s, and every individual had the opportunity to indulge in every activity we could think of on the World Wide Web. This catapulted our favourite gambling games, which had only ever been possible in pubs and casinos, into the comfort of our homes courtesy of the internet.
Soon online casino slots had become even more popular than land-based casino slot machines. It was always going to be that way. Not only is it possible to play online casino games anywhere, at any time; gambling sites have become increasingly sophisticated and user-friendly. It’s now incredibly easy to set up an online account and access everything from online sports betting to hundreds of variants of slot games. The latest technology even allows pundits to indulge in live casino games these days. So, for instance, taking part in a live roulette game now offers an authentic gambling experience that is every bit as exciting as being seated at a land-based casino table.
In recent years, fast internet and mobile devices like tablets and smartphones have put an online casino in every punter’s pocket and the growth and popularity of gambling has never been higher (mobile now makes up close to 45 percent of the global gaming market). The last 10 years have seen remote gambling grow into an industry that, according to Statista, is expected to be worth $80 billion globally by the end of 2020 and reach $94 billion by 2024. The UK online gambling sector alone has increased by 300 percent since 2014 and was estimated to be worth about $6.7 billion in 2019.
Remote gambling has done more than make gaming more popular than it’s ever been; it’s completely changed its traditional demographic. The number of female online gamblers has increased significantly in recent years with a number of female-orientated platforms drawing in women-gamblers and developing this emerging market.
Another spin-off of the explosion in online gambling has been improvements in the industry, and not only from a technological point of view. As an increasing number of people join the industry, both player pools and payout rates have improved. This is a trend that will continue for the foreseeable future with individuals being able to bet on just about anything. In particular, this has led to an explosion in the popularity of sports betting which allows people to combine their love of sports with gambling. As developers turn out mobile-only applications, players can place wagers whenever and wherever they like, and put a last-minute bet on their favourite team or even access new odds and bets halfway through a game courtesy of their online gaming site.
Interestingly, this drastic increase in online betting has benefited more traditional types of gambling, with more people visiting sportsbooks and casinos in recent years. So it’s not a stretch to think that an online gambler who may never have played a pub slot machine, just might be enticed to their local for a pint and a go at the buttons and reels of the resident slot machine.
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