The most popular slots in land-based casinos are video slots, yet the games that hold their places on casino floors longest are three-reel games.

Not only that. Slot games in an online casino, which essentially are video slots in an Internet environment, earn their keep longer than video slots offline.

If there seems to be a contradiction in all that, with the games in the least popular format holding their popularity the longest, there’s really not. There are reasons the most popular three-reel titles such as Double Diamond hold their own for decades and hot new video slots titles can be on and off casino floors in a matter of months.

In any format, slot games must earn their keep. They must pay for their own purchase or lease, and they must earn enough above and beyond that to justify retaining them instead of turning the floor space over to a new game.

Let’s take a look at some of the issues surrounding popularity and endurance in each format.


Slots with physical reels and stepper motors driving the spins were the most popular machine games until the video slot revolution began in the late 1990s.

They differ from video slots in one very important way: To varying degrees, video slots emphasize an entertainment factor with their graphics, animation, interactive bonus play and sound effects. Three-reel slots emphasize gambling.

Some modern three-reel slots add bonus events. There are prize wheels on Wheel of Fortune slots with three-reel base games, and some games have additional video screens for bonus events.

But basically, the attraction of three-reel games is in the potential for big wins. 

The most common format for three-reel games uses a single payline. Nearly every winning spin will pay several times the size of your bet. That’s different from video slots, where there it’s common for games to have 30, 40 or 50 paylines and where many winning spins pay less than your total bet.

Slot manufacturers differentiate their games through the pay structure. Double Diamond multiplies winnings through its diamond symbols – diamonds in winning combinations double the wins. Blazing 7s, which has faded in recent years after a 40-year run of popularity, built its following thrown rapid-hit progressive jackpots that started at $1,000 on a $1 machine.

But by placing the main emphasis on your shot to win at slots, three-reel slots essentially occupy a similar position as blackjack, craps or roulette. They are classic gambling games where everyone know the rules and conditions. They don’t have as large a following as video slots, but they players who love them are loyal and keep coming back to the same games, just as blackjack or craps players keep coming back for more. 

Popular three-reel slots drive a steady level of business from customers who might not play at the same level if only video slots were offered.





Video slot players like to win money, too, but they like some entertainment with their gambling.

With ever-increasing capability of offering high-definition images, animation and video clips, video slots are an entertainment experience.

Over the years, we’ve seen Star Wars slots and Men in Black slots with clips from the movies, Top Gun slots with not only movie clips but special effects motion chairs to make you feel like you’re in the cockpit of a fighter jet, Elvis, Michael Jackson and Dolly Parton slots that put you in the groove with their music, and Hollywood Squares slots with their brand of celebrity tic-tac-toe.

With or without pop culture tie-ins, video slots come with a mix-and-match blend of pick-a-prize bonuses, wheel spins and free spins, as well as special attractions such as expanding wilds that can fill an entire column or stacked symbols that can fill an entire screen with the same symbol.

It’s all designed to keep you intrigued and entertained. Even a session with a small loss can be a good time if you’ve had fun playing all the extra features.

However, there comes a time in nearly every video slot’s lifetime in which most players have seen and played all the bonus rounds, and the entertainment factor loses some of its initial excitement.

Some games, such as Jackpot Party, develop a loyal enough following to keep some floor space for years on end. But for the most part, even the hottest video slots pass peak popularity within three or four months. They may hold on with fewer machines per casino for longer periods, but when revenues drop, they must make way for newer games.

Every game must earn enough revenue to justify its spot on the floor. When that revenue drops below house average, casinos turn to newer games that bring a whole new entertainment and excitement factor.

Casino manufacturers play a continuous game of “Can you top this?” They create new bonus events, use new video and animation, and hope to capture players’ imaginations for the next several months.

That leads to a shorter lifespan for individual slots than on the three-reel format, but with higher peak performances and a higher revenue total for the entire category of video slots.


Like video slots, online slots have a huge entertainment factor with bonus events of all kinds.

Unlike offline video slots, online slots have less pressure to measure up against house average revenue to maintain a spot on the host site.

Online slots must earn their keep, but the needs are different than offline. Online slots must pay for their purchase or lease, and they must earn a profit. The bar is higher with slots developed by outside companies than with proprietary games developed in-house. Paying ongoing licensing fees means a slot must continue attracting players to maintain its space.

However, online casinos don’t face the same need to move old games out to add new games as offline casinos have. Offline, each game takes up physical space. If an offline casino that has had six OMG! Kittens machines on the floor decides business now requires only two such machines, then the space for the other four is given over to new games.

Online, OMG! Kittens need be displayed only once in the slot listings, and that can accommodate as many players as wish to play it.

Because the games take no physical space, online casinos can leave them up and running as long as they’re making a profit, even if they fall below house average. The games are not taking space away from other, potentially more profitable games.

Those conditions lead us to see games such as Zeus, Invaders of the Planet Moolah or Gold Fish online even when their numbers offline decrease. Their presence doesn’t impede online casinos for adding new games such as Jumanji, Elephant King or Monopoly Epic II.

So it’s not at all contradictory that individual three-reel slots hold popularity longer than video slots even tough video slots are more popular overall, and that online slots last longer than offline video slots. The differences grow naturally out of what the games offer and the needs of the host casinos and sites.

For nearly 25 years, John Grochowski has been one of the most prolific gaming writers in the United States. He’s been ranked ninth by GamblingSites among the top 11 gambling experts at Gambling Sites and his Video Poker Answer Book was ranked eighth among the best gambling books of all time.