Will 5-Reel Slot Machine Games Eventually Die Out?

5 Reel Slot Machines in Casino, RIP Tombstone
Five-reel slots are available in abundance in both land-based and US online casinos. Therefore, they’re in no danger of going away anytime soon.

However, three-reel slot machines once dominated the gaming industry as well. They’re now relics and mostly offered as novelties at limited casinos in the US.

The main reason why five-reel slots could eventually go the way of three-reelers is because new types of slots machines are becoming popular. That being said, I’ll cover how five-reel slots came to prominence and what’s currently threatening them.

Five-Reel Slots Rose to the Top of the US Casino Industry

Charles Fey invented the first slot machine in 1898. The “Liberty Bell” was a rather simple slot machine that featured three drums and a $0.50 top payout.

Fey began distributing the Liberty Bell to saloons around the San Francisco area. However, he couldn’t patent the game due to the fact that gambling was illegal in San Francisco.

Many companies used his original design to produce more complex and better-paying slot machines. Mechanical three-reel slot machines came to be quite advanced.

These games began operating through the pull of a lever. They also offered jackpots that put the Liberty Bell’s $0.50 prize to shame.

Three-reel slots eventually began taking up the majority of US casino floors. Slot machines have remained top dog in the real money casino gambling world ever since.

However, the format and technology behind these games have changed tremendously. Video slot machines set major change in motion in the 1980s.

Video slots were originally rudimentary games that looked more like a desktop computer than the complex machines of today. But they immediately gave slots designers more capabilities than ever before.

First off, they can be programmed to feature five reels. The two extra reels make for more payout possibilities.

Secondly, the video technology gave developers more abilities regarding gambling bonuses. By the 1990s, some slot machines were even offering second-screen bonuses. Five-reel video slots have enjoyed a strong run over the past few decades. They’re still the predominant form of slot machines in land-based and online casinos.

As for three-reel games, they’re still available in limited capacity at gambling venues. Some even include upgraded features, like free spins, second-screen bonuses, and special wild symbols.

But most three-reel slots are basic games that offer little to no features. Gamblers have gradually abandoned these slot machines over the years.

Real Money Slots Are Becoming More Complex

Slot machine providers have had a long time to continue improving upon games since the advent of video slots. They’ve capitalized on this time by making games that are more in-depth than the average five-reel game.

Different Types of Casino Slot Machines

Regarding the latter, basic five-reel slots offer a straightforward setup with 20 or more paylines. You form wins in active lines with combinations going from left to right, beginning with the first reel.

These games offer far more combinations than the aforementioned three-reelers. But they’re still limited compared to some of the games that I’ll cover next.

New US Slots Concepts Have Come Out

Both game providers and casinos realize they need to evolve in order to meet players’ entertainment needs. When it comes to US slot machine games, they must stay relatively close to technology featured in social and console gaming.

Nobody is expecting Call of Duty when they sit down at a slot machine. But today’s gambler isn’t satisfied with the same experiences that have been available since the advent of five-reelers.

The casino industry’s need to evolve has led to impressive concepts in recent years. Some of these ideas have been added to standard five-reel slots, while others present an entirely different format.

Cascading Reels

Typically, a spin or round is finished once all wins (if any) have been determined. But cascading reels (a.k.a. tumbling reels) give you an opportunity to keep rounds going and wins coming.

This feature removes symbols from winning combinations. Icons from above then drop into the empty spaces.

Cascading reels continue until no more wins are awarded. You can theoretically keep the reels going for an infinite amount of time thanks to this feature.

Some games also offer win multipliers that increase with every cascading win. These multipliers further enhance the extra wins you pick up.

Bigger Grids

The standard five-reel slot setup is a 5×3 grid, meaning each of the five reels is three spaces high. But some slot machines now offer bigger grids and anywhere from five to eight reels.

The grids usually form a perfect square. With a seven-reel slot, for example, the grid would be 7×7.

These games are exciting because they offer a lot more winning possibilities. With an 8×8 slot, for instance, you’d have 64 total spaces to land symbols.

Cluster Pays

Larger grids are often associated with cluster pays. The latter refers to earning prizes through matching symbols that touch in clusters.

Two Men Sitting Down Playing Casino Slot Machines, Pile of Money

You may have to form these clusters horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. In other cases, you just need the symbols to be touching in any manner.

Cluster pays offer a refreshing take from standard payline games. You may be able to form huge prizes by getting wins with 15 icons or more.

243 Ways and Similar Games

Payline slots require you to form wins in active lines. You also need payouts to go from left to right, starting with the left-most reel.

243 Ways slots, which are named for the amount of winning ways they offer, also require wins to start in the first reel. However, they don’t force you to get payouts in active lines.

Instead, matching symbols merely need to be in adjacent reels to deliver prizes. The key benefit to this is that you have more chances to win in each round.

Since the advent of 243 Ways slots, similar types of games have been developed. 720 Ways and 1,024 Ways slot machines feature a similar format, only with larger grids and more winning possibilities.

Megaways Slots

Many thought that anywhere from 243 to 1,024 ways was impressive. However, Megaways games have pushed the envelope even further.

These slots are named for the massive amount of winning possibilities they offer.

Certain slots from Big Time Gaming, for example, feature up to 117,649 ways to win. Laser Fruit, from Play’n GO, has pushed the envelope even further with 60,466,176 ways to win!

How is this possible? Megaways slots have a mechanism that sees reels grow as different features are unlocked.

For example, you might expand reels by getting cascading wins or triggering the bonus round. More spaces in each reel means more chances to earn prizes.

Gambling Board Games

Slot machines and board games have traditionally had little to do with each other. After all, one is an electronic gambling machine while the other uses a board and pieces.

But game developers have recently begun blurring the lines between slots and board games. Companies that have typically stuck to slot machines now dabble in gambling-style board games.

For example, 1×2 Network’s Treasure Tomb sees you move across a board inside of a booby-trapped temple. The goal is to continue advancing without running into danger.

Amaya’s Vampires vs. Werewolves plays like a normal slot for the most part. However, its bonus round is a classic board game that includes virtual dice.

Newer Concepts Are Being Featured

The types of games and features covered above aren’t rare novelties in the gaming industry. Instead, they’re becoming more and more prominent every year.

If you’ve played enough modern slots, you may eventually begin feeling like cascading reels, cluster pays, and/or bigger grids are the norm. These types of slot machines haven’t entirely replaced five-reels, and they may never do so.

However, different concepts are collectively becoming the norm. Land-based and online casinos are using new types of slots to better hold players’ interest.

You can expect to see more unique slots in the future. Such games will even introduce new concepts to the industry. These ideas are a mystery for now. But you can guarantee that new ideas will continue rolling into the future.

Will Five-Reel Slots Eventually Die Out Like Three-Reel Slot Machines?

You can see that plenty of other kinds of slot machines have entered the industry. Many of these features and formats have even earned a prominent place in gaming.

The big question is if this widespread innovation will eventually make the basic five-reel slot machine a thing of the past.

I don’t foresee simple five-reel slots completely disappearing within the next 50 years or so. After all, classic three-reelers have hung in for decades past their prime.

Many gamblers play three-reel slot machines due to nostalgia. They want to recreate the feeling of an old trip to casinos in Las Vegas or a big win from a late ‘90s online session.

Five-reel slots aren’t even in any danger of slipping into the relic zone yet. However, they will most likely lose their dominant position within the next 10 to 20 years.

Five Slot Reel Screen, Question Mark

Land-based casinos have really struggled with convincing young adults to play slot machines as it is. Keeping their floors filled with the same 5×3 slots that have been around for two-plus decades isn’t going to convince them otherwise.

Even cluster pays, Megaways, bigger grids, and other innovations have largely failed to draw millennials. These innovations have definitely pumped up online gambling profits, but they’re having less effect inside of brick and mortar venues.

Taking everything into account, simple five-reel slot machines will eventually go the way of three-reelers. They’ll retain a top spot in casinos for the next five to 10 years. But what happens beyond this is anybody’s guess.


Slot machines have been around since the late 1800s, but they’re far from the same games. Developers have put lots of work into modernizing slots to meet the growing technology curve.

By the 1990s, five-reel video slots became the new standard for machine-based gaming. However, these games are now basic by today’s standards, most notably the 5×3 style.

New innovations have been brought to the gaming world within the past decade. These include 243 ways, bigger grids, cascading reels, cluster pays, and Megaways. Some providers are even rolling out board-game gambling.

Five-reel slot machines are still the most prevalent in casinos, even with all of the new concepts. But these games could eventually become like three-reel slots are today.

The latter, which used to cover gambling floors from the 1950s to ‘70s, are now considered novelties.

Mechanical three-reel slot machines are only found in a small number of Vegas casinos.

Five-reel slots still have plenty of potential in terms of bonuses and other features. However, they may one day be viewed as classics when looking at what else is available to players nowadays.