Skip to main content

Playing Slot Machines

A. Antonova (editor) |

Slots 101: How to Excel at Playing Slot Machines

Playing Slot MachinesSlots have become the epitome of casino games and enjoy a tremendous popularity among millions of players the world over. You can hardly walk into a landbased gambling establishment without noticing the trademark flashing lights or hearing the slots’ bell sounds. There is no secret to slots’ popularity. This particular type of game is easy to master as there are no complex rules or betting options to remember, which renders it suitable even for those, who have never spun the reels before. Furthermore, no particular set of skills is required in order to win, and win big at that. With a little help from Lady Luck, anyone can pocket a huge payout.

However, becoming well-acquainted with how slots actually work, how they pay out and getting to know their key features can greatly improve one’s chances of turning a profit at the end of their betting session. If you have never spun the reels before, do take a look at the following article, where we provide an overview of how slots work, how to play, and what their most important features are.

How Online Slots Work

How Online Slots WorkThanks to the rapid advent of technologies in the last decades, slots have made it to the catalogs of some of the most reputable online casinos in the world, allowing fans to enjoy their favorite game of chance from the comfort of their surroundings, be it on their desktop computer or their smartphone. Online slots are based roughly on the same principle on which the machines in land-based casinos work.

Typically, there are three to five reels containing a specific number of symbols. When the player hits the Spin button, the reels are set into motion. If the player is lucky, a winning combination of symbols will line up on one of the paylines and the slot will pay. Every online slot runs on a program, called a Random Number Generator, abbreviated as RNG. Using algorithms, the RNG performs mathematical calculations at a shockingly fast pace and generates thousands of number sequences per second to determine which symbols line up on the reels.

As a matter of fact, the outcome is decided at the very split second the player hits the Spin button. Players see the reels spinning which gives them a sense of control over the game, but the actual result of the spin has already been decided by the RNG. Truth be told, there is no need for the reels to spin at all for an outcome to be generated. However, the spinning reels certainly add to the excitement.

What is even more interesting is that the RNG knows no rest even when no one is there to hit the Spin button. It never ceases to perform its complex calculations or generate its long sequences of numbers, even if there is no one there to play. From this, it follows that the outcome of each spin is completely random and unpredictable.

Any given spin does nothing to affect the outcome of subsequent spins, nor is it influenced by the outcomes of the spins that preceded it. This is the number one rule to remember before you hit the Spin button.

How to Play Online Slots

How to Play Online SlotsAs was mentioned, playing online slots does not call for particular skills, which makes this type of game suitable for online casino novices. However, there are a few important things to remember before you start placing real-money bets.

The first thing to consider is the number of paylines. The more paylines a given online slot has, the greater the number of winning combinations you can potentially hit. Back in the day, slots used to have a single payline, running across the middle of the reels. The reels are the vertical sections on the screen that rotate each time players press the Spin button.

Many online slots boast 10, 25, 30, 40, 50 or sometimes even 100 paylines. These can run diagonally, horizontally, vertically or even take on zig-zag and V shapes. Another thing players need to check is the slot’s paytable, which contains valuable information on the paylines, the Return to Player percentage (RTP), the winning combinations’ payouts as well as on the special features of the game.

The player then selects the paylines they wish to activate, adjusts their coin value, and chooses how many coins to bet per active payline. The available coin denominations you can choose differ between slots, but typically, there is the option to use $0.01, $0.02, $0.05, $0.10, $0.25, $0.50 and $1.00. Once you have adjusted the number of lines, the coin value and the number of coins per line, you simply hit the Spin button and wait for the outcome. If you win, the sum will be credited to your casino account’s balance right away.

The number of active paylines determines the overall amount of the bet. For instance, if you have activated 11 out of 25 paylines and bet two coins of $0.10 per line, you are practically paying $2.20 per spin. Have in mind that some online slots have fixed paylines, meaning that players cannot adjust the number of lines they bet on, it is all or nothing, so to speak.

Players can also opt for placing the maximum bet amount on the online slot by clicking on the Bet Max button. If you wish to play at a faster pace, you can turn on the Autoplay feature that most online slots commonly share. You should again adjust the number of coins (and their value) you wish to bet per active payline and select the number of automatic spins to play, which usually ranges between 5 and 100.

Autoplay is rarely a good idea because you may end up losing money at a rapid pace.

Types of Online Slots

Types of Online SlotsWhat’s so great about spinning the reels online is that there is a great diversity of slot titles to choose from, each one boasting a unique theme and features. There is something to suit the preferences of all types of players, regardless of whether they prefer classic, fruit slots or are looking for more advanced video slots. The types of slots you can find online can be divided into the four main categories we have listed below.

Classic or 3-reel Slots

Classic or 3-reel SlotsThis is the prototype of all slot machines, which comes the closest to what Charles Fey originally created. As the name itself suggests, the number of reels is limited to three. Players are typically limited in terms of betting options as 3-reel slots often feature a single payline which stretches across the middle of the reels. However, some online slot titles with three reels may offer three or even five paylines.

This type of slot is considered a suitable option for inexperienced players because it is more simplified and easier to understand. Despite the extremely limited number of reels and paylines, 3-reel slots carry a good winning potential in the long run. Players hit winning combinations less frequently, but when they do, the payouts are typically well worth it. Popular examples of classic slots include Microgaming’s Fruit Fiesta and Playtech’s Funky Monkey.

Multi-Payline Video Slots

Multi-Payline Video SlotsMulti-payline slots typically have five reels or five vertical sections that are set into motion whenever the Spin button is pressed. However, it is possible to find online titles which utilize seven reels as well, or more. The greater number of reels allows for more winning combinations or paylines, which is why these variations enjoy the greatest popularity among slot fans.

Yet, greater winning potential is hardly the only advantage multi-payline slots have to offer. The players will also benefit from superior graphics, enhanced sound effects, and a number of special features, including bonus spins, bonus games, multipliers, wilds, and scatter symbols.

As there are more paylines, such slots tend to pay more frequently but the payouts are usually far from substantial. Nevertheless, the special features incorporated in multi-payline slots will further increase your chances of turning a profit. Most 5-reel slots are practically video slots, with crisp animations and user-friendly interfaces that further add to players’ excitement.

3D Slots

3D Slots3D slots are the latest generation of video slots. There are hardly any deviations in terms of gameplay and interface as players again can bet on multiple paylines, adjust their coin number and denomination, and activate the Autoplay feature. However, once you load a 3D slot, you will immediately notice the striking difference in terms of visual and aural quality.

3D slots boast superb visuals of unparalleled depth and the enhanced sound effects further contribute to one’s gaming experience. As is usually the case, 3D slots start with a short animated clip which introduces players to the game’s theme and storyline. In fact, many animated interludes are to follow as each time you hit winning combinations, the symbols on the reels come to life. There are plenty of vividly animated special features, like rounds of free spins, interactive bonus games with guaranteed additional prizes, wilds, and scatters which can further increase profitability.

Also, the storylines are much more complex when compared to those of standard video slots. Some 3D titles feature several levels of play. As slot fans progress through the levels and complete different achievements, they can tailor the game’s bonus rounds to suit their individual needs and preferences.

Progressive Slots

Progressive SlotsThese are among the most sought-after slot titles in any online casino and there is a good reason why. Such slots have huge progressive jackpots attached to them which increase incrementally. Sometimes the jackpot is linked between several casino providers using the same software, which causes it to reach seven-figure sums. Then again, there are progressive slots where the jackpot accumulates across a single casino only.

A small percentage of each participating player’s bet goes toward the jackpot. The fee for the progressive jackpot is built in, so there is no need for players to make additional side bets in order to qualify for the colossal prize. Each progressive slot has a jackpot meter attached to it which enables players to track the amount that has currently accumulated.

However, there are two very important things to factor in prior to playing one of the progressives. First of all, players are usually required to bet the maximum amount per spin and activate all available paylines in order to become eligible for the jackpot. Even if you land the symbol combination that triggers the prize, you will not collect the pot, unless you are betting the maximum amount. Second, because there is already a huge amount of money waiting to be won by one lucky player, progressive slots tend to offer less frequent regular wins. So, if you are not aiming for the jackpot, you may skip on the progressives.

Some of the most popular progressive slots to play online include Microgaming’s Mega Moolah, NetEnt’s Mega Fortune, and the slots that are tied to Games Global’s WowPot! progressive jackpot.

All Ways Win Slots

All Ways Win SlotsAll Ways Win slots have a unique payout structure since they lack conventional paylines. Instead, the games pay out when three or more matching symbols land on adjacent reels, starting from left to right. A classic 3×5 reel grid can produce as many as 243 winning ways (3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 = 243).

The biggest benefit of playing such slots is that most of them come with low volatility. Another advantage of the format has to do with the cost per spin. As you probably know, a standard line-based slot requires you to cover each active payline with a bet, or else the winning combinations will not pay even if they align on a line.

This is not the case with All Ways Win games where you have 243 opportunities to profit but do not have to pay for each of them. One example comes from Microgaming’s Immortal Romance where you play thirty credits of your chosen denomination on each spin. Playing a 30-line slot would cost you the same number of credits for fewer winning opportunities.

Some software developers design slots with 720 ways to win where each reel contains a different number of symbols. For instance, the reel grid of IGT’s popular release Siberian Storm looks like this – 3 x 4 x 5 x 4 x 3, which makes for 720 winning ways. Some video slots contain four symbols on each of their five reels, allowing for 1,024 ways to win (4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 = 1,024. Studios like NetEnt even has releases with 5 x 5 x 5 x 5 x 5 grids where the number of winning opportunities rises to 3,125 ways.

Popular 243 Ways SlotsPopular 720 Ways SlotsPopular 1,024 Ways SlotsPopular 3,125 Ways Slots
  • Immortal Romance (Microgaming)
  • Twin Spin (NetEnt)
  • Game of Thrones (Microgaming)
  • Jurassic Park (Microgaming)
  • Razortooth (Quickspin)
  • Siberian Storm (IGT)
  • Wild Rockets (NetEnt)
  • Day of the Dead (IGT)
  • Candy Dreams (Microgaming)
  • Prowling Panther (IGT)
  • Crown of Egypt (IGT)
  • Terminator 2 (Microgaming)
  • Silver Lioness (Microgaming)
  • Rage of the Seas (NetEnt)
  • Lucky Panda (Playtech)
  • Dolphin Coast (Microgaming)
  • Reel Rush (NetEnt)
  • Buster Hammer Carnival (Yggdrasil)
  • Mermaid’s Pearls (RTG)
  • Valley of the Gods (Yggdrasil)

Megaways Slots

Australian software studio Big Time Gaming pioneered the Megaways payout mechanics to great success, so much so that now the company leases it to other major slot suppliers like NetEnt and Microgaming. These games are hugely popular across online casinos and for a very good reason.

Their success results from the innovative payout structure they use. Megaways slots play on six rather than five reels. Some of them have additional vertical reels. Rather than using conventional paylines, the Megaways slots work similarly to their All Ways cousins, paying for matching symbols on adjacent reels.

One major difference here is that the number of winning ways changes on each spin. The reels are shape-shifting so to speak, randomly producing between two and seven symbols per reel on each round. A winning combination triggers a reaction where the matching symbols collapse and make room for new icons to fall into their places.

The maximum configuration enables the games to produce winnings of up to 50,000x the player’s stake. Slots that use this unique structure also offer additional features like enhanced free spins, bonus games, wilds, and scatters. On the downside, most Megaways slots come with greater volatility so you will need a bigger bankroll to offset the higher level of risk.

Recommended Megaways Slots:
  • Royal Mint by Big Time Gaming (117,649 ways to win)
  • White Rabbit by Big Time Gaming (248,832 ways to win)
  • Dazzle Me by NetEnt (99,225 ways to win)
  • Ancient Fortunes: Poseidon by Microgaming (117,649 ways to win)
  • Buffalo King by Pragmatic Play (200,704 ways to win)

Special Features of Online Slots

Special Features of Online SlotsWhen choosing an online slot to play for real money, players are recommended to look for the titles that boast the best payouts and offer a greater number of special features as these can further boost one’s chances of collecting a large payout. You can check some of the most common features of online slots below.


MultipliersThese are special symbols which multiply the amount players have won on a given winning combination by a predetermined number of times. For instance, if your initial profits amount to $5, but a 3x multiplier is part of your winning combination, your winnings will be multiplied by three, so that you end up collecting a total of $15 on this spin. Multipliers commonly double or triple players’ winnings, but there are slot titles with symbols which can multiply the amount you have won 10x, 100x or even 1,000x.

It is important to mention that multiplier symbols are less common during base play. These are usually incorporated within the rounds of free spins players can trigger at random. Some slot titles allow for greater interaction with players, allowing them to select their multiplier amount by choosing one of several hidden icons.

Then again, some video slots have wild symbols which also function as multipliers, doubling the amount players have won. For example, if you hit two out of three winning symbols on a payline, the wild will complete your winning combination and double or triple your profits for this spin.

Wild Symbols

Slots Wild SymbolWilds are the symbols all slot fans are hoping to see on the reels because they carry a huge winning potential. They work in the same manner the jokers do in some variations of poker. In other words, wild symbols may help players complete their winning combination on a given payline as they act as substitutes for all symbols on the reels. In order for this to happen, the wild symbols need to line up on a particular payline. Depending on the slot, the wild is either the highest-paying symbol, or has no value of its own.

There are many different sub-types of wilds. Some expand to cover the entire reel, transforming each symbol, from top to bottom, into a wild. Others “stick” or remain in place for a predetermined number of spins, thus boosting players’ chances of collecting a payout. Then again, there are shifting wilds which change their position on the reel on subsequent spins. Stacked wilds are also worth mentioning as they line up on top of one another until they eventually cover an entire reel.

Scatter Symbols

catter SymbolThe scatters are yet another lucrative feature slot fans are usually looking for. As was said earlier, slots pay out whenever you land a particular combination of symbols on an active payline. This is where scatters can be of great help. These symbols do not have to necessarily line up on an active payline in order to pay out. They simply need to appear anywhere on the reels, not to mention they are one of the highest-paying symbols on slots’ paytables.

Whenever a specific number of scatters line up on the reels, they may unlock an additional feature. This can either be an interactive bonus game with guaranteed prizes or a predetermined number of free spins. Remember scatters are game-specific and their functions may greatly vary, depending on which slot you play, which is why you should always check the paytable in advance.

Bonus Games

Bonus GamesInteractive bonus games are usually triggered either by special bonus symbols, listed on the paytable, or by the scatters. Occasionally, they can be unlocked by the wilds as well, depending on the game. These bonus games add further excitement to spinning the reels as players are guaranteed to collect additional prizes. Some bonus games involve a certain element of skill, though in most cases, they are based on the “pick me” principle. For instance, players need to select one (or more) hidden items which correspond to specific cash prizes.

Free Spins

Free SpinsThis feature is not to be mistaken with the free spins awarded by online casino operators as here, the bonus spins are actually built into the slot itself. The free spins are triggered at random. Usually, this happens after the player lands a specific number of scatter symbols on the reels. Occasionally, a round of free spins can be triggered at the end of a given bonus game.

Some free spins have multipliers attached to the winning combinations players land within the bonus round. The multiplier amount, however, differs from one slot to another. As a rule of thumb, the free spins utilize the bet amount the player had used prior to triggering them. Depending on the slot, free spins can be retriggered during the current bonus round, thus earning players even greater payouts.


RespinsThe respin feature available in some online games bears some semblance to free spins. However, the difference here is that one or more reels or reel positions remain locked into place while the others respin one or several times. Once the player has respun the reels, they can receive monetary prizes, and a free round of play begins. In some cases, the player has the option to respin the reel(s) again.

The downside of this feature is that the respins will cost you. The exact amount varies from game to game and is typically written next to each reel. It usually depends on the symbols that have appeared on the reels during the previous spin. For example, if you are one symbol short of reaching five of a kind, you most likely will have to pay a higher premium to respin the reel.

Some slots, however, offer free respins where the feature activates with a specific symbol or symbol combination. The reels would respin one or more times at no cost in such cases. NetEnt’s Starburst slot is one good example of how this feature works. When the Starburst logo symbol lands simultaneously on the second, third, and fourth reels, it expands to cover an entire reel and triggers a free respin.

Cascading Reels

Cascading reels enjoy great popularity among online slot mavens since they can lead to multiple wins in succession. When the player forms a winning combination, they receive the corresponding payout and the matching symbols explode on the reels, allowing new icons to drop into their places. The feature can be very lucrative as it enables players to potentially collect more payouts at no extra cost.

In most slots with cascading reels, this process can continue indefinitely until a round with no matching symbols occurs. Cascading reels are prominently featured in NetEnt’s legendary Gonzo’s Quest slot where players can also benefit from 1x, 2x, 3x, and 5x multipliers. The multiplier increases after each successive win and resets to 1x after a loss.

The Gamble Feature

The Gamble FeatureSome advanced video slots have an additional Gamble feature. Each time a player hits a winning combination, they are provided with the opportunity to double their profits by playing a side game. This game typically involves predicting correctly the outcome of a coin toss. In some instances, a card that is facing down may appear on the screen.

The aim is to guess what the color of the card’s suit is, red or black. If players make a correct guess, their winnings are doubled. If they fail to make a correct prediction, they lose what they have won on their last spin.


The truth is, there’s no secret strategy to hitting big on slot machines since they’re based on luck and run by Random Number Generators (RNGs). However, understanding the game’s key elements, like paylines, RTP, and betting strategies, can enhance your playing experience and potentially improve your chances of scoring a win. Remember, it’s all about having fun and playing responsibly!

Absolutely not! Reputable online slots operate on RNGs, ensuring each spin’s outcome is completely random and fair. Stick to licensed and regulated online casinos to guarantee the integrity and fairness of the slot games you’re playing. These casinos are regularly audited to ensure compliance with strict gaming regulations.

Yes, progressive slots offer the chance for massive wins, sometimes reaching into the millions, because a fraction of every bet contributes to the jackpot pool. Remember, hitting the jackpot often requires max bets and a lot of luck, as the odds are similar to winning a lottery. It’s essential to play within your budget and always stop when you lose the entertainment factor.

Look for slots with high RTP (Return to Player) percentages for better long-term payouts. Consider the game’s volatility, themes, bonus features, and your personal playing style. Trying games in free mode can help you find your favorites without risking real money.

Online slots offer convenience, a wider variety of games, and often higher RTPs than land-based slots. Since many online slots can be played in a demo mode, you can even try out different titles before choosing which ones to play for real money. You’ll also find exclusive online bonuses and promotions to extend your playtime. Plus, you can enjoy playing from the comfort of your home or on the go with mobile options.

Not necessarily. While max bets are required for some jackpots and bonuses, it’s crucial to balance this with your overall budget and playing time. Even if you play a progressive slot, make sure that you place a maximum bet on every spin only if the slot requires the highest bet amount to qualify you for the jackpot prize. Betting max can lead to quicker losses, so adjust your bet sizes based on your bankroll and gaming goals.

Avoid chasing losses, betting beyond your budget, and playing slots before you have explored their paylines and bet sizes. Also, neglecting to read the game’s rules and paytable can lead to missed opportunities for bonuses or higher payouts. Playing for fun, setting limits, and knowing when to take a break are key elements of an enjoyable slot experience.