Slots make up the most extensive collection of casino games that you can play anywhere on the internet. If you were thinking of joining an online casino, it is a fair bet that you would be interested in spinning the reels of top slots. How do slots work, though, what can you expect to find and what are your chances of winning? Moreover, where can you find quality slot games, and which ones should you avoid playing? In our casino guide to online slots, we will reveal all.
If you’re ready to begin, let us start with a quick look at the history of the slot machine.
A Brief History of Slots
By now, it should be common knowledge that the slot was originally conceived between 1887 and 1895 by Charles Fey. His slot consisted of a few symbols – notably horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts and a Liberty Bell, the latter of which would later give his creation its name. Before that, poker machines featuring card faces would pay out prizes ranging from cigars to drinks based on the ranking of the poker hand which appeared. These were over complicated machines but would go on to form the basis for today’s video poker games. By contrast, Fey’s Liberty Bell was a far more straightforward, more popular game, and it is his format which is the true predecessor of today’s modern slot machines.
In the time of prohibition, the prizes for winners were altered to include candy and sweets. Fast forward to the 1960s, and you will learn that it was Bally who developed the first electromechanical slot, known as Money Honey. It featured a bottomless hopper and an automatic top prize of up to 500 coins. By the mid-1970s, slots started to use modified televisions as monitors, and the modern video slot was born.
In the 1990s, the slot machine took the most significant step forward in its evolution. A second screen “bonus round” was introduced by WMS Industries in their Reel ‘em slot. Shortly afterwards, online slots started to debut at the first fledgeling internet casinos. The advent of digital slots meant that games could now serve up numerous bonuses, features and goodies. The development of slots with all sorts of these features created a broad market, with players inundated with many variants to choose from. The rapid progression of new types of technology would later see 3D slots and mobile slots come to the forefront. Today, there is even the prospect of VR slots (virtual reality) in the future.
This is where we find ourselves today – with so many different types of slot machines to choose from. With many possibilities open to prospective slot players, it helps to become acquainted with some of the more commonly offered games.
Types of Online Slots
Slot machines go by many names. The term “slot machine” is typically used in North America, with “fruit machine” favoured in Britain. Over in Australia and New Zealand, “pokies” are the preferred name for slots. These games can also be known as “one-armed bandits”, amongst other things. Whatever term you choose to go with, they all amount to one and the same.
Visit any online casino, and you will note that in all likelihood, their collection or portfolio of online slots is divided up into easy to navigate genres. A series of filters allow you to find the type of slot you are looking for rapidly. Here are just a few of the ways we can break down slots into smaller, more manageable groups:
Theme: Most video slots (which feature five reels) are themed. These can range from ancient Egypt to Irish luck, sports to branded/franchised slots. A collection may also be broken down into mobile slots, those with 3D graphics, or just new, hot and popular slot games.
Reels: Slots are often played over three or five reels (drums). Three-reel slots are typically known as classic slots or fruit machines. By contrast, 5-reel slots form the lion’s share of the market and are known as video slots. Other categories exist, too, such as the 6-reel, MegaWays slots.
Features: The features which appear in a game might also be used to decide which group of slots it belongs, too. You can find slots which have just a few paylines, or hundreds of thousands of them, games which have free spins and some which offer re-spins and more besides.
Prizes: A slot will either offer a progressive jackpot or a non-progressive one. We will explain both in more detail shortly, but for now, you only need to know that a progressive jackpot is uncapped and can rise, whereas a non-progressive jackpot slot offers a fixed prize every time.
Software Provider: Lastly, online slots may be grouped by their software provider. Many software developers out there produce games. Some are better at it than others. If you like the games from one particular provider, you will likely be able to search for other titles from this developer at an online casino.
How to Play Online Slots
We can be relatively sure that you already understand the basic premise behind an online slot, but if not, you needn’t worry. Here is how the games work:
A slot machine consists of a series of reels (drums) which are spun. Across those reels sit several paylines, each representing a possible pathway to a win, and a variety of symbols. To land a win, a player must land identical symbols across one of these paylines.
As well as the basic spinning of the reels, many video slots also come with a variety of added goodies to help you land wins. We will cover these in our section on special features. Before we can get to those, though, we need to look at how to place a bet.
Wagering On Slot Machines
There are a few different ways to bet in online slots. A typical slot may allow you to alter several aspects of your bet, or it may be more rigid in how stakes are wagered. Below the reels of any online slot, you will see some options.
They might include:
- Coin Value: The value of the coin you wish to play with
- Coins Wagered: The number of coins you want to stake per payline
- Paylines: The number of paylines you opt to play with per spin
You may not have all of those options available. Some slots (usually those with over 50 paylines) choose to use a fixed payline system. While this means that you will not be able to the number of paylines you play with, though, you will still be able to adjust your stake.
It is worth noting that games which have fixed paylines (such as 243 Ways to Win) and MegaWays slots will typically allow you to play with many paylines for a far cheaper stake compared to games which permit you to alter the number of lines which feature in a spin.
Special Features Found in Online Slots
While spinning the reels of online slots, you will notice that a range of symbols can appear on the reels. Most of these will be thematic, following whatever theme the slot has chosen to go with. They will pay out cash prizes should they appear grouped together on a slot’s paylines, as mentioned.
However, some symbols may or may not result in prizes being paid out. They play entirely different roles instead. Here are just a few of the major ones you should familiarise yourself with.
Wild Symbols: Essentially, wild symbols are a slot machine’s version of the joker in a deck of cards. They can often substitute for any other icon you may need to form a winning combination, save for other special symbols. Wild symbols may also come with a few added perks. Some can multiply the value of any winning combinations in which they appear. Others can spread to other parts of the reels (expanding wilds), split into two, and cover entire reels (wild reels). A few may even appear stacked on top of one another (stacked wilds), shift across the reels while offering re-spins (walking wilds) or cover multiple areas of the reels (colossal wilds).
Scatter Symbols: Scatter symbols get their name because unlike conventional symbols, they do not have to appear on paylines to count. In most cases, these symbols will provide a small cash prize when two or more appear anywhere on the screen at once. In many cases, they can also trigger a bonus round when three or more appear.
Bonus Symbols: Bonus symbols usually need to appear on specific reels. These symbols seldom pay out cash prizes, but can often trigger bonus rounds when the right number of them pop up simultaneously.
Mystery Symbols: Mystery symbols work similarly to wilds. When they appear, they will transform into a symbol chosen at random, instead of counting for any symbol you need. Mystery symbols tend to appear several times at once, and when this happens, they will always transform into the same icon together.
It is worth noting that classic slots seldom contain special symbols or bonuses. These represent an older, more traditional style of slot, and are designed to mimic the one-armed bandits of the early Twentieth Century before video slots (and thus, second screen bonuses) were introduced. A few online fruit machines (based on those which were popular in the UK in the 80s and 90s) do come with bonus rounds, but they tend to be limited.
Bagging Those Slot Bonuses
Ordinarily, slot players need to land scatters or bonus symbols on the reels to trigger special features. However, some games do have randomly triggered bonuses, and these are worth keeping an eye out for. A bonus round could take one of many forms. However, the ones listed below are the primary bonuses you need to become familiar with. They include:
Free Spin Bonus: A free spin round is usually triggered via three or more scatter symbols. Once activated, players will get to spin the reels for a predetermined number of spins for free. Those spins are played at the same value as the triggering spin. Landing additional scatters may see you extend this round. The bonus round could also see a few added features, such as special wilds and multipliers thrown into the mix.
Re-Spin Bonus: A re-spin bonus can be triggered in several ways. Most slots which feature re-spin rounds will typically allow players to spin the reels for free until a specific event has or has not occurred. For instance, in some games, players may keep bagging free re-spins until no new wilds occur on the screen. The specifics of each re-spin bonus can vary from slot to slot. It is best to think of these bonuses as mini free spin rounds.
Click and Win: Many video slots have a second-screen bonus, and one of these could be the click and win feature. Also known as a pick and win bonus, the round simply involves players selecting from various items to win instant cash prizes. Click and win bonuses usually end when a player uncovers a “booby trap”, a “collect” sign, or runs out of lives.
Trail Bonuses: These are more commonly found in fruit machines than video slots. A trail bonus allows players to navigate their way along a trail (like in a board game) to pocket prizes. Such bonuses usually end when a player lands on a bad spot or fails to win.
Multipliers: Some slot machines also serve up multipliers. These may be pocketed courtesy of wild symbols or could be added randomly to all winnings in a free spin bonus. Some features, such as Rolling Reels, allow players to acquire increasing multipliers on every win they land in succession. It is not uncommon to see several multipliers appearing on the screen to be multiplied together, resulting in huge wins.
Randomly Triggered Bonuses: As mentioned, not all bonuses are triggered via scatters and bonus symbols. Some occur randomly in the game. These are often delivered alongside symbol-triggered rounds, so they seldom take the place of them. Randomly triggered bonuses tend to be short, added features rather than full-on bonus rounds such as free spins.
Added Features: Added features may be triggered at random or be a part of the game from the start. They may include simple things such as added wilds and random cash prizes. However, they can also be more complex and include nudges (which allows players to hold some reels and re-spin others), tumbling, cascading or collapsing reels (winning icons remain while the rest are re-spin) and much more. Added features vary greatly from slot to slot.
Some slot machines allow players to “buy a bonus”. This divides the slot gaming community. In many cases, software developers have deliberately excluded a feature which should have been included as standard, solely so they can tempt you to buy it earlier. This is generally not advised, as the cost of triggering a bonus round outright is often far more than what you would conventionally wager per spin.
How to Win On Slots
As mentioned, to bag a win on any slot machine, you need to line up identical symbols on any of a game’s paylines. A slot will automatically highlight any winning paylines should they occur. Slots use fixed odds. This means that the prize you can win is measured against whatever you stake. You can see what you can win by checking out a slot machine’s paytable.
For instance, if a slot pays out 1,000x your stake for five of the top-paying symbols on a line, and you wager €1, your payout will be €1,000. If you wager €10 a spin and you land the same combination, you will pocket a €10,000 prize. These types of prizes are known as non-progressive, and they are the most common types of slot games.
Some of the best paying slots are progressive jackpot slots or just jackpot slots for short. While they also carry non-progressive prizes, they carry one big jackpot, too, and this is not fixed. It is progressive, meaning that it rises either over time or with each new wager that is made by a player. These prizes are not capped, which means that they will keep growing until they are won. Some slots carry multiple progressive jackpot prizes.
The same progressive jackpot is often available at any and all online casinos which feature the game. This is known as a progressive jackpot network. It typically means that if a player wins the jackpot at Casino A, the prize will disappear from Casinos B, C, D and any other casinos which offer the game.
You can win a slot’s progressive jackpot in one of several ways. Each slot has its own method of delivery. Here are a few of the most common ones:
Jackpot Paying Symbols: A player will win the progressive jackpot if they simply land five of the jackpot paying symbols on any payline in the game.
Payline-Triggered Jackpot: This is an older method of triggering progressive prizes. It involves landing jackpot icons on a specific payline, which is no small feat. Moreover, you will often have to place the maximum wager possible to win these prizes.
Side-Bet Jackpots: Progressives paid out by prehistoric methods such as the Dollar Ball are now virtually extinct. They involved placing a side bet on a lottery style game. If your numbers came up, you won. You’ll have to look long and hard to find these dated jackpot games today, but they do still exist.
Randomly Triggered: Most progressive jackpots are now randomly triggered. A player can be taken to a second-screen where they can spin a money wheel, or enjoy a click and win game (often like a scratch card) to win one of several prizes. In slots with multiple progressive jackpots available, the amount you have wagered directly affects your chances of landing individual prizes.
Community Jackpot: With this type of jackpot, if a player wins the prize at your casino, all players who recently wagered on the game (within a predetermined time-frame) will also receive a small share of the spoils.
Timed Jackpot: These jackpots are designed to be won “within” a time-frame. The slot is guaranteed to pay out at random before that time ends. Games such as Daily Drop Jackpots are fun, as you have an inkling of when you need to play to be in with a shout of winning.
Choosing the Perfect Slot for You: Top Tips for Online Slots
Before you start spinning the reels of slots, it is worth taking note of a few things. There are a couple of handy slot hints and top tips you can use to your advantage. Here are just a few more features you should bear in mind when playing online slots:
Variance/Volatility: Slots will either be low, medium or high variance. Variance is also known as volatility. Low variance slot machines pay out frequently, but they tend to be quite small sums. Highly volatile slots pay out rarely, but when they do, the win tends to be rather sizable. Highly volatile slots are only ideal for players with large balances to keep them afloat during lengthy losing streaks. Low variance slots are suitable for players on a budget.
RTP Rates: A slot’s RTP (return to player) rate is a rough approximation of the percentage of all the wagers which will be paid back to players as winnings over time. For instance, a slot RTP of 95% (which is the industry standard) means that if 100 bets of €1 are made, approximately €95 will be paid out to players in winnings.
Number of Symbols: The number of symbols a slot has is essential. The more symbols a slot features, the less likely you are to win, as the probability of a “useless” symbol interfering with your winning combination is high. Always aims to play slots which use fewer symbols. Slots which use scatter wilds (where both wild symbols and scatters are the same icon) are ideal, for instance.
Stakes Per Payline: Many slots offer you 243 paylines (sometimes more) for the same stake as slots will only provide you with 25 or 30 lines. Naturally, the more paylines you have, the better your chances of success. Just make sure that these games still feature cheap stakes, and don’t lower the value of the prizes which are available because of the surplus of lines.
Play for Free: Many online casinos allow you to play top slots for free. Playing slots in a demo mode allows you to become familiar with them, long before you wager your own hard-earned cash on the games. This is crucial. Playing for free permits you discover if a slot is for you, learn what the optimal stake is for your budget and betting strategy, determine how often the slot pays, and whether its special features are generous or not.
Where to Find Top Online Slot Machines
Now that you know virtually everything there is to know about online slots, perhaps it is time you started playing? As mentioned, we’d recommend playing a few free slots, to begin with, to become familiar with the concepts and features described in this article. Once you are comfortable with how online slots work (and have maybe made a note of a few that you’d like to play for real money), it is time to find somewhere to play.
It is possible to find online slots anywhere. Sportsbooks carry them, bingo rooms and even some poker rooms offer slots. However, you are most likely to find online slots at internet casinos. Avoid playing at sites which only feature games from one provider. Our recommended casinos often carry over 1,000 slot machines, from the portfolios of many different providers. It is these top-tier casinos which are going to make the best places to find a substantial array of slot machine games to choose from.