Your guide to playing online slots

Spinning The Slot Reels

After loading up an online slot from an online casino or instant play site, you’ll be presented with a game screen filled with reels. The classic slots have three vertical reels but most modern video slots will have five (see types below for more). Each reel will have typically upwards of 20-25 symbols on them, relevant to the slot’s theme, and the aim is to spin the reels and hit winning combinations of symbols as the reels come to a stop. With so many symbols on the reels – and so many paylines – this can add up to millions of possible combinations to hit.

You’ll see a ‘Spin’ button to the bottom right of the screen which sets the reels moving. Some games will have a ‘Skill Stop’ button so that you can stop the reels yourself.

View The Paytable

Before you’ve even spun a reel, click on the ‘Paytable’ or ‘Info’ icon on the game screen; that will take you to a separate screen with all the game info you’ll need. Here you’ll find the various payouts for hitting different winning combinations, a list of the different symbols, and details of any bonus rounds, if any. Some, but not all, developers will list the theoretical Return to Player (RTP) percentage too. There’s more of that below.

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Bet Sizing And Paylines

Before you play a real money slot machine, set the bet sizes and number of paylines you want to play. For lower variance games – i.e. slots that appeal to smaller wallets – you’ll find betting starting from as little as $0.01 a line.

Next, pick how many coins you want bet on a particular line. You can usually bet anything from 1 to 10 coins per line. Then choose how many pay lines – combination of symbols across the reels – you want to play. You can bet on one pay line or the maximum available – simply click on the pay lines down the side of the game screen.

So, for example, let’s say an online slot has 25 pay lines, and betting which ranges from $0.01 to $1.00 a coin. The slot allows you to bet up to 10 coins per line. Therefore, you can play one coin at $0.01 on one pay line, meaning your bet per spin is just $0.01, or plump for the maximum – $1.00 a coin, 10 coins per line, and the maximum 25 pay lines. This would mean that your bet per spin would be $250. Look for the ‘Max. Bet’ button – every real money slot has one – to jump to this option.

Other slots, meanwhile, will have fixed paylines, meaning that you have no choice in how few, or how many, paylines you get to play. It can lead to bigger cash outlays over time, but you’ll also have a chance of hitting more winning combinations.

Gamble / Double Up

Then, once you’re set, hit the ‘Spin’ button. The reels will spin and come to a rest. Any winning combinations will be paid out, but some real cash slots give you the option to double your winnings (look for the ‘Gamble’ button), usually via a simple ‘red or black’ or ‘higher or lower’ card game.

Slot Game Symbols

You’ll typically find about 10-12 different individual symbols in a typical real money slot, and depending on the theme can consist of anything, ranging from the classic melons and cherries, to superheroes, aliens, bank robbers, cuddly bunnies, mythological characters, diamonds, treasure, gold, poker symbols like jack, queen, king…in fact, if there’s a theme, chances are there’s an online slot invented to cover it.

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Wilds And Scatters

Winning combinations of symbols generally pay from left to right, with consecutive symbols contributing to a winning payline. However, every video slot has special images/symbols that result in bigger prizes for the player.

The Wild symbol can substitute for regular symbols in the game in order to create a winning combo. There will also be a multiplier attached to the win, meaning that win may be doubled or trebled if formed with a Wild icon.

Meanwhile, the Scatter symbol pays out if you hit two or more ANYWHERE across the reels. Normally, however, hitting three or more Scatters on the reels will trigger a special bonus feature as well as a special bonus cash prize.

Bonus Rounds

So, you’re playing an real cash online slot and you hit three Scatters or ‘Bonus’ icons on the reels. What kind of bonus can you expect to trigger?
Free Spins

The most common bonus round in a real money slot machine is a straight free games win. You may win anything from 3 to 50 free spins (spun automatically by the computer) and often the spins can be retriggered, i.e. if you manage to hit a further three Scatter icons on the reels during the free spins round, you’ll win a further batch of freebies.

Pick ‘em Bonus

A Pick ‘em Bonus round will occur when hitting three Scatters. You will be taken to a separate game screen and be required to choose from a selection of symbols, each one revealing a different prize or multiplier. The icons will generally follow the theme of the slot (treasure chests for an Aladdin-themed slot, oxygen tanks for an underwater-themed slot). Keep picking icons until you hit the ‘Collect’ icon and you return to the base game screen. Your total win for the bonus round will be totted up and added to your bank.

Click Me Bonus

This feature is triggered when three relevant bonus symbols appear on the reels simultaneously. You simply choose from three icons on the reels to reveal a cash prize.

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Other Bonus Features

Certain developers will have unique features to their respective game, and you will often find one or more at different slots:

Cascading Reels, or Avalanche Reels, is an interesting feature whereby a winning combination vanishes from the reels and is replaced by symbols above falling down to take their place. This allows for more winning combos and adds to the excitement. Expanding Wilds can appear on one or more reels, and will expand to fill an entire reel, essentially making the entire reel Wild. Sticky Wilds remain in place on the reels while the rest of the symbols spin alongside them. Some of the big-money slots tie-ins will feature more interactive arcade bonus rounds with some skill involved. This could be a battle sequence, target shoot or puzzle round. IGT’s Reel Edge titles, the bonus rounds are modeled after arcade games, so that players can earn prizes based on their performance.

RTP and RNGs

There are two three-letter acronyms that online slots players should pay attention to: RTP and RNG.

Random Number Generators (Rng)

The Random Number Generator (RNG) is responsible for the payout percentage of the real money slot game. That percentage has to be certified by a third party poker authority to ensure fair gaming. The rules require that a minimum percentage has to be paid back to players.

RNGs work in the same way to online roulette and blackjack games; fair software systems that ensure responsible and random events. When you check the paytable for various winning combination payouts, the amounts reflect the virtual odds of a certain combination; the higher the jackpot is up for grabs, the lower the chance of hitting the right winning combination.

Return To Player (Rtp)

This payout percentage, or Return to Player (RTP), varies from game to game, and developer to developer, but generally in land-based casino slots you could find RTPs of around the 80-90% mark, but that rises significantly for online slots, and further still for new mobile slots.

So, let’s say a slot has a 95% RTP. That means out of 100 coins, 95 go back to the real cash slots player over time. The rest is the online casino’s margin.