Slots (or pokies, if you prefer) have been around for a lot longer than online casinos exist. Indeed, slot machines have been a staple at land-based casinos for decades and can also be found in betting shops and pubs. Since slots have been adapted for online casinos, they’ve gone through quite the evolution. Learn all about slots and how to play them right here.
What are slots?
Slot machines come in many shapes and styles, but they all have a few things in common. They have reels (at least three) and those reels show symbols, which come in a huge diversity. Depending on the type of slot the machines are more or less elaborate. In the olden days you would have to put a coin into a slot (hence the name) and then pull a lever in order to get the reels spinning. Nowadays, at casinos or in betting shops, you push a button.
In online casinos you click a virtual button to get the reel spinning. Depending on the slot you’re playing, you get a set or flexible number of paylines and may be able to trigger a bonus game of some sort.
Slots are the simplest and easiest type of casino game and the game that has usually the highest house edge. Still, they make quite for an enjoyable pastime and with a little luck you could win really big.
Types of slots
At online casinos you’ll find slots often categorised according to type. You may also be able to sort slots according to theme or special feature, but most casinos make the following distinctions:
Classic slots are typically fruit machines and most closely emulate the slot machines of yore. Here you’ll often find only three reels with hardly more than five paylines. On the symbols you’ll encounter various fruits, BAR symbols, 7s and bells, sometimes diamonds. There are usually no free spins to be won or any kind of bonus game to be played. You simply set your wager and get the reels spinning.
Most commonly you’ll find video slots at online casinos these days. They are much more elaborate than classic slots and give you often at least 5 reels with 3 rows, but nowadays more reels and rows are definitely possible. Video slots always have some sort of theme, featuring symbols that will depict typical aspects of that theme. Thus you may find pots of gold, rainbows and leprechauns on the reels if the theme is “luck o’ the Irish”.
Additionally video slots have special features and symbols such as wilds, bonus symbols, scatters. You may get expanding or sticky wilds, linked reels, free spins, re-spins, mini games and much more. Paylines can be set or flexible. There are no set rules that apply to all slots. The variations are virtually endless and slot developers constantly offer up new and innovative ideas.
3D slots are a variety of video slots, simply offering more elaborate graphics, very much as if you’re watching an animated movie. The game mechanics you can expect are usually the same as with simpler looking video slots, which means you can get a variety of special features here as well. There may, however, be more animations and special effects when you play these slots, which adds to the entertainment value.
We have a comprehensive article about progressive jackpots, where you’ll learn more about them. Progressives can be classic slots, video slots and 3D slots and the one thing they have in common is a progressive jackpot that you can win here.
The reel symbols are an essential feature of any slot game and there can be a number of different types you may encounter in video slots. Often classic slots won’t have special symbols, though more modern ones now incorporate wilds or bonus symbols as well.
The majority of symbols on the reels are pretty standard. Apart from the fact that they can show items pertaining to the theme of the slot, you’ll often find low-paying card symbols either showing the number or the suite. A themed symbol tends to be of higher value instead. Standard symbols have different values assigned to them. You’ll have to check the specific game rules to find out which ones are the highest value symbols and go from there.
Standard symbols almost always have to be matched up on one payline with at least three in a row, with some slots two matching symbols lining up from the left-most reel is an option as well. The best combination you can usually get is five-of-a-kind on a payline.
Bonus and scatter symbols are not necessarily the same. You may even get both in one and the same slot. Scatter symbols can often appear anywhere on the reels (hence the name) and will trigger a win if you get at least three of them. They may also trigger a bonus feature.
Bonus symbols often have to appear on certain reels (though they can also appear anywhere on the reels) and will always trigger a bonus game, feature or free spins. Bonus and scatter symbols will always stand out among the standard symbols of the game, so that they may be more easily recognised.
The third common type of symbol is the wild symbol. A wild will often actually say “WILD” in some form, so it really is easily recognised. Wilds are joker symbols that substitute for any standard symbol. Usually they will not substitute scatters or bonus symbols, however. Thus a wild can end up making a winning combination happen, if it lands in the right place on a paylines.
There are different types of wilds as well. The standard wild will simply substitute for a standard symbol. Expanding wilds are able to expand in one or more direction across the reels, depending on the rules of the slot. Sticky wilds will stick to their position on the reels for at least one additional spin, sometimes even more. And stacked wilds are just that: they cover multiple symbols stacked on the reels.
Paylines are an essential part of slots. In classic slots you may only find one payline, which is usual the central row on the three reels. Only three matching symbols landing on that row will pay out a win. With video slots you usually get as few as 10 paylines and as many as 4,096 (depending on how many rows and reels you have). On a 5×3 slot the maximum number of paylines would be 243, which means any three matching symbols on adjacent reels beginning on the left-most reel will yield a win.
Since the set-up of paylines is a varied as the slots you can encounter, you should always check the rules of a particular game to find out which lines it offers. That being said, it’s difficult to keep a track of more than 10 paylines, because patterns become more confusing the more lines are available. Eventually you just have to hope to somehow spin a winning combination on the reels and leave it at that.
Your stake, by the way, is directly linked to the number of paylines available. Plenty of slots allow you to choose the number of paylines you wish to play. If you choose fewer, your wager will be lower. But if you choose more lines, your chances of scoring a winning combination increase, though you will also stake more money.
Choosing paylines is usually for more budget conscious players. Though keep in mind that plenty of slots also have set paylines and you can only adjust the number of coins you wish to wager, but not the number of paylines.
Free spins and bonus games
The majority of video slots will feature free spins or other kinds of bonus games. There are still plenty of video slots around that don’t offer so-called side-games, but they will have some sort of feature that make them special and worthwhile. One such game is the popular Starburst slot, where you get neither free spins nor a bonus game, but a bonus feature that involves expanding sticky wilds and re-spins.
The simplest form of a bonus game are free spins. That generally requires you to spin three or more bonus or free spin symbols onto the reels in order to trigger the free spins. Once again, the variety of what to expect is quite staggering. Typically you get a number of free spins, where you don’t pay anything extra for each of those spins, but wins are calculated according to the stake you had set when the bonus game was featured.
Free spins can have special features enabled, which often involve extra wild symbols or so-called multipliers. When a multiplier is available (which can also be the case during the base game) wins on a payline are multiplied by whatever the multiplier is set at (often 2x to 10x the stake, but more is possible).
In order to learn what to expect with a particular free spin bonus, you will always have to read the rules of a given slot.
Bonus games can be free spins, but there is also a variety of mini games that can be played. Nowadays slot developers have added quite a range of those games in order to remain competitive and interesting. A simple bonus game is often a pick-me type of game, where you have to click on items on a screen to reveal coin prizes.
Slots such as NetEnt’s Theme Park, Koi Princess or Fairytale Legends: Red Riding Hood offer up bonus games that are quite different to what you usually find.
In these and other slots you’ll also get bonus features that are triggered in the base game, which adds to the fun and allows you to win extra coins to keep you going.
The average return to player (RTP) is also an important aspect of a slot game. Almost all slot providers will let you know what the theoretical RTP of a given slot is. The return to player rate is calculated as a percentage and essentially means that you can typically expect to win that percentage across all games you play on that slot.
The average RTP for a slot is somewhere between 94 and 96%. That means, if you play a given slot for €100 you may receive €94 to €96 back. Lower as well as higher percentages are possible, however.
If the RTP is particularly high, you may not necessarily win often when playing that game, but may win higher amounts. On the other side it’s also possible to win more frequently, but smaller amounts of coins.
It really all depends on how the random number generator is set.
Almost all casino game providers also make slots. They differ vastly in quality, innovation and gameplay, mind you. Some of the most well-known slot developers have been around for over a decade. Among them are Microgaming, Net Entertainment, Playtech and IGT.
Betsoft is particularly well-known for the 3D slots.
Newer gaming studios include Yggdrasil Gaming, ELK Studios, Play’n GO, Thunderkick or Quickspin.
Whilst all slots share similar functionality, design varies quite a bit. And you will find that you can almost always tell which provider a game comes from by the design choices made.
Ηοw to play slots?
Speaking of functionality, let’s briefly summarise how to actually play slots. A few things we already mentioned. You get the reels and all the different symbols and at an online casino you push a virtual button to get the reels spinning.
The first thing you should do is read the rules of a given slot game. That way you’ll know which bonus games may be triggered and what special features, if any, may be available during the base game. You’ll also know which symbols are the highest paying ones, though there’s virtually nothing you can do to influence where they land on the reels.
Decide on the paylines you want to play (if that’s an option) and then choose the amount of coins you want to wager. Next you may be able to simply hit the spin button yourself or set the auto-play according to the number of spins you wish to play, which allows you to simply watch the reels.
If you hit a bonus feature, you may be required to make additional choices or click on symbols, but that’s really about it. Quite simple and straightforward. Do make sure to keep an eye on your budget, however. Especially when using the auto-play button, because coins may disappear more quickly than you might think.
Some slot tips
There aren’t any real strategies that will guarantee your success at the slots. Since the random number generator dictates the game, it’s usually sheer dumb luck that determines whether you win something or not. That’s no different to land-based slots at casinos.
But there are a few things you can do to ensure more wins:
- Bet on all paylines – there really is no point to limiting your paylines as you may miss out on potential wins, even though your overall stake will be higher.
- Always check the rules – Sometimes jackpots or bonus games are only triggered when you stake a certain amount of coins. You don’t want to miss out on those rules.
- Play for fun first – All slots allow you to play in the demo or for-fun mode. This means you won’t stake real money, but you can still get to know the game. You’ll learn whether or not you like the slot and how to trigger the bonus features.
Needless to say that slots can also be played on mobile devices. As long as you have a decent smart phone or tablet and a great mobile casino, playing slots via mobile can be a lot of fun.
You’ll be playing the so-called touch version on a slot, which usually looks somewhat different to the desktop version of the slot. That’s owed to the fact that you’re not using a mouse or keypad as your input device but will touch your finger directly to the screen.
The features of a given slot are the same ones you get when playing on your computer, some mechanics may have been simplified, however, because the screen size here is limited and not all effects will adapt to the small screen. So don’t expect the same experience that you get on the computer.
Best casinos to play slots at
There are hundreds of online casinos out there and thousands of slot games. You may find just about any combination of slot developers at those casinos, which means you’ll never really find the same set of games at two casinos.
The majority of games available at online casinos will always be slots, simply because they are available in the greatest variety out of all online casinos games. Still, some casinos put a particular focus on slots, neglecting table games and other products. That is usually reflected in bonus offers and promotions, which tend to favour free spins.
So, if you love slots, look out for the following aspects in the best online casinos to play slots at:
- Number of available slots
- Variety of slot providers (the more the better)
- Free spin offers
- Wagering requirements for free spins (no wagering required is best, but as long as the wagering requirements are lower than those for bonus cash, you’re good)
As always check for the reputation of the casino as well. Our comprehensive guide on online casinos and how to choose the best will offer you some additional aspects to look out for.
And if you know of a casino that is particularly well suited to slot players, be sure to let us know.