On this page, you’ll discover all about these classic slots, how they work and why you should be playing them. We’ll also share our top 10 list of the best 3-reel slot machines and several tips on how to play better and win.
Classic 3 Reel Slots – Where It All Started
Following the first-ever slot machine built in California in 1894, the first 3-reel machine design with automatic payouts was created just 4 years later. This is said to be the machine design from which all classic fruit slots were copied. With time, digital technology moved land-based slot machines online, giving all game developers the possibility to experiment with 3-reel slots in all kinds of crazy ways.
Today, we have many versions of 3-reel slot machines, and while they differ in paylines, payouts and designs, the one thing that they still have in common is the 3×3 reel setup. As with many things though, the desire to offer something fresh and exciting has pushed the game studios to come up with new mechanics and an increased set of reels. And so the 3-reel slots were reshaped into 5 reel-slots and even multi-line slots for more entertainment, fun themes with backstories and better winnings odds. But despite all the improvements, classic games still remain one of the most popular slot categories.
Seeing Triple? Match up 3 Symbols for Payouts
So how does a 3-reel slot work? In most 3-reel slots, matching 2 or 3 symbols of a kind on a payline will generate a win. Once that line crosses through one symbol on each reel, your gains will be calculated, usually from left to right, before the next spin. In classic slots, these symbols will be all kinds of fruit, but in contemporary versions of a classic slot, they can be literally anything.
Traditional 3-reel slots come with just one payline, but more recent 3-reel slots can also have up to 10 paylines positioned horizontally, vertically or diagonally. It always helps to look up the paytable before playing to see how wins are formed on a particular slot.
3 Reel Slots – Why Do Players Love Them So Much?
Classic 3-reel slots are great for newbies just getting used to these games because they are super simple and don’t come cluttered with unnecessary bonus features. Though more bonus features don’t always translate into more frequent wins. In modern slots, some features are added purely for visual effect rather than win outcome.
With 3-reel slots, less is more, plus they can pay out quite well compared to modern slots because you don’t need to trigger so many features. Betting on fewer paylines also comes as an advantage because it can help your budget last longer. However, in many cases, you’ll have to bet the max to achieve the slot’s ultimate exposure.
One other reason why seasoned players love 3-reel slots so much is the sentimental value that many of them hold. Some of the classic slots can indeed come across as dull to the new-generation punters, but veterans still long for that old good land-casino slot machine feel.
How to Play 3 Reel Slots
You don’t need to be a slot expert to play 3-reel slots, but it always helps to check the paytable first before you play for real money. Knowing your stats and symbols will help you understand what’s happening on the reels and where those wins are coming from.
Once you’ve looked through the table and noted what the wilds, scatters and other symbols are, what they do and how much they pay, you can set your bet. Depending on the slot, you can place your bet per spin or per payline. For slots with more than one payline, you’ll want to bet on all paylines – you don’t want to miss out on a winning combination formed on a payline that you didn’t bet on.
When your bets are all set, all you’re left to do is press the spin button to start the game. With some slot machines, for quicker gameplay, you can press the same button for the reels to stop faster.
If a gamble feature is available, you might want to try it out. This feature is a simple guessing game which may double any win from that single spin if you guess correctly. But if you guess wrong, you’ll lose them all, that is the nature of the gamble feature.
To learn more about the most common bonus features in a 3 reel slot game, follow the table below where we briefly explain what benefits each of these features bring to your gameplay:
|Wilds||Wilds are the most common features in online slots and come in many different types, shapes and designs. But regardless of their appearance, the main duty of a wild symbol in a 3-reel slot is to substitute for other paying symbols to form a winning line. In most cases, wilds will not fill in for scatters, free spins or bonus symbols.|
|Scatters||A scatter symbol is the second most common bonus feature in an online slot but might not always be included in 3-reel slots. If they are, they act as special symbols and usually trigger various bonus rounds. How many of them, where you have to land them on the reels and what bonus feature they trigger depends on each game. Usually 3 or more scatters anywhere on the reels can activate a round of free spins. In some classic slots, where there are no free spins, you may only get a payout from multiple scatters according to the payable. Scatters also do not have to follow paylines, so they can pay from scattered positions.|
|Free Spins or Respins||Free spins (not to be confused with casino bonuses) often appear in slots as a lucrative bonus feature that doesn’t cost you anything to spin. For example, if you triggered 10 free spins, you’ll get 10 consecutive free spins which will not come out from your play balance. The good news is, you’ll still be able to form winning combinations. Anything you win during the free spins round, will be added to your play balance. A respins is another wishful feature that gives you a second chance to boost your bankroll. When a respin triggers on a reel, that reel stays sticky or locked in place while the remaining reel(s) spin for more possible winning combinations.|
|Jackpots||It’s rare for classic slots to have jackpots, but the newer versions of 3-reel slots may include them. Jackpots are special prizes that can be fixed or progressive, depending on the slot machine. Some slots may have a mix of multiple fixed jackpots and progressive jackpots included with prizes varying in size.|
As we’ve briefly mentioned, not all 3-reel slots come equipped with scatters, free spins rounds or jackpots. These types of bonus features are more common in 5 reel slots and vary from slot to slot depending on the game developer.
Top 10 3 Reel Slots
Too much choice online? Not sure where to begin playing 3-reels slots? Here are the top 10 classic slots from various developers that could be a good starting point:
|3 REEL SLOT||RTP|
|7s on Fire||95.10%|
|Charlie Chance in Hell to Pay||96.23%|
|Super Burning Wins: Respin||96%|
|Wild Burning Wins: 5 Lines||96.3%|
7s on Fire
The basic 7s on Fire slot from Barcrest is the perfect example of a 3×3 fruit slot that is as simple as a classic slot can be. The only bonus feature that’s included in this game is the Big Bet Spins round where the flaming double 7 substitutes for all symbols. However, despite the lack of bonus features and thanks to high variance, you could still win a decent payout of 1,250x your bet per spin.
NetEnt’s iconic Mega Joker is one of those rare slots to come with high variance and an exceptionally high RTP of 99%, a dream combination for any slots fan. But there’s even more to this 3-reel, 3-row and 5-payline classic fruit slot. Not only does it feature mystery wins and a supermeter mode, but also hosts a progressive jackpot which triggers randomly in the basic mode.
Charlie Chance in Hell to Pay
As time goes by, 3-reel slots evolve into unique fruit games that entertain a myriad of bonus features while still keeping their classic 3×3 design. For a classic slot, Charlie Chance in Hell to Pay features even more perks than some of the 5-reel video slots.
The features include wilds, instant cash awards, 8 free spins, respins, random up to 25x multipliers and a devilish max payout of 6,666x your bet! This slot might be a lot to take in for a newbie, but for a seasoned player, it’s an exciting change from the oversaturated fruit slot machine scene.
If anyone has a vision and scope to reinvent a classic 3-reel slot, it’s Yggdrasil. Even though simple in appearance, their Lightning Joker slot delivers fun and rewarding gameplay.
Alongside wilds, respins and random up to 10x multipliers, the mystery win gets the star status here. Triggered with 2 or more jester symbols on a payline, the slot awards an electrifying top win of up to 10,000x your bet for 3 jokers.
Released by Quickspin, the Diamond Duke slot visually embodies a 1950s classic jukebox. While this 3-reel slot lacks any wilds, it gives you wheel scatter symbols for triggering two bonus rounds – a bonus wheel and a multiplier wheel.
Both wheels award multipliers of up to 10x when respective scatters materialise on the reels. Additionally, you get to play a multi-level pick & click feature within the bonus wheel with prizes of up to 100x your stake.
Super Burning Wins: Respin
By now you will have noticed that each developer has their own version of an improved 3×3 reel fruit slot. For Playson, it was the respin as a bonus feature that sealed the deal in their Super Burning Wins: Respin slot.
During the respin feature, two reels filled with symbols of a kind become sticky and stay in place while the remaining reels respin, pending your second chance to win. To boost your bankroll further, filling the reels with 9 identical symbols, increases your wins twofold.
Wild Burning Wins: 5 Lines
The Wild Burning Wins: 5 Lines slot is another classic 3-reel game in Playson’s repertoire that brings a land-based casino experience online. Along with the sticky respin feature, which gives another shot at winning, it also bears a twist of a bonus wheel with multipliers. The wheel comes around when reels get filled entirely with wilds or matching symbols applying a multiplier of up to 10x to your wins.
The Asian-themed Hot Chilli slot machine comes in the form of a giant bubbling hot pot containing East Asian foodstuffs for paying symbols. Once the food is cooked, you use chopsticks to remove symbols from the reels. The main ingredient here is, of course, the tongue-burning red chilli. Acting as a wild it fills in for all paying symbols except the tofu scatters and, at the same time, appears as a multiplier that can enlarge your wins up to 5x your stake.
As quite usual in classic slots, the Sticky Joker slot doesn’t have any free spins or scatters to help you out in forming winning paylines. But Play’n GO ensured that you still have other bonus features for triggering some decent payouts in this game. The wild, which is a joker symbol, does all the work here. It triggers the sticky respin feature and activates the wheel of multipliers which could potentially increase your wins 10 times. With 1,650x your stake potential, it’s a good entry slot if you’re just testing the waters.
The Respin Until you Win feature is the only bonus game that you’ll get and the only one you’ll really need to win yourself some cash in the Triple Jokers slot. In this 3-reel slot from Pragmatic Play, the jesters work as a team. When three of them land stacked on any reel, they turn wild, substitute for all other symbols and stay sticky for a respin. And the best thing is they remain locked in place until you land a win!
Which Developers Make the Best 3 Reel Slots?
Behind every top-rated 3-reel slot there’s always a top-rated games developer, and these five game studios are some of the most notable for designing classic slots with a modern twist:
John’s Tips to Win at 3 Reel Slots
In essence, slot machines are designed to pay out less money than they take and therefore, there is no formula as such to win on 3-reel slots. But these five simple tips will help you play better, extend your gameplay and maybe even win on a slot machine of your choice.
Play for fun first
Find an online casino that gives free spins or other casino bonuses on 3-reel slots. Playing for fun before you spend your cash will help you get to know the slot machine and all its features. It will allow you to have a better feel for payouts and how difficult it is to trigger bonus features if there are any in the slot. Playing for fun can also help determine whether you like the slot, instead of blindly investing your cash and losing it on a game that you might not even enjoy that much.
Do your research
Don’t just jump on any slot you come across, check the reviews and see what other players say about the payouts and overall gameplay. Some slots, especially branded, look fantastic and offer bountiful bonus features, but that doesn’t mean they pay out all that well.
If you need a helping hand in choosing some of the best slots to win on, check out our slot reviews page. Here we talk about each bonus feature, payouts and key stats, including volatility and RTP to help players decide whether the slot suits their style and budget.
Play with the max bet
When playing 3-reel slots with multiple paylines, be sure to bet max and activate all paylines to increase your chances of hitting a winning combination. If you don’t, chances to land a win on a non-active line are pretty high. Most slots award the max prize or jackpots only if you bet the max amount per spin, so be sure to check the rules of each slot before playing.
Play higher RTP slots
Higher RTP percentage means that your return on investment will be more promising too. The industry’s average return to player rate is around the 95% mark, but slots with jackpots may have it set to a lower percentage. Unless you really like a particular slot with lower RTP, play slots that have an RTP between 95%-99%. This figure indicates that a slot machine is worth your time and money.
Know the volatility
What kind of wins are you after? The riskier the game, the bigger the payouts, so you’ll need to decide what payout patterns suit your gaming style and budget. Low volatility is perfect for new slots players who want to learn more about the mechanics of the slot. These slots will usually be fast-paced with frequent but smaller wins.
Medium to high volatility slots are popular among seasoned players who are after big wins. These slots require patience because of infrequent payouts which are much harder to hit but are significant in size once they land.
Can I Play for Free with a 3 Reel Slots No Deposit Bonus?
Our ever-growing list of top-rated UK online casinos will help you find the best 3-reel slots to play for fun and real money. Many of these online casinos not only host a plethora of classic slots but also offer attractive casino bonuses to all their new players. These bonuses range from cash to free spins and bonus spins. These offer you a great opportunity to test many popular slots for free before you make a single wager.
Claim a bonus to play 3 reel slots for free:
Check Out the Latest 3 Reel Slots at JohnSlots!
Playing classic 3-reel slots can be a great introduction to the slots world, or they can provide a relaxing getaway to the more complex 5-reel slots. Either way, to find your favourite slots quickly, head to our slot reviews library and use the handy search tool to find your favourites. On this up-to-date list, you’ll find both the time-tested classics and modernised 3-reel online slots. Or, if you aren’t sure where to start, check out our recommendations for some of the best 3 reel slots right here!
Online Slot Expert
Leanna Madden is an expert in online slots, specializing in analyzing game providers and evaluating the quality and variety of slot games. With her extensive knowledge, she guides players to the best slot options, including high RTP slots and those with exciting bonus features. Leanna's insights help players make informed decisions and enjoy rewarding slot experiences at online casinos.More info on Leanna Madden
Facts checked by Leanna Madden , Senior author