How to play slots – a beginner’s guide

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Playing at online casinos is a pastime enjoyed by millions of people around the world. The many online casinos available offer plenty of different games and possibly the biggest, most well known category of games is the online slot.

Some people may think there’s nothing to playing a slot – simply click the button and see what Lady Luck has in store for you on that spin. To some extent, that is true. There is no skill element to playing slot games. However, that doesn’t mean that players can’t benefit from knowing more about a game and its slot features.

With that, we welcome you to our slots guide! Below is all the information we think a new player should know about slot games and how to use that knowledge to enjoy a better gambling experience. We have also published a glossary of important slot terms, which explains the most commonly seen phrases used to describe these casino games.

Table of contents:

What is a slot?

A slot game is comprised of reels that spin. On these reels are a preset number of spaces, which are occupied by symbols. These symbols have different values assigned to them and combinations of these symbols will result in a win.

The slot software has paylines built into it. When certain combinations of symbols land in these patterns, a win is calculated. Most slots include special symbols such as Wilds, Bonus symbols, Scatters and others. The behaviour and value of these symbols is outlined in the game’s paytable.

Many slots include bonus features. These are triggered by specific combinations of symbols or conditions during the game. Game developers can be very creative when it comes to devising the bonus features, which are intended to add further value to players.

Slots are a versatile medium and developers can and do experiment with new symbols and features quite often. No two slots are exactly alike and this is what makes them such an appealing game type to so many players.

Different types of slots - fruit slots, video slots, slot games, jackpots and 3D slots

Different types of slots

The slot game genre is broad and varied. Some games defy even the most basic characteristics of what we would deem necessary to be considered a slot and yet, they are still slots!

Let’s take a look at the many different kinds of slot games available but remember – the next big, trend-bucking title might be just around the corner and our definition could be thrown out the window!

Slots

This term is simply the name of a very varied category of games. These games share some basic components – a set of symbols and a mechanism that displays random combinations of them in some way.

Certain slots use reels, others don’t. Some slots have bonus features, some don’t. You get the picture!

Fruit slot machines

This type of slot is characterised by the presence of fruit symbols, which will often remind players of the classic slot machine one might find in a casino.

Aside from the presence of fruit symbols, fruit slots need not stick to the old-style 3×3 reel layout to be part of this group. Indeed, most fruit slots these days have many more reels and even bonus features included.

Video slots

The term video slots is used to describe the visual element of a game. Video slots usually use more modern design and animation, and are a great way for the game developer to show off their creativity and skills.

In most cases, there is some form of moving animation aside from the reels, usually off to the side of the game or as part of a bonus feature.

Jackpot slots

This term is used to describe the type of prize a slot offers i.e. a jackpot. Jackpot slots can be of any shape and size as long as they have a jackpot prize on offer.

Jackpots can be local, network, fixed or progressive, terms we explain further in our jackpot slots guide.

3D slots

3D slots are games that use 3D rendering instead of 2D design. To get an idea of what we mean, think of films like Toy Story and Finding Nemo – these are both rendered in 3D, giving them more depth.

3D slots use the same technology to give them a particularly modern appearance.

Basic slot features

We know a slot game when we see one. There’s little risk of confusing a slot for a roulette game or a poker game. But what components actually go into creating a slot game?

Here’s a quick round-up of the basic features included in the majority of slot games today.

Reels and rows

Reels are the vertical parts of a slot that spin while rows are the horizontal groups of symbols that land side-by-side when the reels spin.

3-reel slots

As a rule, most slots will have an equal or greater number of reels to rows so in the case of 3-reel slots, they are more likely to have only 3 rows.

These simple slots are popular with fans of the vintage slot machine style games as well as new players just finding their feet.

5-reel slots

A popular layout for a slot game is 5×3, which is 5 reels and 3 rows. This format allows the developer room to add features to the game, unlike 3-reel slots, which are limited in this way.

Slots with more reels

There are really very few rules when it comes to designing games so developers often take liberties with the slot layout.

It’s not unusual to come across 7×7 reel sets, which provide a whopping 49 spaces for things win lines, game features and more. The sky’s the limit when it comes to game format!

Slots with expanding reels

Players will often see games with expanding reels. What this means is that the game has a certain number of reels during the base game, five for example, but an extra reel or reels are added on via a bonus feature.

Adding one or more reels will increase the number of symbol spaces and often impacts the number of ways to win.

Slot symbols like low-value sumbols and high-value symbols

Slot symbols

A game cannot be a slot without symbols. These icons determine everything from wins to triggering bonus features and adding to collection features.

Low value symbols

The paytable in a slot game will display a range of symbols, ranked in order of value. The low value symbols will pay out less than high value symbols when a winning combination lands on a payline. The royal suit symbols – A, K, Q, J, 10 and 9 – are often low value symbols in slots that use them.

High value symbols

These symbols are worth a lot more when the game pays out a win. While the run-of-the-mill royal suits are often low value, the high value symbols in a game are usually unique to that title, depicting specific characters or motifs that are closely tied with the game’s theme.

Bet lines and coin value

A bet line or payline is a pattern drawn across the game screen. These can be straight across, vertical, horizontal, or even in a zigzag shape. When a combination of identical symbols lands in one of these patterns, the game counts this as a win.

Players can land wins on multiple bet lines on the same spin and the value of the contributing symbols will determine how much is paid out.

When wagering on a slot, the player does not use their real money directly. The game uses coins instead and the player can assign a real cash value to each coin. For example, a player may choose to assign a value of £0.50 to a coin for one round and £1 in the next round.

Coin value also determines the bet size per spin. Wagering ten coins worth £1 each on a spin means a bet of £10 in total, but a wager of ten coins worth £0.50 each is worth half that amount.

Low and high bet slots

Slot games differ on the range of bets they allow, though many sit in the average, middle ground. Low bet slots let players wager very small minimum amounts, sometimes as little at £0.01.

High bet slots have a high maximum limit, sometimes reaching up to £200 per spin. Players who prefer betting high will naturally gravitate towards high bet slots and vice versa for those who like making small bets.

Pay lines and pay table explained

Pay lines and paytable

Pay lines are also called bet lines, which we have explained above. A paytable is where players will find information on the value of symbols, bonus features and how to trigger them.

The paytable can be launched using a button normally found at the bottom of the game screen, somewhere in the vicinity of the ‘Spin’ button.

Fixed vs flexible pay lines

A slot with fixed paylines does not allow the player to choose which to bet on. A game with 10 fixed paylines will always be played with 10 active paylines and the player’s bet always covers all of them.

Having flexible pay lines means that players can pick and choose which to bet on. This is most commonly seen in games with large number of paylines. The player can select which lines to bet on, keeping in mind that the more active lines chosen mean the bet is necessarily bigger per spin.

243 ways to win

This is an increasingly popular slot payout feature, with perhaps the most well-known proponent being NetEnt’s slot Aloha! Cluster Pays. ‘Clusters pay’ is another way this mechanism has been described.

This type of game does not use paylines but calculates wins based on three or more symbols landing directly adjacent to one another, no matter the pattern.

Win both ways

This phrase is used to describe pay lines. In a lot of games, the lines go from left to right but in some games, players ‘win both ways’ i.e. in both directions.

If a slot does not specify, it’s safe to assume it only pays out on winning combinations going from left to right.

Autoplay

A large proportion of slot games offer an autoplay feature. This basically spins the reels on behalf of the player, who can simply watch or perhaps navigate to another page.

The player can choose how many spins they would like and the bet size and then press the Autoplay button.

Special features of slots - wilds, scatters, free spins, re-spins, multipliers, bonus game, nudge feature

Special features of slots

If you want to learn how to play slots properly, you will need to be familiar with some commonly used features.

As we said before, game developers can get all kinds of crazy with their features, making up brand-new ones, repurposing old ones and generally making this a very exciting sector to explore.

Wilds

Wilds are probably the most popular special symbol around. Even slots have that zero other features are likely to have a Wild.

Normal Wilds

This symbol basically stands in for any other symbol, except (usually) other special symbols like Scatters. Wilds can have their own value assigned or can assume the value of the symbol they are substituting for.

Wilds that cover the whole reel

These stacks of Wild symbols can be very good news for a lucky player as having a whole reel of Wilds will increase the likelihood of hitting a win.

Expanding Wilds

Unlike the Wilds that cover a whole reel, Expanding Wilds will land as a single symbol but will grow to cover more reel spaces once the spin is complete.

Moving/Wandering Wilds

These guys just won’t sit still! Once a spin is complete, a Wandering Wild will shift position in a certain way, as outlined in the game’s paytable.

Sticky Wilds

The polar opposite of their cousins the Wandering Wild, Sticky Wilds are happy to stay put. These Wilds will remain locked in place for a specified number of spins or until a feature is complete.

Scatters

These special symbols can also be referred to as Bonus symbols. Landing a specified number of these symbols can trigger a game feature. Scatters are rarely able to be substituted by Wilds.

Free Spins

Pretty much does what it says on the tin – these are bonus rounds that do not cost the player anything. Free Spins are often where the developer will include special features, prizes or symbols, which explains why free spins are so popular a feature with players.

Re-Spins

Players sometimes confuse re-spins and free spins. Re-spins are simply a ‘second chance spin’, so to speak. The game conditions remain the same i.e. no bonus has been activated, but they can still be lucrative for players.

Multipliers

Some games include multiplier features. These can either be triggered via certain symbols, accumulated over several spins or awarded as part of a bonus feature. These will multiply a win by the specified amount.

Bonus Game

Certain slots offer bonus games, built in ‘mini games’ that add to the gambling experience. Most if not all bonus games have no skill element and are as completely random as the main slot game.

Different types of bonus games

Again, there are no hard and fast rules to what a bonus game should and should not be like but there are a few popular formats around. The ‘pick and click’ bonus game presents the player with a number of things to choose from, each containing a prize.

Prizes can include coin wins, bonus feature activation, multipliers or free spins. The player chooses the chest, bauble, seashell or whatever it is and receives the prize.

The bonus wheel is also a popular choice. This is simply a wheel covered in prizes that the player spins. Whichever prize the wheel lands on is awarded to the player.

Nudge

This feature comes in handy when a player narrowly misses landing a desirable combination. The Nudge will… well, nudge the reels slightly, usually by just one space, and giving the player a chance to beat a near-miss situation.

Gamble feature

When a player lands a win, some slots will offer the Gamble feature, which the player is free not to accept. If they do accept, the feature offers one of two outcomes – losing the win entirely or doubling it.

The feature usually takes the shape of a guessing game, whereby the player bets their win on the result of a random event, usually the next card drawn from a deck. The Gamble can add thrills to players who enjoy a little extra risk in their play.

Choose slot games based on your budget and playing style

Choose slots based on your budget and playing style

There is no one-slot-fits-all out there and one player’s favourite may not be another’s cup of tea. The games we choose to play depend on two factors primarily: budget and playing style.

Players with a small budget are likely to prioritise prolonged gambling time over big wins, which usually come with larger risks. Those with big budgets have more room to find a combination of high risk and low risk slots.

Playing style also has a direct impact. Do you prefer short, intense gambling sessions? Or are you more of a casual player? Learning about volatility can also help inform your choice of suitable slot games.

Do you want to know more about how to choose the best slot for you? Read our tips for choosing an online slot!

The games we choose to play depend on two factors primarily: budget and playing style.

What are slot tournaments?

Slot tournaments are competitions hosted by online casinos. They are often based on a leaderboard format, with players collecting points in an effort to reach the top ranks and win bigger prizes.

Tournaments can vary in what they ask players to do. Some are wagering challenges, which mean that the player who wagers the most on a specific slot will be rewarded. In other cases, points are awarded each time a particular feature or features is triggered in the slot game in questions. Some tournaments measure performance based on the net wins a player lands.

Slot tournaments can add an extra sense of competition to casino play and most offer appealing prizes to incentivise participation.

Summary

Slot games are big business and a number of first-class providers have emerged as creative and competitive game developers. Players really are spoilt for choice but having that many options can be daunting if you don’t know where to start.

Our guide to slots games should prepare you for all the terms, phrases, features and contests this exciting genre can throw at you. Always remember to play for fun and only visit reputable casinos. Enjoy!