A Beginner’s Guide to Online Slots: Common Variations

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Before the age of the online casino, slot machines were restricted by what the manufacturers could put in the box. However, the advent of the internet unleashed the creative imaginations of software and game designers. Players can embark on epic magical journeys; explore other countries or historical periods; and meet film stars, gods and monsters.

Yet despite the large variety that modern gamblers now enjoy, there is still much these game types have in common. Read on for a rundown on some of the online slots you might come across.

Classic 3-Reel Slots

Taking inspiration from the old one-armed bandits and fruit machines that populated early brick-and-mortar casinos, the online versions pay tribute to those very machines. While they might not have the bonus features, graphics or stories that come with more modern video slots, they are easy and fun to play.

Players try to match three symbols—usually the cherries, bells, grapes, lemons, melons and bars borrowed from the classic fruit-themed machines. IGT’s Double Diamond and Triple Diamond games use the bar symbols and the lucky 7s.

Standard 5-Reel Slot

By far the most common online slots today feature five reels, with paylines ranging from five to 50, although they can go much, much higher. This platform is home to the most popular 3D video slots, which feature high-end graphics and stellar sound to offer a video game experience.

Many of these games have a narrative story along with a number of bonus games that can be activated during the main play. These use scatter and wild symbols to offer multipliers, free spins and cash wins, providing players with more ways to win than matching symbols on a payline.

Well-known 5-reel slots include NetEnt’s Gonzo’s Quest, Amaya’s Druidess Gold and Williams Interactive’s OMG! Kittens. It is also common to find games based on characters from films, TV shows and comic books, such as "Judge Dredd," "Planet of the Apes" or "The Voice."

243 Ways to Win and More

One of the ways in which modern online slot games have evolved has been the increased opportunities for players to win. In addition to offering bonus rounds and symbols, they have added numerous payline shapes on the same spin, meaning players could land on multiple paylines and get the best one.

Originally there were 243 ways to win on each spin, but slot makers have since created even more ways, often by expanding the reels from five to six. IGT’s game Day of the Dead offers 720 ways to win, while Williams Interactive’s game Raging Rhino features six reels and a mind-blowing 4,096 ways to win.


Online slots often have a maximum jackpot that can be won by landing a full payline of the highest-scoring symbol. Progressive jackpots offer a collective jackpot, similar to a lottery. A small portion of each player’s wagers is siphoned off into a pot. Players have a chance to win this pot, either at random or by entering a bonus round.

Progressive slots are not exclusive to online casinos and have existed for quite a while in brick-and-mortar casinos. However, in this case all the machines had to be physically linked, meaning that the collective pot grew slower than its online counterparts, where hundreds of thousands of people are playing the same game around the world, all contributing to the cash pot.

Progressive jackpot slots often have multiple jackpots up for grabs, usually slotting into one of four categories—mini, minor, major and mega—with each offering a different value. The mega jackpot is often in the millions, but the mini jackpot pays out more often. Popular progressive slots include NetEnt’s Divine Fortune and IGT’s Gong Xi Fa Cai.

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