Beginner's Guide to Slots

A slot machine is a game where the player activates spinning reels, and when those reels come to a stop, wins or loses based on the displayed combination of symbols. Slot machines also go by the names slots, pokies, fruit machines and one-armed bandits, and they are currently the most popular form of gambling online and at brick-and-mortar casinos worldwide.

Traditional vs. Online Slots

The original slot machine was an actual machine with gears, and it used an actual pull handle to activate; hence the term “one-armed bandit.” Eventually, circuit boards and monitors replaced gears, pull handles and physical reels. These video slot machines were much faster and able to support a wide range of features that simply weren’t possible with a classic machine. Online slots are similar to video slot machines except that they run on your computer and don’t require a physical container.

The Basics of Online Slots

The focus of this how-to-play guide is online slots. Online slots are similar to physical slots. They generally have three or five reels and a series of symbols that can display in a wide array of combinations. The standard reel type is the spinning reel; a common alternative is the tumbling reel, which allows symbols to tumble into spaces vacated by winning combinations. A pay line, also called a bet line or win line, is a route, from left to right, where a winning combination can form. The simplest pay line is a straight row, but pay lines can be irregular rows, diagonals and even columns.

How to Play Slots Online

You can play online slots in your web browser, via a desktop client, or using a mobile app. Many online casinos offer their slot games in all of those varieties. In addition to the standard “real cash” or “real money” mode, many casinos offer an arcade mode. This mode, also called a demo or practice mode, uses a pool of funny money rather than your casino account. This practice is an example opportunity to sample and learn a game before staking your own money.

Most slots machines are preconfigured for the average player, so playing is often as simple as clicking the Spin button. Most machines also have a Bet Max button that sets the maximum wager and then spins. Optionally, you can adjust the coin size, number of coins per line and active pay lines. The total bet equals the coin size times the number of coins per line times the number of lines in play.

General Rules

Each online slot machine has a pay table, which is a key that lists symbols, winning combinations, combo values and special features. Winning combos only pay out when on an active pay line. Most machines do not require all lines to be active. A scatter feature is usually an exception to the active line rule; this feature usually pays out when two or more scatter symbols are anywhere on the reels. Some machines use an “all ways” format with 243 or even 1,024 ways to win. In this setup, all win lines are automatically active each spin. The cost of such an advantage is a bet multiplier, which usually ranges from 25-50.

How to Choose an Online Slot Machine

Many people choose a slot machine based on fun factor. If you want to maximize your win odds, however, then you need to consider factors like the jackpot, return-to-player (RTP) rate, and the win variance. Special features are also factors but generally difficult to gauge.

RTP Percentage

The single most important factor when evaluating a slot machine is its RTP percentage or rate. Usually, the RTP rate is determined by an independent third party and then published by the casino. It is an indication of how much money is returned to the players. If a game has a 96% RTP and takes in $1,000, $40 goes to the casino and $960 goes to the players in the form of winnings. Like odds, an RTP is only true over time, and the actual RTP for any particular day or lesser period may be much lower or higher.


To assess a slot machine accurately, you must evaluate the RTP in context. An important part of that context is variance, which indicates how frequently the game awards a win. RTP indicates the prize pool available to the entire player base, but you are only one small aspect of that base. Variance indicates how often you are likely to get a piece of the pie, and a low variance is more favorable to you.


The other important aspect of context is traffic or take-in; how much does the machine gross? A high RTP may be inconsequential if few players play that machine. Traffic and take-in numbers are not always available, but the jackpot size is a good indication. Generally, machines with higher jackpots will have more traffic. This is particularly true with progressive jackpots, which are jackpots that continue to grow in size until somebody wins them. You can even use them to gauge a machine’s traffic level.

Bankroll Strategy

Slots are a game of chance, but you can maximize your win odds by choosing your slots wisely and also by maximizing your bankroll. The first step is to keep a journal. Know what, where, when, why and how you win and lose. Identify patterns, which you can then use to adjust your play style. Beyond the journal, the most important step in maximizing your bankroll is taking advantage of casino promotions.

Promotions come in many forms, including welcome bonuses, reload bonuses, loyalty programs and free spins. A loyalty is particularly important. Choose a lucrative program and then be loyal to that casino. Keep in mind that most bonuses have a wagering requirement. When meeting that requirement, it is best to focus on machines with low variance. This focus may sacrifice total prize money, but it will increase win frequency, which will allow you to meet requirements, which usually have a deadline.  


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Author Kingsino Staff
Date August 20 2012
Tags Beginner Guide, Slots