How To Play Online Slots: A Player’s Guide

Bethany Jones
by Bethany Jones  |  Last Updated: February 19, 2024

online slots

Slots are by far the most popular games at any casino, whether it’s online or land-based. But if you’re new to the gambling world, maybe you don’t actually know how to play online slots? Well, if that sounds like you, our guide is here to help.

First of all, we’ll walk you through the basics of online slot machines, before explaining a few more advanced concepts. Then we’ll share some tips on how to win playing slots, before revealing what to look for in a good casino.

starburst slot
Starburst by NetEnt is arguably the most popular online slot created to date. It is found at most online casinos, and we’ll teach you how to get started playing this and other fantastic slots in our guide.

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Slot Machine Basics

The first thing we need to do is understand online slot machine mechanics. Let’s start then, by taking a look at the basics of slot machines.

Reels

These are the most fundamental building blocks of all slots. They will spin around with each play, randomly coming to rest to create different symbol combinations. Traditional games would feature just three reels, but more modern video slots can have anything from five upwards.

A fairly new invention is the concept of expanding reels. As the name suggests, additional reels could be added to the grid if a certain outcome occurs. An excellent example of this is the Infinity Reels mechanic developed by ReelPlay. In theory, such slots can grow forever, adding an unlimited number of extra reels to the game.

Paylines

In most slots, it’s not enough for symbols to appear anywhere on the reels. Instead, they have to land in a predetermined pattern, usually from left to right, along what is known as a payline. The most primitive games feature a single line, running across the middle row of the reel grid. However, with the evolution of online casino games, the amount of possible paylines has only grown.

Software developer Big Time Gaming forever changed the slots world when they released their Megaways mechanic. This dynamic game engine changes the number of rows on each reel every spin, mixing up the number of potential paylines. Depending on the specific slot, it’s now possible to see hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of ways to win.

Symbols

The symbols found on the reels of traditional slots are fruits, as well as iconic images like bells, lucky 7s and BAR signs. But these days, with all sorts of diverse themes available, they can vary greatly. However they look, you must match a specific number of same-type symbols to win a prize according to the game’s paytable.

Aside from these regular symbols, there are a number of bonus icons too. Wild symbols substitute for others, creating wins from nothing. Scatters trigger special events, such as bonus games. While the more innovative slot developers each have their own signature symbols which perform all kinds of weird and wonderful actions.

Jackpots

Many slots offer some kind of jackpot. That could be fixed, where you’ll earn the game’s maximum possible payout by performing a specific task. More often than not, this result is triggered by collecting a number of special symbols on a payline.

However, you’ll also find progressive jackpots, where a percentage of every wager is added to an ever-growing prize pool. Eventually, someone will land the lucky combination and win the lot. The Mega Moolah series is perhaps the most famous example, since their progressive jackpots frequently reach eight-figure payouts!

Modern Mechanics

A key part of learning how to play slot machines online is to understand each specific game’s mechanics. If it uses something like the aforementioned Infinity Reels or Megaways engines, the action will play out very differently than a traditional 3×3 slot.

Keep your eyes peeled for features like cascades, tumbles and avalanches, where new symbols drop onto the grid after winning spins. A few slots adopt an “any way pay” mechanic, where winning combinations can also be formed from right to left. Many newer titles ditch paylines altogether, favoring a “cluster pays” system, requiring you to collect connecting symbols on adjacent rows and reels.

cleopatra slot from igt
The iconic Egyptian-themed Cleopatra slot by IGT showing two scatters on the reels for a win of $40.
How To Play Slots Online – FAQs
✅What are the basic rules of online slot games?

The general idea is to match symbols on a payline, though some slots use different mechanisms, like pay anywhere or cluster pays. More matches means greater rewards. We’ve explained how to play online slots games in detail elsewhere on this page.

✅What are bonus features in online slot games?

In addition to matching symbols, many slots offer bonus features with potentially lucrative rewards. These are usually triggered by landing special scatter symbols on the reels. Free spins are the most common type of bonus rounds found in modern video slots would be free spins, but other options do exist.

✅Are there any strategies to increase my chances of winning in online slots?

Everyone wants to know how to win playing slots, but there’s no magic formula to gain an advantage. Ultimately, these games are completely random, so it’s a case of crossing your fingers and hoping for good luck. Free demo games can help to minimize mistakes, however, since you can learn the rules before risking real money.

✅How do I know if an online slot game is fair and random?

Software development studios hand their casino games over to neutral third-party testing agencies. Laboratories like GLI and eCOGRA make sure that the RNGs are truly fair. They also confirm a slot’s volatility, RTP and other key specifications. Check the developer’s website for more information and only play at reputable online casinos.

✅Are there any specific etiquette guidelines for playing online slots games?

Unlike table games, there aren’t really any etiquette guidelines to worry about when learning about online gambling and slots. If you’re watching someone else play, however, try to avoid crowding them and keep your advice and opinions to yourself.

✅Can I play slots for free?

Yes, most online casinos offer free demo versions of their slots. You won’t win any money, but it’s a good way to learn the ropes without risking any cash. Some developers even release demo versions of their games, allowing players to try them out before they’re available at casinos.

✅What’s the difference between land-based and online slots?

There isn’t really any difference between the two in terms of gameplay. Both land-based and online slots operate on the same principle, using a random number generator to determine the outcome of each spin. The main difference is that online slots can be played from the comfort of your own home.

How Do I Start

Now, that you know all about the game mechanics, I’ll talk you through what you need to know about actually playine online slot machines at casinos. The following sections contain a number of key points to consider when choosing the right slot game for you.

Bet Limits

Before hitting the spin button, you’ll first need to set your desired bet size. Select the number of lines you wish to play, as well as the coin value, to determine your total wager. Every game has its own unique minimum and maximum bet size, so make sure you choose something aligned with your own bankroll.

Be aware too that many slots will exclude you from certain features unless you place the max bet. This is typical of jackpot slots, where you can only secure the progressive prize pool by maxing out the bet size.

RTP and Maximum Payout

The Return To Player rate of a slot is perhaps the most important consideration. This theoretical figure illustrates what the slot would pay back if you played for an infinite period of time. For instance, an RTP of 95.60% implies that you’d win $95.60 if you fed $100 into the machine. In other words, the house edge on this particular game would be 4.40%.

Another monetary concern is the game’s maximum potential payout per spin. In recent years, the trend among more boundary-pushing casino software developers has been to create slots with massive potential wins. The biggest we know of is Tombstone R.I.P. by Nolimit City. This January 2022 release offers a staggering maximum return of 300,000x from any given spin!

Volatility and Variance

These two words are interchangeable and essentially mean the same thing. Because slots are completely random, it’s possible to endure winning and losing streaks. This inherent variance is different within every game, however.

Some slots pay lots of little rewards on a frequent basis. Others tend to pay prizes that are greater than average, but much less frequently. The former would be classed as a low-volatility slot, since there’s less variance involved. Choosing the right volatility setting is also a financial consideration. The higher the variance, the larger the required bankroll.

Theme and Design

It’s easy to forget, among all this talk of cash, that playing slots is supposed to be about having fun. It doesn’t really matter how great the RTP is or what level of volatility is on offer, if you find the game boring. As such, it’s important to pick a slot with a theme that you’ll enjoy.

Luckily, that won’t be hard to do. There’s literally something for everyone, with diverse themes ranging from ancient history, mythology and science-fiction, to sport, movies and music. Many of these offer a truly immersive gameplay experience, thanks to cinematic soundtracks, gorgeous graphics and 3D animations. Be sure to read slot reviews before playing to see if the game is a good fit.

Bonus Features

Another important factor when choosing the perfect slot is whether or not it contains any bonus rounds. These days, it’s rare to see a slot that doesn’t at least offer some kind of free spins game or other types of bonus rounds like respins. But some older games don’t really offer any bonus rounds at all, keeping it simple with wilds, multipliers and scatters.

Naturally, it all comes down to personal preference. There’s certainly a market for retro games that invoke a sense of nostalgia and are easy to pick up and play. But generally speaking, you’ll want to look for action packed slots that contain numerous engaging bonus games and elements, alongside an interesting base game.

nolimit city Tombstone RIP
Tombstone R.I.P. by Nolimit City is a creative but controversial slot with an incredible maximum potential payout of 300,000x.

Bonus Buys and Ante Bets

If you’re still in the learning process, you might be confused by games that offer bonus buys and ante bet features. In the following section, we’ll explain exactly what these are and how they work.

Feature Buy

Most modern day slots games contain at least one exciting bonus round, often in the form of a free spins feature. In order to activate this special gameplay mode, you usually have to collect bonus symbols like scatters. Often, that means patiently waiting for the main event, while not much else happens in the meantime.

However, a recent trend among slot creators is to offer a feature buy, or bonus buy facility. This gives you immediate access to the bonus game. Naturally, it comes at a price, which is often a large multiple of your stake. For example, in Sleepy Grandpa by Backseat Gaming, you can pay 100x your stake for a shot at the bonus feature.

Ante Bet

Some games, especially those made by Pragmatic Play, offer an ante bet feature alongside, or instead of, a bonus buy. Here, the odds of triggering the bonus game are greatly enhanced for a price.

Take a look at Savage Buffalo Spirit Megaways, for example. This game has an ante bet feature called Chance x2, that literally doubles the likelihood of triggering the bonus. It’s not guaranteed of course, but it promises a more action-packed experience. The trade-off is that bets become 50% more expensive, while the RTP decreases slightly too.

Cluster Tumble slot
luster Tumble by Relax Gaming is an example of a slot that features both a cluster pays mechanic and tumbling reels.

How To Win Playing Slots

No guide to playing slots online would be complete without explaining how to win. After all, this is one of the most common questions beginners ask about such games.

Unfortunately, there’s really nothing you can do to increase your chances of winning when playing a slots game. Unlike blackjack or poker, there’s just no skill or strategy involved. Results are determined entirely by RNG software, so all you can do is spin the reels and hope for the best.

However, there are still a few things you can do to give yourself the best possible chance of success. Here are our top tips for playing slots online.

Play Online Slots for Free Without Real Money

It’s rare to see an online casino these days that doesn’t give players the chance to enjoy slots in demo mode. You don’t play with real cash, so you won’t bank any winnings from such games. Instead, they are purely for entertainment purposes, with no element of risk.

However, you can take advantage of free slots and get used to playing demos. That way, you’ll gain a greater understanding of the different rules, features and gameplay mechanics, without the possibility of a loss. If you’re going to make mistakes, it’s better to do it before gambling with real money.

Budget and Set Limits

It’s one thing to learn how to play slots online, but it’s another entirely to manage your money properly. Failing to plan properly is where things go wrong for many gamblers. Make sure you set aside money that’s specifically for gambling, instead of paying bills or living life. This is known as a bankroll.

Next, you should break your bankroll into smaller amounts, called units. These should represent a percentage of your bankroll you’re comfortable losing in a session. Make sure you walk away after one unit is lost. Continuing to play and chasing losses is a recipe for disaster. Similarly, if you’re lucky enough to win a unit, take a break. And enjoy your success.

money train 4 slot
Relax Gaming’s Money Train 4 is just one example of a popular release that players can enjoy for free in demonstration mode.

Choosing a Reputable Online Casino for Playing Slots

Now that you understand slots, the only thing left to worry about is how to find a good casino at which to play. The following section will help you to pick the best sites by explaining exactly what to look out for.

Range of Slots

Firstly, it’s important to make sure that your chosen casino offers a wide variety of games from a number of developers like the game selection at Wild Casino. Different people enjoy different games, so the greater the diversity of titles, the better. A good mixture of high and low variance slots and a selection of betting limits to suit all bankrolls is always good to see, too.

Security

A less glamorous, but equally important consideration when choosing a casino is how secure it is. Is the owner properly licensed? Does the platform offer the latest encryption security, protecting your sensitive personal data? Can you enable two-factor authentication? The last thing you want to do is risk your hard-earned cash with a rogue operator.

Bonuses and Promotions

With so many quality casinos to choose from, the size of a welcome offer can make all the difference. However, it’s vital to check there are no sneaky wagering requirements hidden in the terms and conditions. In addition to generous deposit bonuses, it’s important to see a rewarding loyalty program. Not to mention a variety of ongoing casino bonuses for regular players.

You’ll also want to find the casinos with the best no deposit bonuses.

Payment Methods

It doesn’t matter how good your chosen site is if you’re not able to make a deposit and play! That’s why we recommend finding casinos with a number of different types available, to ensure there’s a convenient choice for you. E-wallets like PayPal and Skrill are a good alternative to bank wires and credit cards. Fans of modern technology might prefer mobile payments or cryptocurrency. One of our top suggestions for a Crypto-focused casino is Ignition.

Other Games

Sometimes, it’s nice to take a break from slots and experience the excitement of another casino game. A top site will offer plenty of classic table games, like roulette, baccarat or craps, both in live dealer and animated form. It’s also good to see innovation like crash games, scratch offs and lottery-style game shows.

Start Playing Slots Today

Now that you’re familiar with how to play slots online, all that remains is to jump in and have a go. Just follow these simple steps and you’ll be off and running in no time.

  1. Choose a casino. Pick one of our trusted brands to ensure your own safety.
  2. Register an account. Opening a new account takes no more than a few minutes.
  3. Make a deposit. Head to the cashier and fund your account to play real money slots.
  4. Claim your bonus. Don’t forget to use the relevant promo code to bag a bonus.
  5. Browse the lobby. Choose a game that suits you from the hundreds of options.
  6. Play a game. That’s all there is to it.

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