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How do online slots work?

Filed under: Lifestyle & Fashion |

The popularity of the slots

Slots are incredibly popular in both land based and online casinos. There are over 1 million slot machines in casinos worldwide, and account for 70% of casino revenues in the US. 53% of social casino players in the UK, US and Australia play slots on a regular basis, and almost 50% of casino visitors in the US play slot machines, compared to just 16% playing blackjack and 6% playing poker.

How slots work

Online slots all look vaguely the same; there may be differences in themes and number of rows and reels, but for the most part, slot machines are all fairly similar. Online versions are based on the physical slot machines found in online casinos.

Fundamentally, all slot games are the same: players will hut a button to spin the reels, and the computer system will randomly generate an outcome. Different games have different bonuses, be it free spins, or wild symbols that increase pay-outs.

Slot machine composition

When stripped back, all slots are the same, and made up of the same components.

  • Balance: this is a record of how much money is available to be used.
  • Display box: shows how much the player can win and when.
  • Pay table: shows how much can be won on a pay line.
  • Reels: the part of the machine that shows the symbols.
  • Bet per line: the amount bet per line on the next spin.
  • Number of pay lines: on multi-line slots, not all slots need to be played.
  • Max bet: the total bet per line multiplied by the number of lines.
  • Play/Spin: the button the player presses to initiate the spin.

What is a pay line?

In the early days, slot machines had one pay line: three matching symbols in a horizontal line meant a win. The new digital counterparts are a little more complex, with slot machine lines explained in depth by Wink Slots.

  • 25-30 pay lines per slot are the most common.
  • Symbols can form lines horizontally, vertically, diagonally. Some offer other random shapes like diamonds, trapeziums and even zig zags!
  • In fixed slot machines, all pay lines are played, in free slot machines the player can choose how many to bet on.

Knowing how to choose a pay line is important. Those playing to have some fun should usually stick to five, to be able to keep their balance in check, but those playing for progressive jackpots will look to play as many lines as possible.

Many slots have a variety of different reels and symbols.

The Random Number Generator

The way that operators ensure that the results of each spin are random is by using a Random Number Generator (RGN).

  • A RGN continuously churns out numbers, many hundreds if not thousands per second.
  • Each number, usually between 0 and 4 billion, will be connected to a different outcome on the reels for each spin, and the number that was there when the player pressed ‘spin’ is the outcome.
  • All reputable casinos will adhere to regular checks and audits of this software to ensure they remain fair to players at all times, and are indeed truly random.
  • The randomness of this means that each spin is truly unique, and the previous spin will have no bearing on the next.
  • On a digital reel, there can be as many as 256 different symbols per reel.

Why are slot machines so popular?

  • EASY

There is no skill needed to play slots. It is a fun game suitable for beginners with low risk. Anyone can play, and this universal appeal makes it popular.

  • SOLO

Players can play when they want and for as long as they want. There is no need to wait for a game to start, or for other players to take their turn, or for a live dealer to get a game going.


Slots are fun and shiny, with twinkling lights and music. The trills set up to signal a win and to build tension are proven to release endorphins, and chasing the win is a key motivator.

Both offline and online, slots games are attractive with bright lights and music.


The game is fast and exciting; players know quickly if they have won or not, and can move on to the next round.


Many places offer a free taster of the slots, meaning it is one of the few games players can try before they buy, and by the time they have tried, they are keen to buy. Additionally, the amounts involved in slots are very low, sometimes spins can be placed for as little as a single penny, making it financially accessible to more people.


The many different themes available are designed to attract both fans of the slots, but also those that may not necessarily play, but are instead drawn to their favourite film or character.


Slots require small amounts of money to play, but some will have cumulative bonuses that can pay out life changing amounts.


Slot machines have come a long way from the early days of a physical machine with physical reels offering one line and the aim was to match three symbols in a horizontal line. As technology has developed, online slots have leveraged this technology to provide a fast paced and exciting game to players. There are multiple pay lines available and many more ways to win. Jackpots have got bigger, and the many promotions, offers and different themes have propelled slots into number one spot in online and land-based casinos.


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