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Online Slots Guide – Getting the Best From Online Slots
Online Slots – The Complete Guide to Playing Slots Online
The number of online slots has exploded in recent years. Innovation, compatibility with mobile devices and overall quality is up too. In addition to links to slot reviews, bonus info and guides – this page gives you a starting point for getting the max from online slots.
You’ll find a detailed FAQ below. This starts of ‘high level’, with an overview of your options. It then goes on to cover the details you need before you get started.
Remember, slots bonuses are among the best gaming offers you’ll find online. With just a little research, you could be benefiting from bonuses every time you spin!
Introduction: What Does the Online Slots Landscape Look Like in 2021?
You don’t need to go back many years and the world of online slots looked very different. In the days when you needed to download casino software onto your desktop, the big players held an effective monopoly.
Software houses like MicroGaming, RealTime Gaming and PlayTech were the big players. They controlled the downloads. This meant smaller slot software houses could not get their games out there.
In those days the producers of live casino slots were not online. This has now changed, with the likes of IGT and Aristocrat having a big online presence.
It is the move to browser (and mobile) gaming that allowed the current explosion in your options. New casinos don’t need a download. This allows them to cherry-pick the best games from different software houses. In turn this allowed new providers to get a foothold. When you check out the games from Yggdrasil like Cyrus the Virus and Sherlock Holmes you’ll find amazing slots. New providers are appearing all the time. Simply put, this is a brilliant time to be a slots fan!
Can You Beat Online Slots?
All slots have a built-in house edge. It is important to know about this, and to be honest with yourself about the implications. Over the long run, the house will win.
With that out of the way, there is some good news:
- - First, the house edge for online slots is lower than for live slots. This can be a significant difference. You’ll find many slots online with 96%+ ‘Return to Player’. In live casinos, many games are around 90%.
- - Second, you’ll get bonuses, free spins, loyalty points and other special offers online that you don’t find live. When you factor these in, you are reducing the house edge further.
I look at it this way: The house edge pays for your entertainment, and your chances of hitting a big win. You can’t escape it, though playing smart (bankroll management, bonuses and so on) can keep it to a minimum.
Are Online Slots Fair?
This question comes up over and over again – and the answer is a clear ‘yes!’.
All slots have their built-in house edge. Over millions of spins, the outcomes will converge on the ‘average’, and the casinos will win.
What is false thinking when it comes to these games is that the casinos are deliberately affecting the outcome. Some myths in this area include giving you an early win and then taking you money.
You’ll see a lot of ‘almost big wins’. This is part of the design of the games. That tantalizing moment when the 5th jackpot symbol just misses the win-lines!
Slots are tested by independent auditing companies. Look for names like ‘iGaming Labs’ and ‘Technical Systems Testing’. Each game (and the deal for card games) is spun millions of times, and the outcome checked. You know what – the results are always the same. There are plenty of ups and downs along the way, though over time the outcomes match the ‘Return to Player’ advertised.
If you still have concerns, stick to the biggest and best-known casino brands. Not only will you get fully tested slots, you’ll have the peace of mind in knowing that these multi-million businesses have a reputation worth protecting.
Is Playing Online Slots Legal?
This depends entirely on where you are located – though is most commonly asked by US readers.
Federal laws in the US are aimed at the banks, gambling sites and financial networks. State laws vary. At the time of writing, no individual has ever been indicted for playing real money casino games or slots.
One implication of the US federal laws is that slot casinos that welcome US players from most States are based offshore. Locations include the Caribbean, Kahnawake (a native territory inside Canada) and Central America. Sites based there fiercely defend their right to take players from anywhere in the world! There are some excellent and long-running brands based offshore. These include Bovada, Slots.lv and Drake Casino.
Outside of the US there are some countries which regulate slot gaming, and others which do not. My view is that so called ‘regulation’ is more to do with tax than the much touted ‘player protection’. You’ll find more detail on this topic on many individual guides here at SNG Planet.
What Devices Work with Online Slots?
I have been playing slots long enough to remember when download was the only option. You had to take the complete casino. Cashier, table games and slots all-in-one. If you wanted to check out games from different providers, then you had to start over. A new casino, new account and so on. If you were playing on a Mac in those days, then your choices were limited.
Fast-forward to today. Most casinos work in your browser. You sign-up and get access to slots from many different software houses in one place. The biggest collections (for example Unibet) have 600+ slots. They cherry-pick the best games from the big names and upcoming providers.
Another big difference today is that online slots are made to be mobile compatible. Most work in your browser. There are some apps from the biggest providers, though this is not the preferred option. Legacy slots have been made mobile compatible, though some work better than others.
Having the spin button on the right, when the slot is in ‘landscape’ mode, is a big plus. This puts things within the reach of your thumb!
What Types of Online Slots are Available?
In the dim and distant past, slots were divided into 3-reel classics and the newer video slots. These days, this is simplifying things way too much. There are jackpot games, all-ways wins, novel reel setups, slots with multiple bonus games, movie / TV / band tie-ins and even pub fruit machines (UK readers will know this term!).
This list covers the main categories:
- Classic 3-Reel Games: These are still popular. Check out any Vegas casino and you’ll find at least 20% of the casino floor lined with mechanical 3-reel slots. Some (think MegaBucks or some Wheel of Fortune games) have life-changing jackpots. You’ll find between 1 and 5 win-lines, wild symbols and bonus games. Popular slots include spinning reels, picks bonus rounds or multiplier wilds. You’ll find plenty of these online.
- Basic Video Slots: For most of the early to mid-2000’s, 5-reel slots with 3 rows of symbols were standard issue. These introduced scatter symbols, and free spins bonus games. While the themes vary widely, the concepts were similar. Add in a jackpot, picks bonus game and a novel theme, and that was good enough!
- All-Ways Wins Slots: Reel-power was introduced in live slots by industry giant Aristocrat. This is now a common setup. There are no win-lines. Instead you win with any row of matching symbols (usually from the left) on 3+ reels. In a 5x3 slot there are 243 winning combinations. With a 5x4 slot this goes up to 1024 ways. Wins are smaller in these games. When you know that you can win 1024x the top prize, you’ll understand why.
- Novel Reel Setups: New setups are appearing all the time. Examples include a lot of IGT Slots, where the reels are diamond-shaped. Think 3-4-5-4-3 from left to right and you’ll have the idea. Some pay in both directions, others have stacked symbols, which can easily cover all the reels.
- Wilds Go Wild: On early slots, wild symbols simply replaced any other regular symbol (and sometimes added a multiplier). These days, software houses have got a lot more creative with wilds. You get expanding wilds, moving (walking wilds), sticky wilds, ones with multipliers which work together – and sometimes random base-game bonus features which add even more wild symbols to the mix.
- Jackpot Slots: For new players, the size of the biggest slot jackpots often comes as a surprise. $100,000+ prizes are awarded almost every week, and $1,000,000+ prizes at least monthly. The biggest jackpots won are $17 million+. There are plenty of smaller prizes which would still be very welcome. Look out for linked jackpots, for example the IGT Online MegaJackpot prize. These are shared between several different slots and can be won at any casino.
- Bonus Games: This is the single biggest difference when it comes to online slots. While you used to have one free spins game to shoot for, the number and variation in bonus features has exploded. Picks-games, character games for themed slots, bonuses which allow you to pick your volatility, random on-reel bonuses and jackpot bonuses all feature. Keep in mind that the best slots are not always the ones with the most bonus games. For many players these break up the game-play and add a new level of entertainment!
Who Makes Online Slots?
Big question! There are now 100’s of slot software houses. These range from the giants like NetEnt, MicroGaming and PlayTech – to small developers like Yggdrasil. You’ll find separate articles covering many of them here. For this page, I have divided them into the software providers for US casinos, and those covering online slot gaming worldwide.
US Slot Software Houses
Bigger international brands do not provide slots for US casinos. This would fall foul of federal laws. Fortunately, there are offshore slot providers at the cutting-edge of gaming. Here are the main ones, with highlights, and links to the detailed pages which cover them.
RealTime Gaming: For a long time, RealTime Gaming (known as RTG for short) were the biggest US-friendly games provider. They have a big portfolio of video slots, and also have the biggest jackpots for US players. For me, many of their games could do with an update. Having said that, these are solid titles – and you’ll find just about every theme you could imagine. Newer titles (for example Orc vs Elf) are moving things forward. These are certainly worth a spin. See my detailed RealTime Gaming Slots guide for a lot of options!
BetSoft: Nobody makes slots quite like BetSoft. These games are 3D, feature rich designs and have a depth of game-play that you will not find elsewhere. Slots feature animated avatars which host the games. These change based on the themes, though still have that ‘wow-factor’. I recommend you check out Alkemor’s Tower, Good Girl / Bad Girl and Greedy Goblins to get started. I guarantee you will not have played anything remotely similar before. See my overview of BetSoft slots for some more examples.
Rival Gaming: Another big slot software house, which has been around for more than a decade and produced a lot of good games. Rival are best known for their ‘iSlots’, which have progressive storylines. My pick is ‘As the Reels Turn’. This is a soap-opera in a slot! It takes a story (of a casino, complete with cast), and moves you through scenes and bonus games. There are now 3 separate slots continuing the story. There are plenty of more regular slots in the Rival Gaming range. The latest have excellent graphics and game-play. See my Rival Gaming slots page for a lot of picks.
Arrows Edge: I like the ‘almost’ slots in the Arrows Edge range. These almost step on copyright for the big movies and TV shows, though somehow manage to not quote do so! Examples include ‘Star Slots’ (you guessed it!), The Spinning Dead and Mad Road. While the graphics are not quite as good as say, BetSoft or Rival, these are enjoyable games. Plenty of regular options as well as the themed ones. As usual, my Arrows Edge slots guide covers this innovative company in more depth.
There are more US slot providers, with WGS the biggest I have yet to cover. Come back soon for more on these.
International Slot Software Houses
I have divided these into three. These are the online giants, live slot makers which have made the transition and the up and coming / smaller houses which are starting to make an impact. Once again, I will add to this list over time – there are great options popping up and others on my ‘watch list’.
MicroGaming: This software house created the first online casino, back in ’98. What I love about MicroGaming is that they are still top of the tree. The newest slots are as good as anything you’ll find online and their portfolio is formidable. Classic games include some slots with giant jackpots (the different Mega Moolah games), and movie tie-ins (Jurassic Parks and the creepy new Halloween to name just 2). You will find more than 450 slots from MicroGaming. Realistically 200 or so are still playable. The rest are showing their age. This provider also has the biggest online selection of classic 3-reel slots.
PlayTech: This software house also has a long history online. They took a hit recently when the licenses for their Marvel-themed slots expired. There are still plenty of great games in their portfolio – along with some massive jackpots. My picks include the Monty Python slots (Holy Grail and Life of Bryan). There are 100’s more to choose from, with new titles coming out all the time. I’ll include Ash Gaming slots in this section. This is a separate provider, though their games appear on PlayTech casinos. You can find out more in my detailed PlayTech Slots guide.
Net Entertainment: Known as ‘NetEnt’, this was the first giant software house to dominate the ‘post-download’ era. They hold the record for the biggest slot jackpot. This was EUR 17.3 million. It was won on their flagship Mega Riches slot (there are now several variants of this). NetEnt have recently bought out a lot of music themed games. Check out the Jimi Hendrix slot or go a little heavier with Motorhead or Guns N Roses. You’ll find some innovative game-play too. Walking wilds and excellent bonus games are a theme in many games. See my guide to NetEnt Slots for a lot of options.
Live Slot Giants with Online Slots
IGT: To say IGT are at the top of their game is an understatement. Head to any (US) live casino and you’ll find some brilliant games. Check out Goonies, The Simpsons or the Wonka slots for just a few examples. This giant was relatively late the online slots world. They teamed up with QuickFire around 2006 - and have since bought a lot of their games online. These games are not available to US players. Online slot highlights include the MegaJackpots range (Monopoly, Siberian Storm and more), which have a joined $1m+ jackpot. Other classics include the Cleopatra slots. You’ll often find these listed in the ‘Vegas’ section of big online casinos. Check out my IGT Slots guide for a lot more options.
Aristocrat: You can’t miss these slots in live casinos. My picks are the Buffalo range (particularly Buffalo Gold) and the Walking Dead II. This is the tip of the iceberg, with the newer Lock It Link slots also proving popular. You’ll find a mix of classics and newer games online. Check out their Asian themed games, which make up a good chink of their online range. Once again, you’ll find a lot more in my dedicated Aristocrat slots guide.
There are plenty more that have made the transition. You can enjoy Bally and WMS games online. If you are from mainland Europe you might be familiar with Novomatic slots, which are common in bars.
Up and Coming / Smaller Software Houses
Yggdrasil: The innovative and visual Yggdrasil slots head my list of the up and coming providers. These games are brilliant and have 3D special effects. Made for mobiles, some are simple – check out Cyrus the Virus for a quirky game which works brilliantly on phones. Other titles have progressive elements. I love the ‘Rage Meter’ idea in Vikings go Bezerk for example. You can read about these innovative games in my Yggdrasil slots guide.
Plenty more of these to follow soon!
Is There a Correct Strategy for Playing Online Slots?
There is no strategy which will completely eliminate the house edge. You can keep this to a minimum in several ways.
The biggest single thing you can control is your bet size. Many slots, especially traditional 3-reel ones and many 5-reel jackpot games, have bigger prizes above a certain betting level. In 3-reel slots you usually need to bet the 3rd coin to get the highest pay out. If you do not, then the overall return to player percentage is lower. The usual strategy here is to lower the size of each coin to the point where you can bet 3 of them!
For jackpot slots, look out for games where the minimum required bet for a shot at the progressive is higher than the normal minimum. I have come across plenty of slots where you need to bet $3+ per spin – or you get a secondary prize instead of the big pool. If you can’t afford that bet, avoid these slots. The returns at lower bets will be significantly lower.
The main thing to consider is how much to spin for based on your overall bankroll. If you bet 10% of your entire bankroll each time, you will not have time to enjoy most games. Slots have different volatility levels. Some give you a lot of smaller wins, others fewer wins – though for bigger amounts.
I recommend a maximum of 1% of your bankroll per spin, and 0.5% as even safer. This will give you time to enjoy the different features without going broke too soon.
Which is the Best Casino to Play Online Slots?
A big factor here is where you are located. I mentioned the US / Non-US split above, though things are even more complicated than this.
I have a lot of reviews of slot casinos here at SNG Planet. These dig deep into the game selection, bonus offers and reputation of each site. You’ll also need to consider the payment methods – especially for US readers.
Below are my top 3 options for US and Non-US readers, along with the slot software providers you’ll find at each.
US Slot Casinos
Bovada: This casino has a very long history of providing gaming for US players. They used to be known as Bodog. Aside from a very clean reputation, what I like is the breadth of slots available. Bovada features games from RealTime Gaming, Rival Gaming and BetSoft all on the same platform. You can check out my Bovada Casino Review for more.
Drake Casino: The first thing that hits you here is the welcome offer. This is huge, and even includes some free spins with no deposit needed. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a great mix of games. These include titles from Rival Gaming and Arrows Edge. Those are the ‘almost copyright’ titles mentioned in the software section. For something different, this casino should be on your short list. Read my Drake Casino Review for the details.
Slots.lv: What I like about this site is the focus on slots and slot players. Things get off to a great start. Each new player gets 9 (yes, nine) welcome bonuses. If you deposit with Bitcoin, they start at 300% matched, You can use this to enjoy a huge selection of slots (RTG, Rival, BetSoft). There are always promos and specials running here. These include leader board type events, a loyalty program and regular 1-offs for new game releases. If you love slots, you’ll certainly love Slots.lv – check out my review here.
Non-US Slot Casinos
Unibet: With so many international brands to choose from, it is hard to pick a clear number #1. Unibet have become my go-to. This is based on the strength of the brand (a listed company who dominate many European markets), and the depth of their slot selection. You’ll find more than 600 slots here. These are the best titles from a lot of major software houses. Think NetEnt, MicroGaming, IGT and more combined into one desktop and mobile friendly site. Want more? There are 200 free spins up for grabs! You get 10 just for registering, then 190 more on your first deposit. With a modest deposit, that is a lot of free spins. Check out my Unibet Casino Review for more!
Mr Green: This casino was one of the first in a new generation of non-download properties. It has gone on to become a big industry player. You’ll find exclusive slots among the NetEnt range here. There are 100’s of games in total, including many from my favourite small software house, Yggdrasil. New players get 10 free spins (check) without depositing. Best of all, you’ll be in the company of the excellent casino host – the dashing Mr. Green. Check out my Mr Green Casino Review here.
Party Casino: If you want a fresh approach, then Party Casino should be your number one pick. You’ll find a lot of unique slots here. These include Melon Madness and more. These were created especially for this site. Party push the ‘fun’ side of gaming and have a long list of promotions and loyalty rewards to offer. You’ll get a great start here, with $200 (bonus info) right from the get-go, and up to 50% cashback on every spin. Read my Party Casino Review for more.
Wrapping Up: Next Steps
I hope you found my huge online slots FAQ informative. This only scratches the surface of what is available online. In anticipation of the journey of discovery (and hopefully some big wins!) which lies ahead, I’ll list some of the key pages for further information here. In the meantime, only one more thing to add – good luck on those reels!