How do Online Slots Work?

New Players Guide: What to Expect from Online Slot Games

Online slots have become big business in recent years, with many players heading to online casinos simply because of the slots. These offer some of the most exciting and entertaining games at any site, along with the biggest payouts (see my Biggest Jackpots guide for a flavor of what to expect!). Each and every slot you find online will have its own theme and features, but many share the same basic framework. In this article I describe every aspect of a slot in detail, starting with a look at the random number generator which controls the game, followed by a look at exactly how you’ll win, finishing with a look at the most popular extras and features you’ll find online.

The Random Number Generator

Every online slot is controlled by a random number generator (RNG), which will be fully tested to ensure that it is indeed random. Whichever type of slot you are playing, this RNG will decide which symbols appear on each and every reel, this being the reason you see a different set of symbols appear on each spin. Alongside slots, the RNG will control all other casino games – it will for example decide where the ball lands on a virtual roulette table or which cards are dealt at virtual blackjack.

What many new players miss is that each spin is the result of newly randomized numbers. While our brains see things in sequences (for example a 'hot' or 'cold' run), the reality is that the last spin has absolutely no influence on the next one. There are bonus games and features where things are progressive - the huge role of randomness is easy to miss though!

How to Win at Online Slots

Most of your wins will come along during the base game when hitting consecutive symbols from left to right. A look at the pay table of a slot will tell you exactly how many of each symbol you’ll need and how much you’ll win when you land them. The majority of games offer the opportunity of playing more than one pay line (some games offer up to 100), so to win you’ll need to hit these symbols in a row on one of the pay lines. On a standard 5 reel slot, you’ll see from the pay table that the biggest prizes come your way when hitting 5 in a row, with the smallest prizes usually coming your way for hitting just 2 or 3 in a row. Some slots will offer an ‘all pays’ system, where you’ll win by landing symbols on consecutive reels regardless of where they appear on each reel.

Over time, the casinos have an edge, varying from just 2% and up. The appeal of slots games is that you can enjoy big windfalls in the short term. As you get more into the topic you will learn that some slots have higher 'variance' than others. There are games which pay out smaller sums frequently (low variance) and others which pay out less often, but give big prizes when they do (higher variance). 

Online Slots Extras

Wilds: You’ll find ‘wilds’ at the majority of online slots. These are symbols that will substitute for any other symbol, enabling a number of additional wins. For example, four red sevens and a wild on a pay line, will enable a 5 in a row win. Some wilds will be stacked, meaning that they can encompass a whole reel, while some wilds will also have a multiplier attached, meaning any wins using the wild will be multiplied by the appropriate amount.

Scatters: Scatter symbols are those which will generally payout based on how many appear on the reels, regardless of the position. For example, you might find a scatter symbol which pays out when landing 3 or more, so if it should appear on reels 2, 4 and 5, you’ll gain a win. The most popular use of a scatter at online slots is to activate a bonus feature, such as a free spins round. You might find that the more scatters you land to activate the feature will lead to a better feature, or a larger prize. Many online slots will actually slow down having landed two scatters, adding suspense to the spin, as the other reels finally come to a stop.

Free Spins: You’ll probably realize from the name that you won’t be paying for these spins, but you’ll usually find that these spins offer something extra to a standard spin. This might be the fact that there is a multiplier attached to each win, or you might also find additional wilds on the reels, or the chance to activate unique features.

Gamble Features: Some slots will offer a gamble option after any winning spin. This might give you the chance of doubling your win amount or even more. These will usually be based upon the turn of a playing card or the toss of a coin, although these can vary from slot to slot.

Progressive Jackpots: Many players will head straight for the progressive Jackpot slots, where you’ll find the biggest prizes online. These Jackpots are formed by a small percentage of each stake being assigned to the Jackpot pool, which is why you’ll see these Jackpot payout amounts ticking relentlessly upwards. Some jackpots are standalone at individual slots, while others are pooled across a range of slots, online casinos or a combination of both.

Other Bonus Features

The range of other bonus features available can vary greatly. They might involve a pick-em round, a wheel of fortune style game or even a game map where you move from feature to feature. The range of features will vary from game to game – some slots might offer a simple base game with nothing else, while others might offer a whole host of different features. Of course, with so many games out there, the choice of game is yours!

Now you have the basics down - check out these articles covering different types of slot:

- RealTime Gaming Jackpot Slots (The best loved US friendly slots)

- Millionaire Genie Slot Review (Unique jackpot slots game at 888)

- IGT Jackpot Slots (includes some famous brand names!)

- WMS Bier Haus Slot