Slot Rules Explained: Understand slots in seconds

What is a payline? And why do you have to match symbols on a line to win? We show you the very fundamentals that make up slot machines.

Slot rules looking blurry? Let us explain the basics...
Slot rules looking blurry? Let us explain the basics...
Easy to play, bursting with prizes and packed with action; it's no wonder online slots are so popular. Out of all the casino games, you can play - it's the slots that will have the biggest presence. There are literally thousands out there. 

Software firms like NetEnt report that their games are played billions of times per year. And the demand for these games increases every day. That means there are plenty of new players experiencing slots for the first time.

At a quick glance, a slot machine looks like a confusing mess of lights, random pictures and events. Granted, pressing the spin button is simple enough. But why did you not land a win from that combo of symbols?

In this short article, we are going to teach you the basic rules of slot machines. Our guide will take you through the various kinds of slots, the mechanics behind them and how you win.

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Quick Tip: Want to skip the basics? Scroll down to part 4 for the how to play slots guide.

Part 1: The components of a slot machine


To truly understand the rules of a slot machine, let us take a moment to bust some jargon. Below you will find a list of components that make up slot machines and online slots. From the humble payline to the free spins symbol - these are all crucial to making a game work.

Reels: A reel is a vertical column inside a slot where symbols fall to create combinations from adjacent reels. When you make a wager, symbols will fall into these spaces. Slots can have as few as three reels and as much as 10 reels - meaning games can come in a range of sizes. But this doesn't just affect the layout: extra reels can mean more opportunities to win.

Rows: If reels are the vertical lines on a grid, then the rows are the horizontal lines. Once again, the number of rows in a game can affect the overall layout, the prizes on offer and the "ways to win". 

Paylines: One of the most important features of a slot is the paylines (or win lines, as they are sometimes called). To win in a slot game, you will need to match combinations of symbols on these lines. Again, slots can have just one win line - or they can have hundreds.

Symbols: The core of any slot is the symbols. Without these, you simply couldn't play the game. Your goal is to match combinations of these symbols on one of the game paylines. Symbols come in different flavours - and we explain this in more detail below.

Paytable: Every slot comes with a paytable - and this will tell you important details about the game. This includes details of the bonus feature - and the payouts for certain combos of symbols. If you ever get stuck in a game, consult the paytable for more information.

Part 2: Slot Machine Symbols


At the heart of any online slot game is the symbols. At first, these seem like random pictures and card suits with no coherent meaning. But these form a crucial part of the experience. From landing the bonus round to scoring that mega win - here's a brief rundown on slot symbols:

Basic Symbols: First of all, we have the base game symbols. Creating combinations of these symbols on paylines is the bread and butter of online slots. But not all symbols are equal. In fact, they can further be divided into two more categories.

  • Low value: Usually depicted by card suits, match these for small value wins. 

  • High value: These symbols will usually have pictures and designs that match the theme of the game. For the biggest wins, you will want plenty of these to land.

Special Symbols: As you play the slot, you may also note unique symbols that appear infrequently. These are likely to be the free spins, scatter or wild symbols. Unlike base game symbols - you won't always need to land these on paylines. And it's fair to say that they can create some of the biggest winning moments. Here's a brief explanation of what they do.

  • Wild Symbols: These symbols will substitute for others in a winning payline combo - making them incredibly useful and valuable. In some games, a five of a kind match with the wild awards the progressive jackpot.

  • Scatter Symbols: As the name suggests, this symbol does not need a payline to award a win. It can be scattered anywhere on the reels. In most slots, landing three of these symbols will trigger the free spins feature.

  • Bonus Symbol: Landing a combination of these symbols will activate a secondary bonus feature. Or - it could activate the games free spins. In some games, these also function like scatters. But in others, you have to land them like a base game symbol

Part 3: Slot Machine Paylines


We said that symbols were the core of any slot game earlier. And while that is true, they wouldn't be held together without paylines. To win in a slot game, you have to match symbols on these lines. In classic games, you may find one or three lines. In modern games, there can be hundreds of paylines. Modern software developers have also introduced new win mechanics which we will look at below.

Ways to win: A flexible type of slot win mechanic that is popular with Microgaming slots. In this format of game, you don't have to match symbols on specific win lines. Instead, adjacent pairs of symbols will make a winning combination.

Cluster Pays: Introduced by NetEnt in Aloha! Cluster Pays - a cluster (or group) of five or more adjacent symbols will award a win. This seems to draw inspiration from Candy Crush and other popular mobile puzzlers. Red Tiger Gaming and other developers have started to use this mechanic in their own games.

Part 4: How to Play Slot Machines


Now that you have all the basics of playing these games to hand - it's time to understand how to play slot machines. Let's divide the act of playing a slot machine into three segments.

  • Step 1: Placing your bet - choose how much you want to stake per spin. Remember, the bet you choose will stay active unless you change it. 

  • Step 2: Playing the spin - Once you're happy with your bet, press the spin button. This will start spinning the reels and set you up for the final phase...

  • Step 3: Game round result - After the reels have finished spinning, symbols will snap into place. If you have formed winning combinations, you will be paid based on the paytable. If you have landed a bonus, then the feature will trigger. 

How do slot machines choose which symbols appear? This is all thanks to an RNG algorithm, a special piece of computer code that produces randomised results. On each spin, complex calculations take place, organising symbols in random ways. With this in place, you can be confident that each result is random.


Really - that's all there is to it. The most intimidating aspect of online slots is the sheer complexity of the games themselves. Once you get over the initial hump and the head-scratching, these games are easy to understand. Best of all? The same mechanics apply to each game. With this in mind, once you learn one - you're all set to try them all. For more information and slots tips, please see below.


Basic Slot Rules Explained

How do you win on slot machines?

Choose slots with a high return to player - these are theoretically the best games that will give you a better return. To maximise symbol wins, make sure you are playing the max bet. Play the lowest bet and you will receive the lowest possible win.

What is a random number generator?

A random number generator (also known as RNG) is a software algorithm that aims to produce randomised results. And these are frequently used in games of chance - like online slots. While it's not true randomness, it does do a good job of simulating a near-random outcome.

What is return to player?

This is the theoretical percentage of bets that will be paid back to you while playing a slot. If a game has a 96% return and you spend £1 - then on average, you will receive 0.96p back.

What is a scatter symbol?

A special symbol that will pay out if it is scattered anywhere on the reel. It does not need to land on a payline to award a win. Scatter symbols can also activate the free spins in many games.

What is a gamble bonus?

Some slots will allow you the chance to gamble what you win from a slot round. In these bonuses, you can double your win - but if you guess wrong, you will forfeit your winnings from the round.


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