How video slots work

The most popular form of gambling online is by playing video slots. These online games are a modernized version of the classic fruit slot machines which one would typically find in casinos and pubs. But if you’re looking to play such games but with the extra element of having the latest technology, you’re going to want to learn more about online slots. Thus, we have prepared this assessment on how video slots work and what you need to know about them in order to win. Have a read through and enlighten yourself on the basics about playing online slots.

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What are video slots?

First and foremost, if you want to know how video slots work, you’re ultimately going to need to know what they are. In the late 80s, slot machines came in a physical form and were known as fruities as the main theme was fruits, lucky 7s, jokers and bars. However, those were known as classic slots. Nowadays, you’ve got a far more popular form of gambling which is online through video slots.

Video slots are well known for having advanced technology and graphics whilst offering a wider range of themes and other bonus features in the game. Instead of just needing to land matching symbols on a payline, video slots have additional features such as Free Spins bonus rounds and multipliers to give each game a unique attraction.

The basic set up of a video slot machine is that you’ve got 5 reels, 3 rows and a fixed amount of paylines. Your task is to press the spin button and watch the reels go around until they eventually come to a standstill. In the most basic of games, you’ll need to match at least 3 symbols on a payline starting from the 1st reel on the left-hand-side of your screen.

You will be able to adjust your betting stake by using + and – symbols which are found on your screen. This allows players to wager high and low stakes, thus, making them high and low rollers. Every slot offers a different betting range, but the best ones allow you to play with as little as €/£0.10 to stakes which are over €/£100. But we will look at betting ranges in more detail later.

How Video Slots Work

The first slot machine

According to our records, the first video slot was launched in 1976 and was played out on a classic slot machine. The game was developed by Fortune Coin, a Las Vegas company based in California. Back then, the slot was played on a 19-inch Sony TV with bright colors. The slot was launched and made available in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel.

After its success, the slot machine by Fortune Coin was further worked on and installed with some cheat-proofing and minor modifications. The effort was made to get the approval from the Nevada State Gaming Commission. Indeed, these adjustments brought a popularity to the video slot and it became a highlight in the Las Vegas Strip. In 1978, two years after the launch of the first slot ever, Fortune Coin was acquired by IGT.

Introduction of bonus rounds

One of the major steps forward for video slots took place in 1996 by the introduction of bonus rounds. This would turn out to be a major success story and path the way for video slots to become the entity which they are today.

The one which sticks out was when WMS Industries Inc introduced the “Reel ‘Em” feature which was a significant step towards the modern-day video slot. The game introduced a second screen bonus round which was a first-time thing. Thus, whenever a player triggered the bonus round, the video slot would take the player to a completely new screen. During the bonus round, additional payouts could be won and proved to be a homerun.

Following this new-look video slot with an extra mini-game within it, the popularity of video slots shot up. Indeed, video slots became the main attraction at Las Vegas Strip casinos and took up about 70% of the available space whilst also contributing about 70% of the casino’s income.

Slot machines post the World Wide Web

A giant leap forward for slot machines occurred in the mid 90’s when the internet and new technology brought about major advances. With more options now available to the public, more slots came about with new innovative features. The first online casino sites focused on roulette and blackjack, but video slots were added in too.

At first, online video slot machines were very similar to land-based ones as they offered the same number of reels and typically followed the same theme as well. Shortly afterwards, however, these restrictions were eased thanks to the development in computer programming which allowed new interesting themes to be introduced and many new types of games to surface. The cap on slot machines was lifted allowing many different software provider groups to find new ways of appealing to players.

How Video Slots Work

If you click on through to one of our casino sites, you’ll find an abundance of choice when it comes to video slots. You’ve got a wide portfolio of games to pick which all come with unique themes, many different symbols and creative bonus rounds with special game features. There is so much choice available that you’d probably never find a slot which is identical to another one.

Year on year, the number of games has increased significantly. Whilst many slots stick to the traditional fruit-based-theme, you’ve got a surplus of choice. There are even branded slots which are games featuring pop-culture characters or celebrities. It is estimated that across all the different provider groups online, there are more than 3,000 online video slots available to the public at different casino sites.

How video slots work: The basics

There are many different things to consider when making up a video slot. From the likes of symbols and themes to bonus features and jackpots. However, the first thing to know about slots is the number of reels and the paylines available. Typically, slots take on a traditional 5×3 layout, meaning 5 reels and 3 rows whilst offering a fixed number of paylines. The paylines let you know how many ways you have got to form winning combinations and what stipulations does a winning combo require.

In the majority of online video slots, a winning combination is formed by matching at least 3 symbols on a payline starting from the 1st reel. The 1st reel always starts on the left side of your screen. Paylines may alter by having you land a winning combination from left to right on the same row. However, most slots tend to edge towards paylines being formed by landing symbols on adjacent reels, without the need to be in a horizontal line.

All video slots are developed with the use of a Random Number Generator (RNG). This ensures the complete fairness and honesty from a casino site to a customer. Each and every spin has got a separate coding which means that anyone can win. There is absolutely no talent or skill which is involved in making a profit whilst playing a slot. It’s all down to Lady Luck. With that being said, you can still take a few precautions and steps to boost your chances of winning. Find out how to win at slots right here.

Reels, Rows and Paylines

How Video Slots WorkAs mentioned before, a video slot is made up of three basic components. The reels, rows and paylines. In the dark ages of gambling, you’d have 1 row, 3 reels and a fixed amount of paylines. But thanks to innovating ideas, you tend to have 5 reels, sometimes even 6. The paylines are determined by the number of winning combinations you can form and how many symbols the slot has. Obviously, the more it has, the less chance you have of forming a winner.


When looking individually at the reels, you typically have 5 but they will ultimately depend on which game you play. The more reels you’ve got, the harder it is to form a winning combination. However, with that being said, you also have got potential to win a lot more. More reels mean more risk but also more reward.


As for rows, the introduction of adding more of these gives you a better chance of forming more winning combinations. That is to say, more paylines. Typically, they come as 3 rows but there are slots which have more or less. One common theme is that games with plenty of paylines have got additional rows.


Just as in the case of reels and rows, the number of paylines for a video slot truly alters from one game to another. In fact, it alters even more so. The classic slots would have you form winning combinations on a horizontal line which would not amount to many paylines. But thanks to new ideas and creativity, new payline methods include V paylines, to zigzags and scatter pays. In fact, you’ve got a whole brand of such methods including things like Cluster Pays which is a little bit like Candy Crush.

It is important to know the number of paylines or ways to win before playing a slot. Small yet crucial factors could lead to paylines increasing or decreasing. For instance, All Ways Pays games would let you form winning combinations anywhere on your screen. That means from left to right or right to left and not needing to start from the 1st reel.

Another fine example is the creation of Megaways slots. These bad boys have got 6 reels and require you to form combinations by matching symbols on adjacent reels, regardless of their position. However, between 2 and 7 symbols can fall upon a single reel. That gives you a minimum of 64 ways to win when playing with only 2 symbols on the 6 reels. On the contrary, when all 7 positions are filled up on all 6 reels, you’ve got a whopping 117,649 ways to win.

How video slots work: The details

Once you’ve got the basics nailed on, the next part about understanding how video slots work is getting to learn about the details. Video slots consist of many different characteristics and traits including terms like RTP, variance, betting ranges and hit frequency. Ultimately, these factors come into play when choosing a slot and making sure you’ve selected one which is worth your time and money.

How Video Slots Work

One of the main things to know about slots is that if you just go in for gameplay without doing your homework, you might be playing a rip off slot. Or perhaps, if you’re a high roller, you might have chosen a game with a maximum bet of €/£50 when you could’ve opted for one with €/£300 as a maximum stake. By putting in the appropriate amount of time to truly understand the details and what makes up a slot, you could be saving yourself a lot of time and money. Not to mention, finding a game which is exactly what you’d hoped for.

Thankfully, we have a whole page filled video slots and reviews. Just head on over to our jackpot games and be amazed by the amount of content we have prepared just for you. With ratings and reason why to play – and why not to play – you could get a head start of your homework and learn all the details about a slot before trying it out.

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Getting to grips with the RTP

First off, we look at tackling the whole RTP question and what it brings to the equation. The RTP which a slot has is a perfect way of determining if it is worth playing or not. Because, in some cases, if the RTP is low, there’s absolutely no logical reason to play the game all together.

Let us clear it up a bit. RTP stands for Return to Player and ultimately means how much is returned to a player after a gaming session. The value is given in a percentage form which ultimately shows you how much you stand to win. Well, that is to say, it shows you what is the house edge for the given slot.

If a video slot has got a 96% percentage value, it basically suggests that after playing one hundred €1 spins, you will end up with €96 in return. The 4%, or in this case €4, is the house advantage, or tax, as we like to call it.

How Video Slots Work

The house edge

Now, the first thing which comes into your mind is probably this, “why on earth would I play a slot if I’m not given a 100% chance of reclaiming my cash after 100 spins?”. Well, the answer is very simple. The house edge is something which all casinos have, and all casino games claim as well. In roulette, you’ve got black or red. However, the green zero acts as the house edge as it is neither color, nor even or odd. The only game which is 50-50 is heads or tails.

Although a slot has a 96% RTP, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to end up with €96 after 100 spins. When playing online, the first of second of your 100 spins could get you €100 in a flash and then you’ve made a profit and the RTP percentage doesn’t prove to hold true.

Thus, we advise you to take care when selecting which slot to play as the RTP is a major concern. If a slot has an RTP of over 97%, it is considered to be very good. The average is between 94-96% which is relatively decent. There are some slots which can still be profitable under 93% but they’re rare to find. And, as an ultimatum, we advise you not to touch video slots with an RTP under 89%, not even with a 10-foot pole.

Variance and Volatility

Whilst the RTP is possibly the most important detail of them all, you would do well to take a look at the volatility of a video slot. Also known as the variance, the volatility ultimately tells you what the gameplay of the slot will be like.

The volatility and hit frequency go hand in hand. The only major difference between the two is that the hit frequency is more accurate and gives you a percentage value. As for the volatility, there are low, mid and high levels. Sometimes, these are determined on a scale from 0-10. Ultimately, the volatility determines if the frequency of forming winning combinations and the resulting payouts.

Low Volatility Slots

First off, we take a look at low volatility slots. These slots are fantastic to play but not as rewarding as their counterpart. Low volatility slots will see you form winning combinations more frequently, but the payouts are not all that amazing.

Although these slots are less risky than high variance slots, they certainly do not lack excitement. This is the type of slot which is suitable for players who just want to have fun.

Players can certainly find many winning combinations on the reels making boredom not an issue here.  Large wins do occur in low volatility slots. It’s a myth to believe that they’re non-existent. The only snag is that they’re not nearly as big as in high volatility slots.

How Video Slots Work

High Volatility Slots

As for high volatility slots, these games are riskier than the former category but also more rewarding. Whilst wins don’t occur as frequently, the rewards are greater as the payouts are worth the wait.

Naturally, they’re also more popular than low volatility games as players would rather hold-out for a life-altering win.

In most cases, players pushing the spin button several times will grow tiresome of the lack of symbols. However, when you least expect it, the reels will line up in order and you’ll receive an enormous payout. That’s exactly how slots with high volatility in gambling terms work.

Finding the balance

When choosing a video slot, you’re going to have to see which type of gameplay you enjoy more. In the case of low variance games, these games are for players who want to land wins as much as possible. The payouts are not going to be life-altering, but the good news is that many small wins can amount to a big profit.

As for high variance titles, these ones will see you go a few spins without anything to claim. However, when the eventual winning combination lands on your screen, the reward will be worth the wait. Based on a survey conducted by online casino sites, high volatility slots are more popular among players and many punters prefer to go for the big win.

The betting stakes

Next up in our talking points would be the stake levels which certain slots can offer. When selecting the right slot, it’s fundamental that you take the time to see what the betting range is. After all, you’re not going to be very into a slot which gives a very tight stake level.

Ultimately, you’re going to want a slot which ranges from at least €/£0.10 to over €/£100. This is the most typical wagering ranges and keeps both low and high rollers happy. The low rollers will enjoy these types of games as they require as little as €/£0.10 per spin. Think about it, if another slot gives a minimum bet of €/£0.20, that’s already double the former one.

As for high rollers; the more, the better. When playing online, you’re not going to want to be confined to placing €/£40 bets per spin when you want to be wagering close to €/£100. There are some games which even let you bet €/£500 on a single spin! If you’re a high roller or simply just want to risk it all on a massive spin, look for slots which have got a high maximum bet.

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Maximum win amount

Indeed, the betting ranges go hand in hand with the maximum win amount. Video slots will vary in this department as some may offer small maximum win prizes whilst other may offer you more. Thus, when playing for the maximum win, it is always given out as an amount times your stake.

For instance, smaller slots may have a 1,000x your stake maximum win amount. That would mean that when you play with €/£1, you will claim a maximum of €/£1,000. On the other hand, slots with a high maximum win amount, say 20,000x your stake, will pay out €/£20,000 for a €/£1 spin. The maximum win amount is always a number of times your stake. Jackpots, on the other hand, are totally different. But more on that later.

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Figuring out the Hit Frequency

Last but not least in our section for slot details, is the hit frequency. Unfortunately, however, many video slots are not going to actually reveal this information. It’s nothing to be wary of, it just requires a lot of practice spins to truly draw up a percentage value for the game.

The hit frequency is given as a percentage value. Say, if a slot had a hit frequency of 21.7%, you could assume that you’d form a winning combination once every 5 spins. On the other hand, a hit frequency of 46.5% would mean a win on practically every second spin. This doesn’t mean that you’ll win 1 out of every 5 or 1 out of 2 respectively, it’s just a pointer for you to know what kind of slot this is.

Anyways, as the two go hand in hand, the first slot would most probably be a high volatility slot. That is to say, winning combinations are not so frequent but pay out handsomely. If they come with every other spin, like in the second example, you’re probably playing a low volatility slot, meaning the pay outs aren’t all that big. Ultimately, that’s all there is to say about the hit frequency in online slots.

How video slots work: Gameplay

Once you’ve got the slot details intact and find a game which suits your taste, the next step is to try it out. The gameplay of each slot will be different because of things like themes and features. However, the one constant which remains is that you will have a spin button and an option for selecting your stake. Sometimes it is a + and – symbol to adjust this whilst other slots may include a slider. When playing online, we’re going to be breaking down the next three sub-categories which include the slot theme, features and autoplay. When looking at these all together, they make up the gameplay of each and every online slot.

How video slots work

An introduction to online slot themes

One of the best things about online slot machines is that they come with creative and wicked themes. The animations, graphics and technology used all complement this and make up an extremely amazing video slot. In fact, some software provider groups, such as Betsoft, even went as far as creating 3D video slots with exceptional visuals.

If you recall, old time slot machines used the simple theme of fruits, lucky 7s, Bars, diamonds and jokers. Well, we’ve come a long way since then. You’ve got too many themes available at present. From things like Mexican lucho wrestlers to enchanted forests, online slot machines have got the lot.

The visuals for slots are not always going to be on fleek, it really depends on what the developers were going for. However, with that being said, the newer a slot is, the better graphics, animations and technology it tends to use. This even lead to several slots being re-released just to add the extra element to polish up the appearance.


The theme of the slot is something we like to refer to as it’s make-up or mask. Ultimately, if you’re picking a theme with, say a jungle, you’d expect the background to be located in between several green trees. The symbols, which would appear on the reels, would probably be snakes, tigers, monkeys and other wild animals. That is to say, whatever theme you go with, chances are, the symbols will somehow replicate that theme.

However, with that being said, many online slots tend to also use royals 10, J, Q, K and A or simply use the card suits Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs and Spades. If they do take either the royals or card suits, these tend to be the lowest paying tier in the slot and are simply there to make up numbers.

One thing you may want to do is check-up the pay table of any given slot. This takes you to a screen where you can see exactly what each symbol is worth and which ones are the most precious. When playing any online slot, it serves to your advantage to know exactly which symbols are going to take you to a giant win.

What are branded slots?

Whilst we’re on the topic of the theme, you may be interested to find out that online branded slots exist and are quite enjoyable among players. A branded slot is an online game which has characters or celebrities in pop-culture. Thus, when playing such games, the symbols, the characters and perhaps even some mini-animations or clips may remind you of a movie, artist or even board game.

Some popular branded slots include the likes of Jurassic World, Sausage Party and Monopoly Megaways. That’s right, the popular board game has got its very own branded slot and it is full of animations and bonus features. In fact, you even get to go around the Monopoly board with Mr Monopoly and pass railways and even GO. It’s really worth checking it out for yourself.

How video slots work

An introduction to slot bonus features

The best thing about online video slots is that they introduce many different bonus features which truly spice up the gameplay. Bonus features come in all forms and shapes and act as an additional motive to get you spinning. The likes of Bonus Games, Gamble Features, Multipliers and Free Spins spring to mind. Perhaps even Cascading reels, Cluster Pays or Win Both Ways. There are so many different features which can change the whole gameplay of a slot and give extra incentives to win. Thus, we’re only going to look at the 5 most important ones. We’re starting off with Wilds and Scatters.

Wilds and Scatter symbols

Perhaps the main reason to begin here is because both wilds and scatter symbols are so common in many online video slots. Wilds and scatters are both key to giving you a better chance of winning or triggering a bonus feature.

In case of wilds, these are symbols which drop onto the reels and will substitute all regular symbols to give you a better chance of winning. They will do their job to help you form more winning combination.

As for scatters, they also drop onto the reels in the base game but are typically the holy grail to a free spin’s bonus round. Scatter symbols typically have got a big payout for landing them on a payline and usually need only 3 symbols to trigger the Free Game. In most cases, it will be a Free Spins round.

Free Spins

Next up, we look at the free spin’s bonus round. Most video slots have got one of these included in them and are usually triggered by scatters. When you manage to trigger the free spins round, you will receive a certain number of free spins. Typically, the more scatters you land, the more free spins you are awarded.

How video slots work

Along with the free spins, sometimes you may also receive additional boosters. The likes of multipliers, extra wilds or something else creative. If possible, we recommend trying to find a free spins round which comes with re-triggers. The special thing about that feature is that you will be able to trigger more free spins by landing additional scatters.


One of the most loved and common slot bonus features which appears on various titles is Multiplier boosts. These are basically perks which can help you double, triple, quadruple or even go higher when landing a winning combination. Some slots may even have multiplier boosts of up to 10x your win!

Gamble Feature

The Gamble Feature is what it’s all about. Typically, in video slots which provide a Gamble Feature, you’ve got a chance to double up after every recorded win. Thus, it’s basically like a double or nothing with a 50/50 chance of winning.

Cascading Reels and Clusters

Cascading Reels can be compared with the popular online game, Candy Crush. Whenever you land a win, the symbols will dissolve. This makes space for new symbols which can also give you wins. Much like in Candy Crush, you keep on winning, so long as there’s a good combination on the reels. You don’t even have to spin for it. It all depends on how the symbols fall naturally into place.

As for Clusters, they are formed by landing many matching symbols in a cluster. That is to say, 5 or 6 symbols which are adjacent to one another, whether it be sitting on the left-side, right-side, above or below. They don’t need to be formed from left to right but just land a cluster anywhere on the reels. Lastly, with Cluster slots, they also have got cascading reels, meaning after a winning combination, the symbols disappear allowing new symbols to drop into the empty positions.

How video slots work

Online video slots with jackpots

There is a great deal of video slots which have got a jackpot prize attached to them. The most famous perhaps of them all is Mega Moolah. The Microgaming slot is well-regarded as being the highest ever jackpot paying slot. We’re talking about more than €18 million euros!

What makes Mega Moolah a popular choice is the simple fact that it is a progressive slot. That means that the jackpot keeps on growing until it is eventually won. Moreover, Mega Moolah is also considered to be a multiple jackpot slot. That is to say, it has more than one jackpot. The other three jackpots included are for non-progressive or fixed amounts. For instance, the Minor jackpot is worth only €10. If you’re confused by the different types of jackpot prizes available, perhaps you ought to check out our online jackpot dictionary.

The way to trigger the jackpot is by landing the correct jackpot symbols during a round. You can find out more about the slot in our Mega Moolah jackpot analysis.

The Bottom Line

We hope that come the end of this analysis, you now know how video slots work and what you need to do in order to choose the right game. The best recommendation we can give to you is to do your research before choosing a game to play. Once you know all the slot details, along with the gameplay and features, you’ll certainly have a more enjoyable time.

Online video slots with jackpots are a fine option as well. The major difference between these types of games and normal slots is that the maximum win amount is not a number of times your stake. Instead, you can even trigger a major jackpot prize with a minimum bet. Ultimately, if you want to try your luck with minimum bets for maximum prizes, head on over to our latest jackpot ratings for all the top-rated slots with massive rewards.

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