How to Play Online Slots – Rules and Full Guide

Sergio Zammit
Sergio Zammit | Verified by Mark Hoover
Last updated: | 16 min read

Online slots account for a large chunk of the games played online. Whether you want to download slot games or try this popular game genre at an online casino, you must first learn how to play slots. As we’ve seen over the years, the basic mechanics of this game remain the same regardless of the theme or software provider, which makes learning simple.

As you read on, we’ll share everything you need to know about how to play slot machines online, including how they work, popular features, and how to play for real money. We’ll also go further and answer frequently asked questions so you can start playing slots online fully armed with information.

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Understanding How Slots Work

Slots are among the most diverse casino games when it comes to themes, mechanics, and in-game features. As such, it isn’t uncommon to notice some differences in gaming experience from one title to the next. However, before wondering, “Can you play slot machines online for real money?” note that most slots work the same way and feature a set of symbols, reels, and rows. Each symbol has unique values based on how they appear on the paylines, and you’ll find these values in the paytable.

To understand the rules of any slot game, you must begin by noting the layout and studying the features. In the meantime, here are key terms you also need to get acquainted with as we answer “How do online slots work?”

Random Number Generator (RNG)

Every spin in an online slot machines is powered by a random number generator (RNG), the math engine that ensures each outcome is unpredictable. You can think of an RNG as a hidden force that makes it impossible to guess when you trigger a bonus feature or land your next winning spin.

To ensure fairness, reputable slot providers implement this technology to eliminate recognizable patterns in how symbols appear on the reels so that every player has an equal chance at winning or even losing. To learn more about this, check out our guide on slot machine odds.


When you learn how to use online slot machines, you’ll notice that most of them have vertical lines of symbols known as reels. Depending on the game, these reels can vary in number, ranging from three on classic slots to as many as seven on modern versions.

Once you place your bet and initiate the spin – whether manually or using the game’s autoplay or auto-spin feature – the reels begin their rapid rotation. The spin will then stop so you can observe a new set of symbols, now arranged differently from those initially displayed before the spin.


The rows in slot games, which run horizontally, complement the vertical reels by forming lines of symbols. While three rows are typical in many slots, you’ll also encounter games featuring four or more rows for added complexity.

On the other hand, classic slots usually stick to a single row, and there’s a good selection of these traditional, simpler variants available online. Like with reels, the rows’ symbols also change randomly with every spin.

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Traditionally, paylines in slot games are patterns that stretch across the screen, usually from the left reel to the right, and they’re where winning symbol combinations land. The number of paylines varies from game to game, but it’s common for five-reel slots with three rows to feature around 20 paylines. In these games, the maximum number of paylines you can find is typically 243.

Notably, the success of the Bonanza slot launched the Megaways game engine in December 2016 and spiced things up. Slot games like this offer hundreds, sometimes thousands, of ways to win. The special characteristic of Megaways games is their dynamic reels, which can shift randomly with each spin. This change alters the number of reels, introduces new paylines, and increases the potential winning combinations.

Payout Table

Before playing any online slot machine, it’s advisable to first explore the paytable. This is your go-to resource for details about the symbols, including their values for various combinations.

The paytable also features information about special symbols like wilds and scatters, explaining their roles and functions. You’ll also find it useful if the game has bonus slot symbols, as the paytable will tell you how to trigger them.

Slots Win

To make a slot win, you’ll need to get the right symbol combination on the reels in the required order on an active payline. Consider the example of Pragmatic Play’s Wolf Gold online slot, which has five reels, three rows, and 25 paylines. To make a win playing this title, you must get matching symbols from left to right on any of the 25 paylines, assuming all of them are active.

A few things determine the size of your slot win, including the number of symbols you get e.g, three of a kind, four of a kind, and so on, as well as the value of these symbols. With many slots, you’ll notice low and high-paying symbols and the high-paying ones might occur less frequently than the lower ones. However, they can potentially pay out big when they show up. Note, though, that your bet size works with your symbol combination to determine the size of your slot win.

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Online Slots Main Features

Modern online slot machines have various bonus features to enhance the gaming experience and maintain player interest. Understanding how these bonus features operate is a good tip if you seek extra excitement beyond the base game.

While these features differ across various slot titles, a few have become more prevalent than others. Here’s a look at some of these popular bonus features:

Wild Symbols

Wilds are more of a symbol than a feature, but since they are more powerful than the regular paying symbols, we consider them a feature. In their basic form, you can think of a wild as that one symbol that can replace any other symbol on the reels except the scatter.

However, these symbols can behave differently in different games. For example, we’ve seen slots like Swintt’s Wild 777, where the wild forms its own winning combination symbol three and five of a kind, paying 1000x and 10,000x, respectively. There are also games where the wild expands to cover the entire screen and provide a chance for big wins.

Scatter Symbols

The scatter symbol is another powerful one that can be considered a feature on its own and a means to trigger other bonus features in some cases. Scatters can pay from any position on the reels in some slots, so they are not restricted to paylines.

You might also come across games where the scatter triggers the free spins feature or other bonuses. Considering how this symbol behaves, it is more potent than the wild, mainly because a wild can’t replace it.


Multipliers are a unique element that boosts your winnings anywhere from 2x to 1000x and beyond, depending on the slot. Sometimes, they can come as a special symbol that multiplies any win you make while they are on your screen.

Other times, they are integrated into bonus features such that certain combinations during that feature can trigger them. A good example of a multiplier slot is Gonzo’s Quest, where the feature is triggered based on the number of avalanches you get.

You can expect to come across different types of multipliers. These include wild multipliers that multiply wins they contribute to, free spin multipliers that increase the wins during free spins rounds, and bonus game multipliers that come into play during special bonus games.

Free Spins

Free spins rounds are arguably online slots games’ most popular bonus feature. They are mostly triggered by landing a certain number of scatter symbols on the reels, but this can vary with different games. The idea for a free spins session is for you to spin the reels without depleting your bankroll. Some free spins rounds also come with multipliers or other special features that can increase your winnings.

One of the slot games you can try for this bonus feature is Starburst by NetEnt, which offers a free spins round triggered by landing three or more Starburst symbols on the reels. During the free spins round, the Starburst symbols expand to cover the entire reel and remain in place for up to three respins.

Picking Bonus Game

Picking bonus games are a less common feature than free spins but are an excellent add-on to any online slots games. In these games, you are presented with a series of options. Each option can reveal a prize such as a cash win, wilds, free spins, or multipliers. The number of picks you get and the prizes available can vary depending on the game.

You can test out this feature on Wild West Duels by Pragmatic Play. You’d need to pick nine shovels out of 25 on display during the game’s lost relics round. These will then reveal either random multipliers or guaranteed wilds.

Progressive Jackpots

A progressive jackpot slot is a type of online slot game where the jackpot increases every time someone places a bet but doesn’t win the jackpot. The amount continues to grow indefinitely until someone wins it. Games like these can be linked across multiple machines or casinos, leading to huge jackpots.

Over the years, no game has eclipsed Mega Moolah by Microgaming in popularity for the progressive jackpot feature. This game is linked across multiple casinos across the globe and has created many millionaires. The jackpot starts at $2 million and can grow to several million dollars before it is won.

Other Slot Bonus Symbols and Features

Dropping symbols: These can go by other names, like rolling reels, cascading symbols, or even avalanches, depending on what the developers choose. With this function, winning symbols can vanish from view, allowing other symbols to rain down from above to take their place. As a result, you may end up with more victories in the same round.

Win multipliers: Bonus spins and other features in slot games can come with an associated multiplier. These multiply the resulting wins by a set amount, usually between 2x and 5x. During bonus spins, the win multiplier might be infinite at times.

Special wilds: Wilds can do more than just replace regular symbols; they can also unlock bonus features. Is this feature a way to win online slots? Without a doubt, some wilds can grow to fill an entire reel, and wilds that can multiply the wins they contribute to, move across the screen with each round, and more.

Gamble: When playing a game with a gamble feature, players can use their winnings from one round to play a mini-game, such as choosing a random red or black card. The prize is doubled if your guess is right; you will lose the amount if you are wrong.

Free respins: With slot respins, you get fewer rounds, but they are just like with bonus spins. Most games only let you get one respin without betting if you hit specific requirements, like getting a wild symbol on screen.

How to earn money on online slots for beginners

Regardless of your skill or level of experience, the answer to the question of “can you win money on online slots” is yes, you can. All you have to do is to understand the paytable and match specific symbols to win. If you trigger bonus rounds, you might also get lucky, depending on how the bonuses work.

Since these games run on a random number generator (RNG), your wins and losses are unpredictable. However, as a beginner, you can leverage tips like playing online slots with high return-to-player percentage (RTP) and low variance. These could help you minimize losses but do not guarantee any possible wins.

Playing the demo version of your selected slot before taking financial risks is also a good idea.

How to Play Slots Online Right Now

To learn how to play online slots right now, you only need to follow these simple steps carefully:

1. Choose a Slots Game

To start playing slots online, choose a title that suits your interests. There are hundreds of online slot machines available at the best online casinos. You can browse the library or simply search for specific ones. Once you find one that catches your eye, click the “Play Now” button just over it.

2. Set the Size of the Bet

The controls are usually available at the bottom, under the slot’s reels. Once you see it, you can place a bet using the bet size section or a coins button, depending on the game’s design. Decide the amount you will stake for each round and confirm the number of paylines you’re betting on, if the slot warrants it.

3. Spin the Reels

Once the bet is set, you must click the spin button to play each round. This is the large circular button, located either at the bottom or on the right side. You can also use an auto-spin option for a more relaxed session. After clicking it, the game will show a small animation, and random symbols will stop on the screen.

4. Receive the Winnings

Your only aim will be to form matching symbols on active paylines to win. Make sure you have checked the paytable before playing so that you have an idea of what to expect. Once you win, the amount will be immediately added to your bankroll.

5. Trigger Extra Features

As you play slot games you will likely come across various bonus features. These are meant to increase the payouts by adding different benefits, like free spins, wild symbols, and more. Most features trigger randomly, and you can check the slot information for details on what features are available and how to trigger them.

Types of Online Slots

Since the release of the first slot, designs have gradually evolved and led to the creation of different slot types. Here are some of the most popular ones:

Classic Slots

Classic slot machines  are the first type of slots created and the simplest ones in terms of design. These games usually have only three reels and a few paylines, without many special bonus symbols. To win at classic slots, you’ll simply want to line up three of the same symbols on a payline. Some classic slot game titles at online casinos include:

  • Scorching Sevens: This is a three-reel slot created by Saucify, and it has a single payline across the middle of the reels. Like old slots, you’ll find cherries, bars, and flaming 7s as the symbols in this classic-styled release.
  • Lucky Diamonds: This one is from Play’n GO and comes with three reels and one payline like Scorching Sevens. The sound effects here are also similar to those of old slot machines you’ll find at brick-and-mortar casinos.

Video Slots

Video slots are more modern and come with creative themes, more paylines, and more interesting gameplay than classic variants. They usually have at least five reels and multiple paylines and come with various special features such as free spins, bonus rounds, and multipliers. You’ll find more of these than the classic ones at online casinos.

  • Starburst: Developed by NetEnt, this game is one of the most popular video slots ever. It has five reels and ten paylines and features a Starburst Wild that expands to cover the entire reel and triggers a respin.
  • Gonzo’s Quest: Also developed by NetEnt, this game has five reels and 20 paylines and features the Avalanche feature, where symbols fall into place instead of spinning.

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Progressive Slots

Progressive slots are games where the jackpot increases every time someone places a bet and doesn’t win. Depending on the slot provider’s creative instincts, these games can be classic or video slots. Titles you might come across include:

  • Mega Moolah: Microgaming’s Mega Moolah has five reels and 25 paylines and featured a $1 million progressive jackpot seed, which was doubled to $2 million in 2022.
  • Mega Fortune: This one is from NetEnt and features five reels and 25 paylines with a progressive jackpot seeding at €250,000.

Jackpot Slots

Jackpot slots are games that offer a fixed jackpot prize. These games can be classic or video slots like the progressive jackpot variants. If you’d like to try these slot machines, consider the following titles:

  • Dead or Alive: Developed by NetEnt, this game has five reels and nine paylines and features a jackpot of $2,500.
  • Hell’s Kitchen: Also developed by NetEnt, this game named after the famous chef Gordon Ramsay has five reels and 20 paylines with a jackpot of 1000x.

Tips for winning the slot game

There are no surefire tricks or tips on how to win at slots. However, this is how to play slot machines to improve your chances of enjoying your gameplay and potentially reducing losses:

  • Set a budget. Before you start playing, decide how much money you’re willing to spend and stick to it.
  • Choose the right game. Look for games with a high return-to-player (RTP) percentage and low volatility.
  • Understand the paytable. Ensure you understand how the game works and what you need to do to win.
  • Start small. Begin with small bets and gradually increase your wager as you get more comfortable with the game.
  • Take advantage of bonuses. Many online casinos give away free spins or match your first deposit. Utilize these deals to raise your chances of possibly winning.
  • Play for fun. Remember that online slot games are meant to be fun. Don’t get too caught up in trying to win; remember to enjoy the experience.

Regardless of the type of slot you choose to play, it is good to note that each game is unique in terms of features and gameplay. Also, some titles are tailored to suit people who have larger bankrolls and want to take big risks, while others are for fun seekers or those with small budgets. Can you play slots for real money online? Yes, you can, but be sure to study your chosen slot before you start playing.

How to Play Slots Online – FAQs

Is there a trick to playing slots online?

There is no trick to winning at online slots. However, you can increase your chances of winning by setting a budget, choosing the right game with high RTP and a bet range that suits you, understanding the payables, and taking advantage of bonuses.

Can you play online slots for real money?

Yes, you can play online slots for real money. Many online casinos offer a variety of slot games that you can play for real money. Choose a reputable online casino and read the terms and conditions before playing slot machines.

How do you play slots for beginners?

To play slots for beginners, you’ll need to choose a game you like, set your bet amount, and spin the reels. The goal is to line up matching symbols on the paylines to win. Make sure to read the game rules and paytable before playing.

What is the best chance of winning online slots?

The best chance of winning online slot machines is to choose games with a high return-to-player (RTP) percentage and low volatility. These games offer better odds of winning and are less risky than high-volatility games