Online Slots Guide
What are online slots and are online slots legit? Let’s take a deep dive into the world of virtual slots. This online slots guide will cover the history of online slots, how online slots work, what the different types of online slots are, and how to choose the best online slot. If you ever wanted to learn about progressive virtual slots and mobile slot games, then keep reading!
Online Slots | Your Guide to Online Slots
Slot machines have evolved exponentially from their humble beginnings. Charles Fey of California invented the first slot machine in the 19th century, with three reels and a few symbols including the Liberty Bell. This bell remains a classic symbol in many of today’s slots.
Today, though, slots are so far beyond that mechanical cabinet. Now they’re completely digitized and dominate the online gambling landscape. With their randomized software and easy betting, online slots are great money makers for both casinos and gamblers.
Let’s take a look at how online slots became so popular and how to find the best slot for you in the vast world of online casinos.
This guide will cover everything there is to know about slots, including:
- History of Online Slots
- How Online Slots Work
- How to Choose an Online Slot
- Types of Online Slots
- Why Online Slots Are Popular
- The Legality of Online Slots
- Where You Can Play Online Slots
A History of Online Slots
Online slots wouldn’t be what they are today without the advent of the first video slots. In 1976, the Las Vegas-based company Fortune Coin used a modified television for the display instead of having the physical reels be visible through glass. This first video format was available for play only at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel, and it was a major step forward in creating the graphical user interfaces we’re used to today.
Twenty years later, WMS Industries released “Reel ‘Em” in 1996, the first video slot to feature a second bonus-round screen, where the player could earn extra payouts. Around this time, slots had become so popular at casinos that they brought in about 70% of their income and took up about 70% of their floor space.
The 1990s also brought the internet boom, and with that came the development of the first online casinos. While casino classics like blackjack and roulette were the first to go online, slots weren’t far behind. Just like with physical casinos, slots became more popular than traditional casino games in the online arena, and so they have been making up the bulk of online casinos’ game offerings ever since.
In their first iterations, online slots remained very similar to their land-based counterparts, with your basic three reels and the same classic symbols. But designers soon realized that they didn’t have to feel beholden to the old format and its inherent restrictions. New games started to arrive on the scene, incorporating exciting themes or unconventional layouts and structures.
Any online casino now has a vast library of slots to play, and developers are also creating slots that are just as easy to play on mobile devices to keep people playing wherever they want.
How Online Slots Work
Slots, whether physical or online, are simple to play: You deposit your money, select your paylines, and hit the button to see if you’ve won the round. However, the internal mechanics are much more complicated.
Random Number Generators (RNG)
To ensure that no one (not even the casino) can cheat, the software inside online slots uses random number generators (RNGs) to determine which symbols display on the reels at the end of a spin.
Independent agencies test the RNG software before launch and periodically thereafter to ensure that it is truly randomized and unbiased. There are also licensing and regulatory bodies that test the software to guarantee that it can’t be tampered with by the casinos or the players.
So how do RNGs actually work? The software uses a complex algorithm to calculate a particular number, and the game expresses that number as a specific combination of symbols across the reels. It does this again and again, working from thousands of number combinations. If one of those combinations comes up on one of your paylines in the right order, you win the round.
First, select your coin size (which is the size of your stake). It could be as low as a $0.05 coin.
Then, look at your paylines. They may be just horizontal across the reels or go along diagonals and criss-crossing shapes. The more paylines, the more possibilities you have of winning. Some slots might allow you to use more than one coin on the same payline, too.
Once you’ve placed your bet, you click the “spin” button and your wager will get deducted from your balance.
When the reels stop spinning, the software checks for the required number of matching symbols on active paylines. The amount that you’ve won gets added to your balance, and then you can spin again with the same bet as before or with a different bet.
What To Know When Choosing Your Slot
To help you get the most fun (and hopefully the most winnings) out of your online slot, make sure you’re picking the right one. Take a look at these aspects before depositing your money into just any online slot.
Return to Player (RTP)
This is the amount that you can expect to win, expressed as a percentage of your total bet. These numbers have to be less than 100% so that the casino can make some money, but the RTP on online slots is often as high as 90-95%, and some even go as high as 98%.
It’s important to understand what this actually means. Let’s say that you’re playing on a slot with a 95% RTP. Out of every $100 on average that you bet, you’d win back $95. Think of it as the reverse of a house edge — the higher this number is, the less money you’ll lose on average.
Do note that a game’s RTP doesn’t indicate how often you should expect to win. Instead, it’s more about what your long-term chances of winning might be.
You can find the percentage of an online slot by Googling your chosen slot game’s RTP. Plenty of casino websites share the RTPs of the slots that they review. Another way is to check the game’s settings or “Help” section for mention of its RTP.
Bonus Features and Multipliers
One of the best parts of playing slots online is that you get the chance to play bonus rounds or get other premium experiences. Check the game’s paytable for any listed special features. Lots of online slots include bonus symbols that can trigger mini-games like spinning a wheel.
You should also find out if the slot has special symbols like a scatter. Scatter symbols are great because if three or more appear on the reels after a spin, this triggers a round of free spins. This then compounds if more scatter symbols appear during these free spins. These bonus rounds can multiply your payout like crazy.
In addition, look to see if the slot has any wild symbols. These work just like wild cards in card games, mimicking the symbols around them to complete a winning combination and giving you a better edge.
Lastly, see what the multipliers are like. These can multiply your winnings by 2x up to 10x or more. Some multipliers need to be unlocked by scatters while others are part of different bonus rounds. Check to see how you need to bet in order to qualify for multipliers and other bonuses.
A payline is the active line on the slot machine that you want a winning combination to appear on. In the original, three-reel slot, there was just one payline: the middle row, straight across.
Now, you can regularly see three, five, 20, or even far more paylines on a single online slot, all in different directions — vertically, diagonally, and more. You don’t have to bet on every available payline, but if you wager on more paylines at once, you’re more likely to land a winning combination. Just remember that you’re paying for every payline you activate. If you want to play on five paylines, then you’ll be paying five credits per spin instead of one.
Types of Online Slots
We’ve come a long way from the Liberty Bell slot machine of old. Branch out from what you know and give these different types of slots a try.
These slots are based on the classic machines that used to be in arcades all over the world. This is the simplest form of slot, so it’s great for absolute beginners and total purists. The window shows three columns and three rows of symbols.
On the most retro of online slots, only the middle row is the payline. Others can have up to five paylines, meaning that there can be up to five different ways that the symbols can line up to create a winning combination. These paylines go across the top, middle, and bottom lines and then across the two diagonals.
You place your bet and then spin the reels. Once they stop, if the symbols on any of the paylines match up to one of the winning combinations listed on the paytable, you win that amount of money. Usually, the winning combinations on a three-reel slot have to be three matching symbols (though there might be a wild symbol on the reel that helps with this).
Five-Reel Video Slots
These types of slots are like three-reel slots, wherein the paylines can be found going both horizontally and diagonally. In addition, they can also make different shapes around the screen, adding more chances for winning combinations (sometimes up to 100).
These video slots are much more visually sophisticated than their three-reel counterparts. They’re based around branded or other thematic content, complete with audio and visual effects and even storylines to give you the full entertainment experience.
The paylines will often light up in different colors to show how the combinations need to form in order to win. You need to bet on each payline that you want in play, of course. If you’re playing $0.05 on each payline on a 50-line slot, your total bet will equal $2.50.
Five-reel slots are where you’ll start to see bonus features like wilds and scatters.
Because of all these extras, the pay tables are much more detailed than on a three-reel slot. Don’t get overwhelmed by this amount of information, though — it’s giving you all the details you need to make your bets.
Most of the slots you see online now are in the video and 3D realm, making them the most popular type of online slot.
Normally, each individual slot has a set jackpot, or highest payout. With a progressive slot, however, every gambler playing on that particular slot contributes to increasing the jackpot with every play. In essence, a portion of each wager gets set aside for this special bank. This means that the highest payout isn’t a fixed amount.
You’ll easily be able to see how big the progressive jackpot has gotten, as the online slot should display that amount above the middle reels on the game screen.
A player could win the progressive jackpot through a particular combination of symbols or in a bonus game. Whoever wins gets the full amount in that pot. Once that happens, the jackpot resets and starts again, building up in value with every round played.
Not all online slots have a progressive jackpot, but many do. So keep an eye out!
What Makes Online Slots So Popular?
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that online gaming is massively convenient. You can play anywhere and not have to worry about the hustle and bustle of a live casino going on all around you. That’s one of the many reasons why slots are so attractive to online gamblers.
Plus, you can see a huge variety of themes and options when it comes to online slots. Do you have a favorite TV series or movie? Then you might run across an online slot that’s themed around the characters. From sci-fi to comedy and motorcycles to unicorns, there’s going to be a slot out there that tickles your fancy.
Online casinos also tend to offer higher payouts than brick-and-mortar casinos. Plus, the online versions offer bonus rounds that classic slot machines simply can’t offer, giving gamblers more chances to win big. Who wouldn’t want more chances at a jackpot?
And, of course, online casinos often offer free demos of their games. If you haven’t played a particular slot before and want to give it a try, you can have some free spins before you have to dedicate any money. This gives you a feel for the slot’s rules and paylines, meaning you’ll most likely stick with it when you want to start gambling on it with real money.
Legality of Online Slots
Depending on where you live, gambling online can require some extra steps. While U.S. lawmakers have made multiple attempts over the years to officially ban online casinos, there is no actual federal law that completely restricts in-person or online gambling.
Only one national regulation exists: the Federal Wire Act of 1961, which blocks gambling from occurring across state lines. This means that it’s up to the individual states to make their own laws allowing gambling within their borders.
You may remember the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, which was the closest that the federal government has come to a total ban of online casinos. And yet, that law still doesn’t prohibit gambling online. Rather, the UIGEA deemed it illegal for American-based gambling websites to process payments from people living in the U.S. This scared off a lot of companies, so many online gambling sites had stopped offering their services to American customers for some years just to be safe.
So how can you play slots online while living in the U.S. now? Easy — by living within one of the four states that have made online gambling legal and accessible as of 2020.
Where You Can Play Online Slots in the U.S.
Most states have officially banned online gambling within their jurisdictions, and you can’t bet across state lines. But, you have the ability to gamble online through establishments based in these four states currently:
- New Jersey
- West Virginia
Michigan is on the way to being the fifth state to allow online gambling operations. Their governor signed legislation to allow it in 2020, and now regulators and operators are working out the details around rules and infrastructure.
Online casinos in these states may ask for proof of residency, like a valid driver’s license, to prove that you live within their state and aren’t trying to gamble across state lines.
Where Else You Can Play Online Slots
What if you don’t live in one of those five states? You still have access to online gambling options, just not domestically. Plenty of online casinos are based in other countries where you can still create an account and not break any laws.
Some countries have stricter regulations than others when it comes to running online casinos, so do your due diligence in checking where your casinos of choice are based out of. Some countries have rigorous enforcement over player safety and operator integrity. Meanwhile, others are more loose with their governance and will offer licenses to any business that simply wants a low tax rate.
Check to see where your online casinos of choice are based out of. Jurisdictions with some of the highest standards for regulations and player protections include:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Isle of Man
- New Jersey
- United Kingdom
If you come across a casino that says it’s licensed in one of these regions but you feel skeptical, you can check with the licensing authority. The licensing seals on a casino’s website should be clickable and pull up an external page on that authority’s website showing the details of that casino’s license.
Casinos based out of countries with looser regulations should be approached with some caution. They offer fewer to no protections to players if you end up in a dispute with the casino, and they have far less stringent enforcement over their licenses. So be a bit more cautious with casinos based out of:
- Costa Rica
This doesn’t mean that you should automatically refuse to gamble at online casinos based within these countries, but do your research before you sign up.
Find Your Favorite Online Slot
So many different slots are out there online, waiting for you to find them. In fact, estimates say that there are over 2,000 different online slots (and counting) from tons of different developers. Between the ease of play, convenience, and better opportunities for winning, online slots are a great option for beginner and veteran gamblers alike.
Once you find your favorite online slot, you’ll understand why slots are the most popular game around. And maybe you’ll even get that jackpot!