How to Play Online Slots

In the multiple states where online slots are legal, their revenue continues to grow by double digits year after year. In this article, we will walk through what they are, how and where to s.ign up to play online slots and some tips and tricks on finding the best slot machines and the best ways to ensure you are getting your best shot at hitting those jackpots.

We will briefly examine how slot tournaments work in the online casino space, and then we will wrap it up by answering some frequently asked questions.



Online slots work very much like those in a land-based casino. The days of mechanical reel slots have gone by for decades, and most slots in Las Vegas or Atlantic City run on software code and random number generators.

In that sense, you can think of online slots as the same as your favorites at the brick-and-mortar casino, but without all of those costly, gaudy cases and neon and not sitting on all that very expensive real estate. Their software code is on a giant server somewhere vs. sitting on a casino floor.

That code is going to lay out how the game looks, simulate the spinning of the wheel, keep track of your bets and credits, determine the probabilities, and then, when the time is right, use a complicated pseudo-random number Generator to determine the outcome of your "spin."


This random number generator is called pseudo because it generates a string of numbers millions of digits long but uses code to do it instead of something truly random. It is plenty random for our purposes here, though, and from now on, we will refer to it as a Random Number Generator or RNG.

State gaming agencies, independent labs, and casinos inspect these RNGs to ensure that they are as close to random as we can currently make them and that they behave as we expect. While there are many various types of games with lots of different rules.


The next acronym we need to explore is RTP. RTP stands for Return To Player, and each set of game rules and payout tables will go into that machine's RTP. That number is the amount that we expect will be returned to the player after millions of spins and is essentially the average of all of the possibilities that might come.

We know that if we are playing a double-blazing seven machine with an RTP of 95%, the RNG will ensure that after millions of spins, we only lost, on average, 5% of my bet on each spin through all the ups and downs. The house edge or slot edge is just the opposite of RTP. In this case, the aforementioned 5%, while the RTP is 95%, equals 100% of our wagers either taken or given back.

The RTP can be a bit tricky, though. As a holdover from the old reel slot machines, the top jackpot or even some of the bonus features won't be activated unless you have the max bet in. All of this will be laid out on the screen, but the takeaway is that 95% RTP may only be true if you are betting max. On a three-coin machine and with all three needed to hit the jackpot, you may be seriously under the long-term RTP if only betting one coin.


slot paylines
Multiple paylines on Stellar Cash™ Blown Away® slot, Golden Nugget

This brings us to paylines. In the beginning, there was one pay line, horizontally left to right; you needed three 7s to win the jackpot. Those days are long gone, and some slot machines, like the Megaway machines, are reportedly on 117,649 pay lines.

Paylines can now zigzag across the board. Sometimes, they run vertically, sometimes they snake their way through the symbols, and sometimes, they don't even need to be in a line, just a cluster. It can be a bit confusing, but if you hit the info button on your machine, it will walk you through all the pay lines your individual slot machine pays, what they look like, and just how many there are on this particular machine.

Because there can be a lot of distractions at home, it is best to familiarize yourself with the layout of the buttons on your phone or monitor. We don't want to accidentally hit max bet or toggling from pennies to dollars on the denomination, so make sure you have a good understanding of all the buttons, what they do, and where they are.

slots paylines
Example paylines from Stellar Cash™ Blown Away® slot

One of the great things about playing these online slots games is that you can almost always play them in demo mode without risking real cash as you learn the game. This is something you don't see in brick-and-mortar casinos and should always be taken advantage of to get a feel for the game, the pay lines, the scatter symbols, and, of course, what those darn buttons do.

Another important part of how slot machines work is understanding the lingo that slots people speak. It may take just a minute, but being able to understand what people are trying to tell you about how to play a game, or why it has paid out like it has will be well worth the effort.

beatles slots


The original mechanical machine consisted of three reels, and for many decades, these were the only types of slot machine you could find. Even during the Depression, when money was tight and slot games were illegal and could only be played as novelty devices, the winning combination on a slot machine was three reels with matching fruit or bar symbols.

Early in the beginning of this century, most of these machines were replaced by electromechanical reels or reels in name only. They no longer had just 12 or 15 stops but an infinite amount of stops, essentially as computers took over the game. A stop is just where the old mechanical reels might come to rest as they were spun.

But people were used to the reels, and even today, the machines that look like they still have the three old reels are some of the most popular slot games out there. Some of these may still have actual separate wheels, but more commonly, the video reels are just pictures displayed on the monitor. Either way, they are controlled by the RNGs of the machine today.


Rows were the original pay line. From left to right, in a straight line across the machine, these are the rows. On those old reel machines, you would typically see three stops, the one above and below the original payline, so you could see three rows. Over time, machines began to pay the winners on these rows as well, and then, with the invention of the graphic reels, you could show as many as seven or even more stops, and you could just make up crazy pay lines without any reference to the actual rows.

One of the more aggravating things about rows and slot machines in general, is that as computers took over they no longer needed to display the actual symbols on the lines as they would have if they were spun. The RNG determined if you had winner and that was it.

Except at some point, a programmer somewhere thought, hey, what if we made it look like the symbol they needed was just one row above or below? They would think they almost had a winner and keep playing. And so they did. Despite a lot of pushback from players and regulators, this still happens and is allowed. So, never believe that two triple-blazing sevens in a row and your third missing triple-seven just above or below. They're pulling a fast one on you.


We've covered pay lines above, but this is just a reminder that today's machines can have an almost infinite number of pay lines. Some do, while others may just have three or twelve. You'll have to check to see.

Also, remember that the more you bet, the more pay lines you will cover, so a larger bet will give you a better chance of hitting at least something. However, this has caused a paradoxical payout where, more often than not, your win doesn't equal the amount you bet. This is very strange to someone who used to play the old reel machines, where that wasn't really ever a possibility.


slot payout table
Example payout table from Stellar Cash™ Blown Away® slot

Slot machine manufacturers like to offer their online casino customers some choices. So often, they will have the same machine with several different RTPs to choose from to meet the needs of the slot director's vision of his online casino floor. The way that the Sam machine can have a different RTP is through the use of the payables.

By paying more on a scatter bonus or less on a jackpot, I can use the paytables to generate a range of RTPs for my discerning slot director. This also means that it behooves us as customers of that online slot machine to carefully read the payables, type them into Google, and get back the RTP of that machine so we can know what odds we are facing. Many online casinos make this easy by posting the RTP by the thumbnail of the slot on the main library page.


Before we begin playing online slots for real money, we have two tasks. First, we need to find the right casino and select suitable slot games. While this can be a bit of work, it is by far the most important part of our slot machine play.

This prep work now will set us up with a casino that will reward our play with bonuses and promotions. Our decision to play online slot machines with a high RTP and the desired Volatility will ensure that we don't throw away our money any quicker than we need to and earn some points and comps in the meantime.


Finding the right online casino can be hard. We want the right number of games, easily searchable not only by name but also by theme. We want a big initial sign-on bonus, and we would like to earn reward points that are valuable and can actually be used for something good. We'd like ongoing bonuses and promotions that reward us for our continued play.

We want great customer service, instant deposits, and quick withdrawals. And preferably an online casino that doesn't crash or drop connections. But the thing is, that could be any of about a half dozen casino operators running online casinos right now.

From BetMGM and its almost 1200-game slot library and huge signup bonus to Caesars Palace Online Casino with an even bigger signup bonus and their valuable Caesars reward points that you can use at any of several dozen casinos around the states, there are plenty of great operators offering online slot games.

DraftKings has a great slot library and constant proms and Major League Sports Tickets giveaways; Golden Nugget has a solid website and lots of ongoing tournaments. It's literally a golden age for playing online, with nationally known casino brands waving fists of cash at you to get you to try their product. Sign up for a few, take them for a spin, give them a chance to earn your business, see which one you like best, and give them your play.


Researching the RTP of slots is as simple as typing it into Google. So, even if the online casino doesn't tell you what it is on their site, it's a relatively simple matter to figure out.

In some cases, you may have to settle for a range of RTPs since even machines that look identical may have different RTP settings. In those cases, we just reach out to customer service. They may not have to give it to you, but they aren't going to want you complaining to the state gaming agency that they wouldn't tell you either.

Clearly, the RTP is important. I'd have a hard time playing anything with less than 95% payback, but many others just want to play online slots that they love and are happy to play whatever the RTP.

Maybe you like the huge Progressive Jackpots offered on Wheel Of Fortune; maybe you like an online slot game with lots of bonus rounds that are incorporated into a compelling story. Plat those, but maybe do a little comparison shopping to see if you can find a similar style of game with a little higher RTP.

I mean, some of these casinos have 1200 titles; there's got to be a lot to choose from.


Don't forget that not all RTPs are created equal; double-check the payables just to make sure you are getting the same pay as you normally get when playing this slot. The paytable is also important since it will spell out what you need to get into bonus rounds, which symbols are scatter symbols, how many of the bonus symbols you will need to land to get free spins, and all the other inner workings of the game.


The days of penny machines actually costing just a penny are long over. Today's video slots are going to require a little more investment.

The higher the pay lines you are playing, the better your chance of hitting something every spin, as well as the fact that a higher pay line often unlocks bonus rounds or bonus games that may not be accessible to you at fewer pay lines. Again the paytable is your friend here, look it over to see what number of payline sunlcok what slot game features. But still remember you have a set bankroll, so try and manage both into your calculations of how many pay lines you should be playing.


The spin button is where the magic happens. This may be a bit obtuse, but the way these video slots work is that at the exact millisecond, you push that spin button, the random number generator makes the call on whether this spin wins or loses. Another sort of sad fact is that in bonus rounds or bonus games, no matter what you pick, the decision has already been made on what you've won. Picking a different door doesn't have any real impact on your prize. It was decided when you hit the spin button.


It's important to keep track of your winnings. Make sure you have the right denomination of coins chosen and that you don't accidentally hit the button for a max bet if that's not what you want.

If you move onto another slot, again check all of your settings before hitting the spin button to make sure you are betting the amount you wish to bet. If you decide it's time to withdraw your winnings, double and triple-check that you have met all the playthrough requirements. If you attempt to withdraw before that playthrough has been met, many casinos will void your entire bonus.


Today, video slot machines are a far cry from matching symbols of fruit a few decades ago. There will be Wild Symbols, free games, special symbols, scatter symbols, and bonus games. When in doubt when learning a complicated new game, use demo mode to play for free and get a better understanding of the game mechanics, pay line, and other features of the game


It's best to think of a wild symbol on slot machines, much as you would think of a joker in poker. It's a substitute for other symbols to help you get a match to win a jackpot or help you earn other wins. It can beused to stand in for almost all symbols in some games and only for certain ones in others. For instance, it can almost never act as a scatter but can often fill in for everything else.

For instance, in Buffalo Gold, the Scatter symbol is the Gold Dollar coin, while the wild symbol is the Sunrise. The Sunrise can fill in for buffalo, elk, eagle, wolf, or any other symbols than the Gold Dollar scatter.

In some cases, wild symbols can be found anywhere on the board; in other cases, like Buffalo Gold, they can only land on reels two, three, or four.


Scatter symbols most often work as multipliers, where each scatter symbol landed will multiply yours by x amount or as keys to unlock bonus games or Bunes features. For instance, land three scatters to unlock the bonus game that offers free spins or game-within-game features. In some slot machines at social casinos, scatters may award prizes to everyone at your bank of machines.

In our Buffalo gold example, three gold coin scatters get you eight free spins, land four gold coins, and you get 15 free spins, and five lucky gold coins award 20 free spins, which is a nice little boost. Whereas in a slot machine like Cleopatra, the Sphinx acts first as a s way to win free spins; land three, and you get 15 free spins. But once in the bonus frees spin round, that same sphinx acts as a multiplier, so if you get two sphinxes, you get 2x your win, three sphinxes get you 5x, and five sphinxes get you 100x.


While some scatters do work as multipliers, many do not, depending on the game. In this case, there may be a separate symbol that does the hard work of multiplying out for us when landed. In some cases, these multipliers may only be available in the bonus game, such as Cleopatra above. In this case, the scatter substitutes as a multiplier, but in some games, the wild symbol can also do double duty as a multiplier. Or there may be a totally different symbol that fills in as the multiplier. Check the pay tables for more information.


Free spins are a common component of almost all of today's hot new slot products. The free spin rounds are typically triggered by scatter symbols but sometimes can be triggered under other circumstances. Check the game info and payables to see how many pay lines you need to be betting to trigger free spin rounds, as some machines will have free spins regardless of pay lines played, while others will only trigger free spins and other bonus features if a certain number of pay lines are activated.


Slot machines are not meant to be beaten; The house literally rakes in billions of these machines or their online counterparts every year. But we should at least be informed consumers so we can stand a better chance of winning sometimes and so that we don't just throw our money away without at least having some entertainment and a shot at some big jackpots.


Overall, the higher the denomination you bet, the higher the return loss is going to be. Las Vegas Land-based slot machines who report their win by denomination show that the RTP for 5% dollars hovers around 95% while penny slots on the Strip return only 90%. There is no reason to think that online slots will be any different. So larger bets will have a much better chance of occasionally overcoming that house edge and giving us a winning session.

By betting on multiple pay lines, not only do we increase our bet, but we cover more ways to win. We have more money at risk but lower volatility because we also have many more ways to win, and our averages will come into play. It is far better to bet 1000 pennies across 1,000 pay lines than 1000 pennies across just one in that we have a much higher chance of landing winners on at least some of those pay lines.


In order to stand a chance at getting some of our hard-earned money back from the casinos, it is crucial that we understand not only their rules around initial deposit bonuses and the playthrough needed to release those funds but also around any other redeposit bonus offers.

We need to know how points are awarded for our play and if there are machines that add points faster than others. We need to closely monitor free play offers and how much play we use to receive them, and we need to avoid competing offers from other casinos that may outweigh the ones from our current casino.

Armed with this information, we can begin to make a plan about how best to play our bankroll, on what machines, and how much at a time to maximize our free play and redeposit offers. We should also make sure that we earn comp and tier points for all of our play at the online slot games most expediently\


There ar almost as many variations on slot machine tournaments as there are kinds of slot machines. There are tournaments with rounds where players play head-to-head for a very short amount of time, perhaps three minutes, and the highest credit score on each round moves on to the semi-finals. These types of tournaments are played on tournament machines and use tourney credits instead of real money. They will often involve either e buy-in of some amount, or perhaps you can win your way in, or in some, a VIP will get an automatic seat.

There are tournaments that last a week or a month, with a leaderboard that usually looks for the highest-dollar winner on a certain type of game. Perhaps the biggest winners on Buffalo Gold for that week or month will have a posted leaderboard that keeps track of everyone's winnings and lets everyone know what they are shooting for.

These types of tournaments don't usually require a buy-in and are open to everyone playing the designated type of game. Most online casinos offer both of these types of tournaments on an ongoing basis, and they can be quite fun and enjoyable to play. While they require little in the way of strategy, the key to both is to keep hitting that button—well, within your designated budget and bankroll, of course.


We know you still have questions about online slot machines, random number generators, progressive jackpots, and more. And we've got answers.


Slot machines have a high house advantage. Many penny machines or those on cruise ships can have RTPs of only 85%. If you figure the average slot player bets a dollar a spin and manages to spin 600 times in an hour, that player will lose, on average, $90.

Which is terrible, but it is not the same as rigged. The RTP is easily available in most cases directly on the casino operator's site, and the player has every opportunity to pick a machine with a higher RTP.


The best place to play slot machines for real money is if you live in or are traveling to one of the seven states where online casinos are legal. This includes Rhode Island, Delaware, Michigan, West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.

You may also be able to play slot machines at social casinos like High Five, Pulsz, and Carnival Citi for sweepstakes coins. These coins are earned from purchases, and they can be wagered on slots and then redeemed for real money.


Most online casinos pay you out the same way that you deposited. So if, for instance, you deposited $100 with PayPal, they will send you back your money using PayPal. If you choose your debit card, then they will generally pay you back using that. In fact, many online casinos will have rules in place that you must withdraw at least up to what you deposited using that same method as a security protocol.


Be lucky! If you aren't lucky, look for slots that have guaranteed payouts by certain amounts on the meters, wait for them to reach over 100% RTP, and then hope you get lucky, only this time with odds in your favor. Some other ideas for winning at online slots include getting a dozen of your friends to sign up for the refer-a-friend promotion at $100 a sign-up or buying stock in the casino operators so you profit off everyone else playing the online slot machines.

Or perhaps you could become a TikTok slot influencer with tens of thousands of subscribers watching you play the penny slots day in and day out. Failing all those, I suppose one could write articles about "playing slots online" for a quick buck.


A loose slot machine is one that pays back frequently. This expression is tied in with the old notion that casinos would put loose slot machines by the front door or by the cage to make it seem to passers-by or gamblers getting ready to call it a day that the machines were ripe for the plucking. In all fairness, a high RTP machine with low volatility does fit the description of a loose slot machine, so it's not all that far-fetched of a term for a slot machine.