How to Play Slots: A Comprehensive Guide

Learn how to play online slots with our comprehensive guide. We cover how slots work and provide tips on how to be in with the best chances of winning at online slots.

Slot games are among the most popular online casino games. Simple and easy to get to grips with, online slots are the perfect place for casino newcomers to start. Whether you want to play free slots or play slots for real money, there’s a game for every player. While the concept of online slots is simple, it’s still important to understand the basics before you get started. That’s where we step in! Here’s the Compare.bet guide on how to play slots!

How slot machines work

Just like your traditional fruit machines, online slots have reels on which symbols show. These symbols vary between games, and are usually tailored to the theme of the slot. Certain symbol combinations will land you a win. You get these symbol combinations by pressing a ‘spin’ button – the equivalent to pulling a level on an old-fashioned machine. When pressed, this button sets the reels spinning and they will eventually come to a stop, displaying a symbol.

Before we look at exactly how to play slots online, let’s delve deeper into the various elements that determine how slots work.

Random number generator (RNG)

At UK licensed casinos, all online slots are powered by random number generators (RNG). This software ensures that every symbol combination occurs at random, and each spin is separate to the preceding or succeeding spin. This means that there’s no tactic that will increase your chances of winning at slots – each and every spin is determined at random!

Return to Player (RTP)

The return to player (RTP) percentage signifies your chances of winning some returns on your wagers when playing a certain slot game. These percentages are a theoretical calculation of how much you could win back if you were to play an infinite number of spins.

NetEnt’s classic Starburst slot, for example, features a 96.09% RTP. This means that for every £100 slot players spend, the game can be expected to pay out £96.09, in theory. However, because this is a theoretical calculation, it isn’t representative of every player’s experience. In reality, you could be on track to win more or less than this percentage at any given time. While the best paying slots tend to have RTPs above 98%, playing a high RTP slot doesn’t guarantee a winning spin.

You can find the RTP by checking the slot game’s paytable — click on the ‘i’ or ‘?’

Volatility

In the world of online slots, volatility or variance describes the amount of risk associated with a given slot game. In other words, it indicates how much and how often you can expect to win from a game during a period of play. Let’s take another look at Starburst. This popular online slot has low volatility, which means the game pays out small amounts frequently. In comparison, wins on high variance slots are bigger but show up less often.

Bet limits

Every slot game has a minimum bet limit, and you’ll need to meet this limit to play that slot title for real money. Minimum bet limits start from as little as 1p for penny slots, all the way up to hundreds of pounds per spin for other games. This variety makes slot games the perfect option for casual players and high rollers alike. Your bets will take the form of casino coins, and you’ll set the value of these coins before you start spinning the reels.

Paylines

In order to win, you’ll need to match symbols across a payline. The number of paylines on a slot machine will depend on the number of reels the game has. Classic slots, reminiscent of arcade fruit machines, tend to have three reels and one payline. Some of the newest video slots with five reels have many more paylines along which you can score winning symbol combinations.

On traditional slot machines, symbols would have needed to match in one direction. However, nowadays online slot games have multi-directional paylines, allowing you to match symbols from left to right, up and down and diagonally. With such a vast number of paylines on some slots, you’ll quite literally have thousands of different ways to win on selected titles.

You wager a set amount on each payline you bet on. The more paylines you bet on, the higher your chances of getting a payout. Of course, this comes at a cost- you’ll need to multiply your stake by the number of paylines you bet on to calculate your total bet for that spin.

How to Play Slots

There’s a huge range of different online slot games to choose from, from classic slots to video slots and slots with a progressive jackpot. However, the good news is that whichever slot you choose, the gameplay basics are always the same: set your stake, hit spin and see if you land a winning combination.

Most popular slots also have an autoplay or autospin feature. This means you can set the number of spins you want to play in advance – no need to keep pressing the spin button!

Exactly how you land a winning combination varies between games. Each symbol combination will have its own value, which could increase if a wild symbol or scatter symbol appears in that row. Wild symbols substitute for other standard symbols to increase your chances of winning, while scatters tend to unlock bonus features or bonus rounds, such as free spins. We’ll look more closely at wilds, scatter symbols and other features of online slot games in the next section of this guide. But first, here’s a quick overview of how to play online slots.

  1. Choose the online slot title you want to play and open the game. Whether you’re using a desktop, laptop or a mobile device, the game will present you with the colourful reels and operating buttons, including ‘max bet’ and ‘spin’. The screen will also show your available bankroll, so you can keep track of exactly how much you’re playing with.
  2. Examine the slot’s paytable. This table shows you how much the different symbols are worth and which ones are worth keeping an eye out for. Choose the amount you would like to wager and the number of paylines you want to cover. Select the ‘max bet’ button to cover all the paylines at once.
  3. Go ahead and hit ‘spin’ to start your game. If you land a winning combination, the slot machine will display the amount of your win and may provide you with the opportunity to play a bonus game or bonus round. These bonus games give you the opportunity to win even bigger prizes.

Features in online slots

Now that you understand how to play slots online, it’s time to explore the features of the games themselves. From bonus rounds to wilds, these special features make slots more exciting and give you extra chances to win.

Wilds

Wilds are a feature of most online slots games. Appearing as anything from a gem to the hero of the game, wilds can help you land a win by acting as substitutes for paying symbols. When you play a basic slot, a wild replaces most symbols, except for other special features like scatters and jackpot symbols. In more intricate games, it’s common to see variations like sticky wilds, which stay put for additional spins, and expanding wilds, which can cover the entire reel. You can check the game’s paytable to better understand the abilities of each wild.

Scatters

Scatter symbols make an appearance in many online slots, bringing with them plenty of extra excitement thanks to their ability to trigger bonus rounds such as mini-games or free spins. You’ll typically need to land three or more scatters to kickstart any bonus games, and they usually don’t need to be in a row either. In Microgaming’s Immortal Romance slot, for example, you need to collect three door knocker symbols to activate the Chamber of Spins bonus.

Win boosters

Win boosters can help slot players bag bigger cash returns. They include things like re-spins and nudges, which offer a second chance to win, as well as multipliers, which can double, triple, or even quadruple your win. NetEnt’s Gonzo’s Quest slot features another type of win booster: avalanche reels. This sees symbols tumble down the screen to hopefully form a winning combination. The symbols then explode before being replaced by more tumbling symbols.

Bonus rounds

When it comes to bonus rounds, you might say we’ve saved the best for last. Bonus rounds add an extra layer of enjoyment to playing slots online and increase your chances of a win even though they cost nothing to play. Different slots may have multiple bonus rounds, some taking the form of free spins rounds, some being arcade-style games-within-the-game. The original Rainbow Riches slot, for example, features three bonus rounds – Wishing Well, Road to Riches, and Pots of Gold – each one triggered by collecting a set of three scatter symbols.

Slot tournaments

Slot tournaments can really ramp up the fun of playing at online casinos, as they let you compete against other slot players to win cash prizes and bonuses. Once you register for these tournaments, climbing to the top of the slots leaderboards might be a simple case of winning the most points, or completing specific tasks like playing the most games or triggering the most bonus rounds.

The duration and format of tournaments also vary. Betfair, for example, hosts daily slot tournaments that last for either 20 minutes or 250 spins, depending on which comes first. Other casinos might host tournaments in which you can compete for prizes by playing any slot from a certain software developer, such as Novomatic or Pragmatic Play. These may take place over a week, fortnight or month. Either way, the best thing about slot tournaments is that there isn’t usually a single winner. Many tournaments share the spoils between the top 50 players, so there’s a good chance of scooping a prize even if you don’t secure the top spot on the leaderboard.

Slot variations

Slots players are spoilt for choice these days, with casinos offering a range of variations on the basic gameplay. Let’s have a closer look at the main ones you’ll see online.

Progressive slots

Regular slot games like Berryburst and Book of Dead feature fixed jackpots, but progressive slots give players a shot at winning a prize that can run into millions of pounds. Each time you play a progressive slot, a small percentage of your stake goes toward the jackpot pool. Imagine thousands of other players doing the same and it’s easy to understand why progressive jackpot slots like NetEnt’s Mega Fortune can become so potentially lucrative for the lucky few who win the biggest prizes.

3-reel slots

It’s not unusual to see 3-reel slots referred to as classic slots, and for good reason. The design of these slot games is taken directly from the old-fashioned fruit machines, often featuring retro graphics like cherries and shiny gold bars. Top 3-reel slots like Microgaming’s Couch Potato often have a single payline but lack features like scatter symbols and bonus rounds. It’s this simplicity that makes them the perfect choice of online slots for newbies.

5-reel slots

Remember the list of slot features we covered earlier in this guide? Wilds, scatters, free spins, tumbling reels and bonus games all play a part in 5-reel slots like NetEnt’s Western-themed Dead or Alive. The wealth of paylines is another area where 5-reel slot games differ from 3-reel classics. Thunderkick’s 1429 Uncharted Sea slot, for example, features 25 paylines, while NextGen’s Superman has 50.

Megaways

If you like the sound of 50 paylines, you will love the big wins served up by Megaways slots. Developed by Big Time Gaming in 2015, these innovative titles feature random reel modifiers, which vary the number of symbols that show up on the reels after a player hits spin. The more symbols that appear, the bigger the number of paylines available. To take such one grandiose example, the sci-fi-themed Invaders Megaways can offer up to a million paylines!

Online slots tips

Online slots come down to pure chance, but here are some tips that can enhance your gaming experience at the UK’s top online slots sites.

  • Try free slots or demo versions of games first. This helps you understand how a slot game and its symbols work before you wager real money.
  • Look for online slots with high RTP values. These give you the best chance of landing a cash return. Playtech’s Ugga Bugga, for example, has an incredible 99.07% RTP.
  • The most enjoyable games are often those that suit your personality. Love movies? Check out the Robocop or Suicide Squad slots. Prefer TV? Try the Vikings or Family Guy slots.
  • When playing a progressive slot, be sure to wager enough to be eligible to win the jackpot. On the Nordic mythology-themed Hall of Gods, you’ll need to bet the max to be in with a shot of landing the big prize. This will, of course, increase your total bet size and risk.
  • Always play within your budget and never bet more on slots than you can afford to lose. You can set deposit limits to help you stay in control of your online gambling activities.
  • Set periodic reality checks to remind you of how long you have been playing online slots and other real money casino games.
  • Remember, help is on hand if you ever feel your gambling habit is getting out of control. GamCare and BeGambleAware both offer useful resources and support, while the GAMSTOP scheme lets you self-exclude from all online casinos for a set period of time.

FAQs

Do any T&Cs apply to online casino welcome offers?

Almost certainly, yes. You might have to use a certain payment method to be eligible for casino welcome bonus offers, while any winnings from free spins and bonus funds are likely to be subject to wagering requirements. Say you win £50 using free spins, and there’s a 25x wagering requirement. This will mean you have to bet £1,250 (25 x £50) before you can withdraw those winnings.

The people behind this page

Compare.bet's online gambling content experts helped write, edit and check this page:

Danielle has six years of experience writing on a wide variety of topics, including online casino, sports betting and tourism. She has a BA in French with English from King’s College.

Alan has three years of writing experience and an MA in English Literature, with bylines at These Football Times and 90Min as well as extensive coverage of all things sports betting and online casino.