ENTERTAINMENT: Guide to the terminology of slots

15 August 2019
By Roger Jones


One of the many things which help to make online slots so popular is their simplicity. There are no complex strategies involved when it comes to playing slots – although setting yourself limits to how much you want to play with is recommended – and not really any element of skill. On the contrary, online slots are about having fun, which is why so many are based around popular TV, film and popular music themes, and at the same time perhaps winning some money. You place your bet, watch the reels spin and keep your fingers crossed. Or, at least, that used to be the case…

The rise of computing technology and with it the sheer range of features which could be added to slots based on the traditional 3-reel model has had a twofold effect. On the one hand it has greatly increased the ‘playability’ of online slots, pushing them further toward the world of online gaming and drawing in a whole new generation of payers, but on the other it has led to an increase in the complexity of the terminology surrounding online slots. If you’re new to online sots or you’ve been playing them for a while and you’ve simply never got around to finding out what a scatter symbol is, how bonus rounds work and what cascading reels are then you’ve come to the right place. The following quick online slots glossary will give you the information you need to make an informed choice the next time you visit a casino and find yourself faced with having to choose from more than a hundred different slots.

Autoplay – rather than pressing play every time you want the reels to spin you can select autoplay. You set the number of spins and a loss limit, and the machine does the rest for you.

Bet – the term bet refers simply to the money you’re wagering every time the reels spin. You can set a bet per line amount before you spin and it is also possible on many machines to set a maximum bet, which stops you from getting carried away and betting more than you intended.

Bonus rounds – bonus rounds are special features which become unlocked when the reels land on a particular combination. Playing the bonus round usually means the chance to earn a bonus pay-out or some free spins. In the most advanced games, the bonus rounds can take the form of a ‘game within a game’ offering the kind of playing style more associated with video games.

Cascading reels – the animation possible on online slots means that reels don’t have to simply spin around in the traditional manner. Cascading reels see the symbols dropping from the top of the screen in a way that resembles Tetris pieces. If a winning combination lands then the symbols drop off the bottom of the screen to be replaced from above, opening up more chances of hitting a winning line.

Classic slots – also known as ‘three-reel slots’ these are online slots modelled in a retro manner to resemble traditional land bases slot machines. This means just three reels that spin and a single winning line without any bonus features.

Daily jackpot – some non-progressive slots have a prize amount that can be scooped once a day in addition to the other pay-outs available. In the style of progressive slots, this jackpot builds through the day by taking a small percentage of every bet made until somebody claims it.

Expanding wild – a wild symbol, as explained below, acts like a blank tile in a game of scrabble and can turn a losing line into a winning one by standing in for another symbol. An expanding wild is a symbol like this which then expands to take up slots either across or up and down the reel in question. By doing this, the expanding wild greatly multiplies the chances of hitting a winning combination of symbols on a number of paylines.

Free spin – this is exactly what it sounds like – the chance to spin the reels without having to place a bet. Many slots offer free spins as the prize awarded during a bonus round, and some casinos include free spins as part of the bonus package for signing up to them, although wagering requirements often apply.

Multiline slots – in contrast to classic three-reel slots which only pay out across the single middle line of the reels, multiline slots pay out if the symbols match across a range of different lines. Before you spin the reels, you get to choose how many of these paylines you want to bet on – the more you bet on, the more your spin will cost but the higher the chances of winning. Some online slots offer many thousands of potential winning lines.

Payline – this is the line along which the symbols are arranged in order to determine whether you’ve won or not. The classic three-reel slots have just the one payline, while video (or five reel) slots have many hundreds or even thousands.

Pay table – this is a graphic which explains which symbols need to line up to trigger a pay-out, and how much the pay-out will be for a range of different combinations.

Progressive jackpot – a progressive jackpot is one which builds and builds as players play a network of games which are linked together. A small percentage of every bet placed is taken to build the jackpot, and some progressive jackpots featuring slots which operate in online casinos all over the world can climb to life-changing amounts of money. Once the progressive jackpot has been won it drops back down to a pre-determined level and begins to build up again.

RNG – this stands for Random Number Generator and refers to the software which ensures that each spin of the reels is completely random in nature. Properly licenced casinos which abide by all relevant gambling legislation have to make use of reputable RNG technology, and for this reason the chances of winning on any single spin of the reels are exactly the same as on any other.

RTP – this stands for Return to Player and refers to a figure detailing the percentage of money paid into a machine which makes its way back to players. In simple terms, the higher the RTP is, the more chance you have of winning, and most online slots have an RTP of 90% and more, with some being as high as 97%. The majority of online slots come with an ‘information’ link which enables you to see what the RTP is, amongst lots of other information.

Scatter symbol – a scatter symbol is one which triggers a win no matter where on the reels it lands. In most slots, three or more scatter symbols in view anywhere will lead to either a cash win or the triggering of free spins and bonus features.

Volatility – the volatility of a game is a way of referring to how often it pays out and what the size of the winnings are likely to be. It will vary from game to game and, in simple terms, a high volatility slot will pay larger amounts, but pay them out less often, while a low volatility slot sees players winning more often but receiving lower pay-outs.

Wild symbols – like the blank tile in Scrabble, wild symbols can take the place of another symbol and turn a losing line into a winning line.

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