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How Do Online Slots Work? An Inside Look at the Mechanics of Online Slot Games


Online slot games became very popular in recent years thanks to how accessible they are. If you play at land-based slots, not only will you have to travel, but your slots are limited. If we’re talking about online slots, they let you play thousands of slot games at the comfort of your own home. In fact, the industry itself brings $10 billion USD to the table every year. But there’s one more reason why online slots are very successful: they’re easy to play. 

And Since slots are luck-based, you can’t learn a “skill” to get better chances of winning. People only choose which slots fit their bankroll and interest, because online slots have great themes. But only because they’re easy to play doesn’t mean you can settle on playing online slots. 


Online slots still have fundamental mechanics that you should be aware about. For instance, they’re based on Random Number Generators (RNGs), which are algorithms found in online slots. They create the combinations, so no human can tamper on players’ chances of winning. More so, RNGs make sure every spin gives a random, unbiased combination. 

Now, how do you determine wins or losses at online slots? For winning combinations, online slots require you to get matching symbols on your payline, from left to right. Then, the number of paylines, symbols, and your bet amount determine the amount you win. 

So, winning online slots requires you to understand how RNGs work, as well as how to win and enhance your win. If you’re not familiar with the terms yet, don’t worry! We’ll guide you through each part.



Paylines and reels are important elements of an online slot because they tell you your chance of winning. For every slot game, there’s a different payline and reel. So, you get the chance to choose the style of game that suits your bankroll and interests. While some offer a high number of paylines and multiple reels, some don’t. This isn’t to say that one is better than the other, since people have their preferences and risk appetites.


Paylines are lines that run across reels and give you the winning combinations. Now, paylines can be in many forms, like straight, diagonal, or even zigzag. They can also run from left or right, with the same or different value. Now, most online slots prepare a number of paylines you can get from the reel. But some also let you set how many paylines you can unravel. You only have to remember that the more paylines there are, the better your chances of hitting a winning combination.


Now, let’s talk about reels. These are the three to five columns you see displaying the symbols. The most common reels are those that have three, but online slots can have up to seven reels. As easy as it is, reels give you the outcome of each spin, and you can stop it by column or all at once.

It’s important to note that the higher the number of paylines and reels, the more cost you’ll get. That means that since more paylines and reels gets you more chances of winning, so does your cost. 



After learning about paylines and reels, it’s time you get to know symbols. In the easiest way said, symbols consist of the patterns you see on the reels. They’re very important because they either make or break the payline you’re expecting to get.

So, what are the most common symbols you should look out for?

  • Wild symbols: They can substitute for other symbols to make a winning combination.
  • Scatter symbols: Offers payouts or bonus rounds regardless of where they’re placed at.
  • Bonus symbols: When a specific number appears on the payline, this triggers a bonus round.
  • Multiplier symbols: These increase the size of the payout by an amount. It often multiplies the payout by the number of coins wagered.
  • Stacked symbols: They appear on top of each other on the reels.

For payouts, the combination of symbols that appear on the reels tells you the amount of the payout. For example, if the symbols include 7s, that means hitting 7s in a row will get you a higher bonus. The paytable lists out the different combinations with their payouts, so you should always review it before playing.

For bonus rounds and free spins, if the symbol tells you to hit what it requires, then you’ll enter the bonus round after. It can be a mini-game, some free tries to something, or straight up cash rewards. 

And there you have it! For every game, there are different symbols offered, so make sure you take note of these. Now, how do symbols impact the special features of an online slot game?

Related: NFL-Themed Slot Machines Debut in US Casinos



As mentioned above, Random Number Generators (RNG) make sure you keep your winning chance at online slots. It prevents any kind of fraud from happening either from the casino site or the player. Now, an RNG is an algorithm placed within online slots. That means not every online slot has them, and you should always check whether one has it or not. 

You might think that, well, sites can offer their own RNG and cheat from there. But this is far from becoming a reality. RNGs are certified by third-party, independent organizations that audit online casinos. For example, TechLab and eCOGRA are some of the most common names that check the RNGs in online casinos.

Now, how does an RNG work? Before you spin the reels, the RNG prepares a random number. Think of it as an independent robot that serves as referee while you play. It takes into account that you have, say, 25% chance of winning, so the combination should have that. So, if you play at a three-reel, single-payline online slot, the RNG will generate a number between 1 and 64.

So, there you have it. RNGs are important in online slots because they make sure your gameplay is fair and unpredictable. 



We’re done with the gaming part, and we’re now with your winnings. The Return-to-Player (RTP) tells you how much you’ll take out from your winnings. So, if you won a million dollars, that doesn’t mean you’ll take home the full amount. And the RTP tells you what percentage of that one million you’ll take home.

Now, the RTP doesn’t come in one or a few spins. Its percentage tells you how much you get per one dollar of your winnings. So, if you’ve played many times and the RTP is 90%, that means you take 90 cents per dollar of your total earnings. And for each spin, the RTP changes a bit, so you might not get the full 90% of your winnings in total. 

So, the higher the RTP percent offered, the higher your expected returns are. It’s important to be aware of it because it helps set your expectations. Now, there’s another thing you need to take into account: the volatility or variance of online slots.

Volatility describes how frequent the online slot gives payouts in varying amounts. There are two types of volatility here: high and low. For high volatility, it means the payouts are infrequent. But in contrast, it gives a higher payout. If you play a lot and in longer times, choose a slot that’s highly volatile. Then for low volatility, this one’s perfect for small but frequent payouts. If you’re someone who changes from one slot to another, low volatile online slots are a perfect match for you.



If you like a challenge that only gets better the farther it goes, you should learn about progressive jackpots. They’re jackpot slots that increase in winnings the more people fail in winning them. For example, if Player A doesn’t win the $100,000 jackpot prize, it will increase to $120,000 for the next player. Then, when someone wins the prize, the progressive jackpot goes back to its base amount to grow again.

One example is Mega Moolah, which branches out to many casinos worldwide. Every time someone bets on it, its prize increases until someone wins it. In 2015, a player won the jackpot prize of €17.8 million, which altered their life completely.

Now, there are many things that make up for the odds of progressive jackpots. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Number of players
  • Current size of the jackpot
  • Slot’s rules

For some online slots, the probability of winning a smaller jackpot prize might be different from one with a higher amount. So, don’t be surprised if the odds change for one million to ten million dollars. The RNG is still at work here, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the odds are low for players to win progressive jackpots.



Responsible gambling is something that’s easy to say but hard to do. Many people fall into the pitfall of good casino promises only to fall into addiction. Responsible gambling helps make sure you have a fun experience playing, but are also safe from any type of addiction to gambling.

With that, here are some tips for responsible gambling:

  1. Set limits, and make them automatic.
  2. Go for online casinos that value responsible gambling. They usually put stoppers for players to know when to take a break.
  3. Make sure you make online slots gaming as a hobby, not your source of income.

So, make sure you follow these tips to not fall into addiction. A huge part of online slots gaming strategy comes with discipline.


All in all, there are many things that make up for how online slots work. From paylines and reels, to their insides like RNG and RTP, online slots are more complicated than you think. And while these won’t give you fraud or any more problems while playing, seeking better returns will have you look at them more. 

Online slots definitely catch the attention of players, much more knowing there are ways to get around better. But it’s also some work to look at which paylines and how many of them fit your interest. In the end, there’s something for anyone who wants to play and win at online slots.

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