Online slots are the most popular type of online casino game. Slot machines always offered players a wild variety of themes. In recent decades, progressive jackpots and improving graphics made slots the most lucrative game in a casino. Any good online casino these days needs hundreds of video slots to attract players.
Beginners might be confused by the dizzying variety of online slots they’ll find, so we’ve created a primer for new online casino gamblers. Our guide to online slots includes a quick history of slot machines, the main types of online slots, the features you’ll want to encounter, and tips for choosing which game to play.
History of Slots
Charles Fey invented slot machines in San Francisco around 1895 with the Liberty Bell. They were popular enough that the California government forced owners to offer fruit and candy instead of cash for prizes, thus giving slots their informal name “fruit machines”. Eventually banned in California in the early 20th century, slot machines once again gained fame in Las Vegas when Nevada legalized casinos in 1931.
Even then, slot machines were a less glamorous part of the gaming floor until the late-1970s, when IGT introduced the electronic slot machine. Freed of the constraints of the mechanical reels, designers of the 1980s and 1990s created progressive jackpots and ever more flashy graphics. When the Internet went mainstream in the 90s, online slots became the most lucrative part of online casinos. Today, online and mobile slots offer the biggest jackpots in online gambling. Here’s an overview of the games you’ll encounter.
Types of Online Slots
A variety of online slots exist. Some experts divide EGMs into three main categories: reel slots, video slots, and progressive jackpot slots. I include three other types that are different enough to be mentioned: licensed slots, mobile slots, and 3D slots.
3-Reel Classic: Based on the original 3-reel mechanical slots before the age of the electronic gaming machine, 3-reel classics tend to have simpler graphics and smaller, fixed jackpots. Old timers love these games because the jackpots hit more often. Example: 777 Deluxe by RTG
5-Reel Video Slot: These are the most popular slot machines in the electronic slots era. 5-reel slots tend to have many paylines, lots of entertaining features, interactive bonus games, and bigger jackpots. Example: Max Quest by Betsoft
Progressive Slot: A progressive slot has an accumulated jackpot. The longer the game goes without hitting a royal flush, the higher the pot grows. Players win hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Example: Gold Rush Gus Slot (proprietary)
Licensed Slot: Some players enjoy licenses slots, which are based on a pop culture franchise. Movies, tv shows, comic book characters, and musical acts are common licenses. Example: The Three Stooges by RTG
Mobile Slot: Games designed for smartphone and tablet computer screens. Mobile slots have simpler graphics and gameplay, making it easier to enjoy slots on the go. Example: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Betsoft
3D Slot: Takes graphics to another level with 3D animated graphics. Usually a 5-reel video slot game. Example: A Christmas Carol by Betsoft
Online Slots Features
Online slots have many entertaining features that casinos tout. Read through this list of popular features to get an idea of the ones you’d want to try first.
Wild Symbols: Wild symbols substitute for any other symbol on the reel (besides scatters), giving players more ways to complete paylines. Many wild icons exist: expanding wilds, stacked wilds, and sticky wilds are just three examples. Example: Animal Wilds (proprietary)
Scatter Symbols: Designers use scatter symbols to trigger special events in a slots game – usually free spins or bonus games. Scatters can appear anywhere on the reel to give players an advantage. Example: Ares: Battle of Troy by RTG
Bonus Games: The bonus mode happens when enough scatter symbols appear on the reel. Players love bonus games, because it’s a chance for big prizes without risking your cash. Example: Arrogant Pirates (proprietary)
Free Spins: One common feature in bonus games are free spins. Depending on the game, the player often gets between 5 and 20 free spins – sometimes called “free games” by online casinos. Example: Carnaval Forever by Betsoft
Multipliers: Either in the main game or the bonus game, multipliers increase the size of your winnings. 2x multipliers increase the prize twofold, while a 50x multiplier would increase the prize by a factor of 50. Example: Yak Yeti & Roll by Betsoft
Gamble Feature: The gamble feature is basically a double-or-nothing bet on your winnings. In some bonus games, you’re offered a chance to risk your winnings for a chance to double the prize amount. Also called the Double-Up feature. Example: A Night with Cleo (proprietary)
Mega-Spin Feature: Also known as the bonus wheel, this is either a bonus game or a 6th reel with a wide range of prizes. Bally Technologies made Mega-Spin popular, but many design companies now offer their version. Example: Mega Glam Life from Betsoft
Which Type of Online Slot Has the Highest Payouts?
By and far, progressive slots have their biggest payouts. Progressive slot machines have a jackpot that accumulates with each spin that doesn’t hit the big prize. Progressive jackpots have no theoretical upper limit, so the player who ends up hitting the jackpot wins a life-changing prize.
Players seek wide-area progressive slots, because many games are linked over a wide area. Also called networked slot jackpots, the pot increases at a faster rate. IGT’s MegaBucks holds the record for the highest progressive jackpots, while IGT’s Wheel of Fortune Slots helped make progressives famous in the first place. Microgaming’s Mega Moolah holds the record for online progressive slots at over $18 million.
How to Pick an Online Slot
Picking an online slot involves many factors. A key first step is learning which software company designed a slots game. Designers like NetEnt and Sheriff Gaming are known for their excellent graphics. Microgaming and IGT are known for their huge jackpots, along with many licensed slots.
Theme: Slots have fun themes, including storylines, soundbites, and interactive bonus games. Whether it’s Ancient Egypt, Chinese Myth, a sports theme, or a popular license, players seek out interesting themes.
Graphics: A big part of the entertainment factor of a slot machine is the game’s graphics. Presentation and gameplay are important, so music and sound effects are also key.
Features: In-game features spice up gaming sessions. Many players seek out wild symbols, scatter symbols, free spins, bonus games, and multipliers.
Jackpot: Do you want a fixed jackpot that’s easy to hit or a lottery-sized progressive jackpot? Some slots split the difference and offer random jackpots – something in-between the two.
RTP: Return-to-player is the theoretical or expected return. The closer the RPT is to 100%, the more money you can expect the slot to pay out over time. RTP increases your odds.
Safety: The safety and security of an online slot is important. No one wants their winnings taken by an identity thief, so we return to a game’s software designer for safety.
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