Spinning The Wheel: A Comprehensive Guide To Understanding Slot Games

When you play slot games, how much do you actually understand about what is happening? There are so many new slot games on the market and they all have a different layout and a variety of different features.

It is important to work out how slot games work in terms of the layout, the paylines and the way that the interface works, but it also helps to understand a little bit of what is going on behind the scenes. This includes the actual mechanics of the game.

The world of slot games has gone through an evolution. We’ve moved from playing slots in person to playing slots online, which appear to be similar but work in a totally different way. We no longer need a big machine to play – we can simply take this interface and play right there on our mobile phone.

Let’s explore how slot games work so you know a little more about the industry and the games, whether you want to play slot games on your own or you are looking for slots to throw a Friends-themed party and recreate The One in Vegas episode.

How do slot games work?

The earliest slot games actually date back to the 1800s. The games relied on a physical device that had different reels. When you pulled a lever, the reels would spin and this would lead to potential matchups of different symbols, which were on the reels. If you matched particular symbols then you could trigger a win.

There were many different designs of physical slot machines, as you will have seen if you visited Las Vegas before the digital revolution took place. There are also some locations where you can still play these mechanical slots.

The same sort of principle applies to digital slot games, which are largely based on the slot games that came before. You can win bets by matching symbols, but this time on digital reels.

Of course, the idea that slot games have been replaced by digital counterparts poses a bit of a conundrum. For one, there needs to be a method that ensures that the game itself is fair. With digital games that we play online, there are so many options for the actual design and development of the game, and different features that could never have been included in a physical game.

To keep everything fair, the licensing companies check that each of the games is based on a random number generator. These RNGs are independently verifiable and this means that they must provide a totally random result. Whenever those virtual reels are spun, there should be a totally unbiased outcome, which must be completely random. These RNGs are also used for a variety of different security methods, so it is crucial that they are random and absolutely reliable.

Understanding slots paytables

Though it has nothing to do with the actual mechanics of how a particular game works, the paytables are definitely something you need to understand.

Paytables show what the symbols on the reels mean and how much you may win for getting a specific match. For instance, you will find that most games have symbols that are worth more than others. It may be that there is a gold symbol that is the most valuable and if you match five of these, it could be the highest win on the paytable. There may also be other symbols that don’t pay as much, and matching a couple of them may only win you your stake back.

The paytable is where to look to establish what the symbols are worth and how much the potential winnings could be.

What is an RTP rate in slots?

The RTP rate in slots is often required to be displayed on the site where you are playing, or by the developers or the online casino where you are gambling.

The RTP rate is the percentage of the overall money staked on the game that is paid back to players in winnings. It is usually a pretty high percentage. It shows how volatile a slot is and how likely it is that you will at least break even on a slot.

A higher RTP rate means a higher ratio of the money taken at the slot game that goes into the winnings. If an RTP rate is 93%, it means that for every $100 staked, $93 is paid out in prizes.

Symbol guide

As well as the symbols that are on the actual paytable, there is likely to be a variety of other symbols in the game. This is one of the things that has entered the world of slot games as time has gone by, especially as the games are not limited by the fact that they have to have symbols that physically fit on the reels.

This has given us lots of things that could never happen in a physical slot machine – for instance, moving reels and symbols that jump around the reels.

Some of the symbols you might see include:

  • Wilds. Many different games include wilds. These can act as other symbols in order to complete winning reels. For instance, if you get two winning symbols but have a “wild” in between, it may count as three of that symbol on your paytable.
  • Instant wins. It is possible that instant win symbols may appear to fall onto the reels. These may have a cash value and give you a win that goes straight into your balance.
  • Scatter symbols. These days, scatter symbols tend to be what you need to match on the reels to trigger different mini games or free spins.


Another potential symbol that may appear on the reels or that can be triggered by certain other elements of the game is the multiplier. If you get a multiplier on your game, it takes the amount of a win and multiplies it by a set amount. Multipliers can vary from 2x all the way up to hundreds of times the win.

So, for example, if an ordinary win would bring you $5 but you have a 2x multiplier applied on your game, then you will actually get a $10 win from that same spin.

A lot of the free spins rounds within games have multipliers in them too, so if you trigger the mini game, there is a chance of a decent win.


When you start to play a casino slot game, you will also notice that it will display a potential jackpot.

One of the things that you may get from a potential jackpot is a figure such as “5000x”, which means that when you spin the reels, there is a chance that you will get a jackpot of 5000 times your stake. If you were to stake a dollar then the maximum win is a potential $5000.

There are also other potential jackpots within games, including progressive jackpots that you may have seen advertised. These are when a percentage of all the proceeds from spins in a certain region or even globally go towards one big progressive jackpot that is eventually triggered. These jackpots can even provide millions of dollars in potential wins. It’s a rare event, but progressive jackpots do get won at some stage.

Bonuses and special features

This is where slot games can vary absolutely hugely from one to the next. There are often bonuses and special features included in games, and they are always a little different as different slot game makers try to create a unique offering.

For instance, some of the bonuses in slot games may include additional rounds in which you have themed mini games. In the “fishing” genre (very popular in the world of slots) some of these mini games revolve around trying to get a particular catch.

Companies are getting more and more inventive with the special features that they are adding. You may remember certain slot games having “nudge” features that would allow users to manually move the reels slightly. Similar sort of mini games and features may appear in online slots.

For example, some games have moving reels, where if you don’t get certain matches, the reels may start to move around to provide potentially different results. If you don’t get a win, some games may even have a little character that appears on screen and shuffles around the symbols. Every game is different and the bonus features tend to be where we see a lot of variety.


Whether you have ever played a physical, old-style slot machine or not, it definitely helps to understand a little about the history and mechanics of slot games and how they have evolved.

There are thousands of different digital games in circulation, meaning that there are many different symbols, variations and different types of online slot games. As long as the site you are playing on is secure and licensed, you can pick one that appeals to you and start playing.


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