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Online Guide to Slot Machine Paylines

Online slot games are fun and all, but to be honest, they can be confusing for new players. Paylines, reels, scatters, wilds – what do all of these terms mean? As someone playing a slot for the first time, you’ll be finding a lot of these new terms that aren’t fully explained.

How do Paylines Work?

Let’s explain a bit more about how slot paylines work. In the simplest terms, a slot payline is a pattern on the reels where winning combinations occur. In order for you to hit a win, symbols must land on this payline. They can easily be explained with vintage slot machines.

  • A slot with a single payline and 3 reels pays when, for example, three stars or sevens land appear on the screen horizontally

Of course, this vintage concept has been updated later, so slots have many paylines more right now. There are still slots with a classic concept of 1, 3, or 5 paylines, but in most cases, online slots nowadays offer 10 paylines or more. The more paylines the slot has, the better the thrills. However, the thought that more paylines offer bigger wins is a misconception. A slot can have thousands of ways to win, but if it’s extremely volatile and with a low RTP, its winning potential wouldn’t be great.

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Are All Paylines the Same?

No, they’re not. We already mentioned that slot paylines have evolved over the years, just like slots themselves did. From a single horizontal reel that pays horizontally only, today’s paylines have evolved into paying in nearly all directions. For example, you can now come across vertical paylines, those that pay in a zig-zag pattern, or in a cluster.
The two main types of paylines are listed below.

  • Fixed Paylines: fixed paylines are most common in the slot industry nowadays. When you place a bet on this slot, you’re playing all the paylines on each winning combination. Wilds, scatters, and bonus rounds in this slot offer much bigger winning opportunities. They are also the main reason why players prefer slot games with a fixed number of paylines.
  • Variable Paylines: variable paylines were a thing in the mid-2000s, but they are gradually pushed out of the industry. They give players a chance to adjust the number of paylines, and bet on, for example, five out of ten possible paylines. This is very helpful if you’re running low on money, so you can adjust the number of paylines and hopefully hit a nice win.

Types of Paylines

One-Line Slots

Known as one-liners, these slots have a single payline that typically pays horizontally for 3 matching symbols. It’s the easiest type of slot you can spin, so new players should find them pretty easy.

Three-Line Slots

As the name suggests, these slots have 3 paylines. They are a bit more challenging than their predecessors, but also more rewarding.

Five-Line Slots

Five payline slots are still popular to this day, with many developers building their games on that many lines. They are a bit more challenging in terms of winning combinations, but still fun and rewarding.

Multi-Line Slots

By multi-line slots, we mean slots with 10 or more paylines. You’ll find some with 20, 50, or even 100 lines. These are far more complex than vintage slot machines, so you may need to consult their guide to see how the symbols pay.

243 Ways to Win

A Microgaming invention, this math model allows wins for three or more matching symbols anywhere on adjacent reels. It revolutionized the way slots work, and is still a popular model many providers use.

Megaways

A random reel modifier mechanic, Megaways is probably the most important discover in the new modern era of slots. It was invented by Big Time Gaming, and is commonly used in slots nowadays.

The number of symbols per reel varies from 2 to 7, affecting the number of winning ways on each spin. The regular number of winning ways is 117,649, but there are some slots that push it to over 200,000.

The mechanic also introduced cascades triggered by wins which occur one after another as long as winning symbols land on the reels.

Cluster Pays

When the Megaways engine was invented, slot developers realized they don’t need to stick to horizontal or vertical pays. Cluster Pays slots pay for a group or cluster of symbols that pop to give way to new ones. They work similarly to cascades, but most slots boost the mechanic further with cool modifiers that improve the slot’s winning potential.

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Number of Paylines vs. Ways to Win

Slot paylines have evolved beyond the concept of winning ways in a certain direction. Slots these days don’t just pay in horizontal, vertical, or adjacent patterns. There are games that take the concept further, paying for clusters of symbols or adjacent symbols that touch on corners or something along those lines.
In general, it’s more fun than ever to play slots these days, and the always-evolving concept of paylines promises better returns too. These wild paylines also create a new sense of adventure depending on the slot and provider.

Paylines vs. Reels

When you start playing slots online, you might be confused by all the terms as we said. Many players think reels and paylines are the same, but they’re not. Unlike the paylines which are essentially winning patterns, the reels are those vertical wheels that spin the symbols. The number of reels varies. In the past, vintage slots had 3 for the most part, but now, the generally accepted number is 5.

Of course, there can be few or more. Each reel has a variety number of symbols which affects the number of possible winning combinations. To win, three or more winning symbols must appear on the reels and be on a payline, unless we’re talking about clusters or Megaways.

FAQ

A slot payline is a directional pattern on which symbols line up so you can win. The pattern can be horizontal, vertical, or a zig-zag – it all depends on the slot. Developers can tune the slot to pay a variety of combinations ranging from 2 to dozens of symbols on a line.

A slot can have a single payline or it can have dozens. Classic slot machines stick to 1, 3, or 5, while modern slots can give you 20, 50, 243 ways to win, or even more.

No, they don’t. The payout is determined by the slot’s winning potential and the wager, as well as other factors such as variant and RTP. Just because a slot has thousands of paylines doesn’t mean it’ll pay better.

No, they aren’t. As mentioned, paylines are the lines on which winning symbols land, while the paytable is a table that simply shows you what the symbols pay for different matching combinations.

It depends on the slot. Most modern slot keep the number of paylines fixed, but there are some that allow you to adjust the number of paylines. It could come in handy when your bankroll is near depleted.

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Chris Grand - avatar
Chris Grand - avatar

Chris GrandPublisher

I've been a webmaster for the past 12 years. I am a huge fan of slots and everything gaming. I specialise in writing blog and casino reviews and I hope you will appreciate my honest and transparent approach. Hope you enjoy reading them as I am.