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How to play slot machines for beginners: Learn to play online slots

Profile Picture: Simon Young

Simon Young

December 21st, 2021

If you thought playing slots was as simple as pressing a button, you’re in for a surprise. Once, perhaps, it really was that easy; back in the day, slot machines were basic, with just three reels and one row. Match up some symbols to win a prize, and that’s all there was to it.

Today’s slots at TwinSpires Casino are hi-tech, with tens of thousands of ways to win, exciting bonus features, extra layers of gameplay, rich video graphics, and cinematic sound. And while that might seem a little confusing, it’s not once you understand the basics.

How to Play Slots: Symbols and Paylines

Most slot machines have a base game and a bonus feature. The base game is genuinely straightforward since all you must do is get the same symbol on successive reels. Usually, you need at least three, and those symbols must fall on a payline, which is a set pattern. Some slots have ten or fewer; others have 20, 30, or more paylines.

Before you decide to play a game, make sure you select the bet amount that suits your budget. Then, at the bottom of the screen, you will see options to raise or decrease your bets. Betting less allows you to enjoy more thrilling action, but it does mean you generally won’t win as much. However, this is preferable to betting too much and then losing your money too fast.

Next, look for the game’s paytable so that you can understand how the game works. Here, you will see a list of the symbols, how much they pay, what the Wild symbol is (which substitutes for all others and can help you make a winning line), what the paylines are, and what the Scatter and any Bonus symbols are (more of which later).

Many slots have low-paying symbols based on playing cards, such as 10, J, Q, K, and A. Then the higher paying symbols tend to be ones that fall into the theme of the slot, whether that be Ancient Egypt, the Wild West, or something random like a chicken farm!

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Cleopatra slot.

Once you understand this, you can spin away and enjoy the game. Soon, you will get used to symbols making winning lines and seeing how much you get in return.

While the base game is straightforward, many slots come with intricate bonus games, and this is often where the big winnings come from.

How to Play Slot Machines: Bonus Features

Slot game developers like NetEnt and IGT go to great lengths to be innovative; it’s a crowded market, and slots fans are always hungry for something new. One way they can do this is by coming up with intricate bonus rounds. These might be in the form of:

  • Free spins – where you win a set number of free turns, ideal for boosting your bankroll
  • Re-spins – some games add even more free tries during a free spin bonus
  • Win multipliers – a slot may have a mechanic whereby your regular wins are multiplied many times
  • Expanding wilds or symbols – a wild or bonus symbol may spread across the screen, giving you many different ways to win on a single spin
  • Pick ‘em game – you may have to select from a number of objects to be awarded a specific prize
  • A combination of more than one of the above

Where the base game wins are your bread and butter in slot play, bonus rounds are where you can chalk up some significant wins. The slot’s paytable will explain how each game’s bonus features work, but it’s also a good idea to read an online review, like the ones you can find at TwinSpires Casino, or even play for free so that you get to understand how things work without risking any money.

Progressive Jackpots

Some games have jackpots that you can win. The amount goes up all the time until someone wins it. The jackpot payout can apply across a series of slot games and across an entire network, where the developer links slots at many different platforms.

While the idea of winning a life-changing jackpot is appealing – and it certainly does happen – it is quite rare. And chasing jackpots does not come cheap. To afford such a huge top prize, a slot developer must restrict some of its more regular payouts. In other words, you will win less over a given session because so much cash is set aside for the jackpot payout.

How much you win over various sessions is called volatility. If a slot is highly volatile, you might win small amounts most of the time and then randomly get a big payout. Low volatility games tend to pay out small amounts regularly.

Another indicator you might see is the return to player percentage (RTP), which is a mathematical representation of how much you are expected to win, were you to play infinitely. An RTP of 97% is considered good – and that means you are expected to win back $97 from each $100 you spend. Of course, you can make a profit or lose more than that over any individual session.

How to Play Slot Megaways

Another hugely successful slots format is the Megaways mechanic. Rather than each reel having the same number of rows for symbols – usually three or four – a random number of symbols will fall on each reel. It might be one large symbol or up to seven small ones. To win, you need only land a matching symbol anywhere on successive reels rather than on a set payline.

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Gonzo's Quest Megaways slot.

This format creates an incredible number of different ways you can win, with many Megaways slots boasting 117,649 winning combinations!

Other Slot Machine Features

As developers get more clever, new features come out. For example, casino players loved it ten years ago when Gonzo’s Quest introduced the Avalanche feature. Here, the symbols that make a winning line disappear and are replaced with more new ones tumbling down from above. In this way, you can win more than once from the same spin.

Scatter symbols will often trigger a bonus round. They might pay out just by landing anywhere on the reels, but generally, the bonus round triggers if you land three or more of these Scatter symbols.

Sometimes you might find a secondary gaming element is introduced, like a big wheel prize picker. You’ll find this – surprise, surprise – in the Wheel of Fortune slot games, but there are many variations on the theme.

Expanding reels are lucrative and can occur when a bonus is triggered. Extra rows or reels are added to the game, and this usually brings higher payouts.

Try the Slots at TwinSpires Casino

Now that you understand the basics of how to play slot machines, it’s time to put your learning into practice. If you have not already done so, create your TwinSpires Casino account. Make your first deposit and claim the welcome bonus, then head to the platform and see just how many exciting slot games are available.

Remember, don’t just dive into the first slot that takes your fancy – read the game instructions first to understand how it works and what you must do to win. Then it’s time to spin away and see if you can make some cash. Good luck!