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A Complete Beginners Guide To Online Slots

New to online casinos and mobile slots? Worry not, we’ve got everything you need to get started, from how to bet on slots, explaining the symbols, going through some of the features and the best games to get started.

Updated Sep 14th, 2020
Slots For Beginners The Complete Guide
Slots For Beginners The Complete Guide

Across the internet, there are so many different mobile slot sites for you to choose from.

This can often become overwhelming for the complete beginner, as you may have no idea where to start. Slots are the most popular games at any mobile casino, with any good casino hosting thousands of them, with constant new releases every single day.

To help you understand the best online casino slots, we have compiled a guide for the gambling newbie that can help you.

The Slot Game Basics

No matter what casino site you choose, every game of casino slots you come across will be composed of a series of reels – in essence, this is the name for vertical rows of symbols in the game.

These reels have various icons or symbols on them, with the total reels of the slot usually, but not always, an odd number – so classic slots will have 3 reels and standard video slots will generally have 5 reels.

Example of Slot Rows And Reels
Example of Slot Rows And Reels

Each symbol on the reels is often worth different amounts of money, which depends on the rarity of landing on them. All slots will have a paytable which is a graphic telling you the worth of each of the symbols.

When you spin the reels (the symbols spin from the top to the bottom) and they come to a stop, the game will be showing a random assortment of symbols.

The aim of the majority of the games is to spin at least three of the same symbols adjacently to one another on a payline, in order to win money.

How to Bet on Paylines/betlines

Each online slot game will have a different number of paylines. Essentially, the more paylines you have active, the more chances you have of winning.

For example, if you are playing a game with 25 paylines, but choose to only activate 10, you will have fewer ways to win. Naturally, the more paylines you are willing to bet on, the higher is your betting amount for each spin of the reels.

Find Slot Bet Lines In The Paytable
Find Slot Bet Lines In The Paytable

Overall, we would recommend you always play the maximum betlines. To be fair, a lot of modern online slot machines now have fixed paylines, so you can’t change them anyway.

If you can’t afford to play a 40 or 50 payline video slot, then choose a game like Dead or Alive with 9 paylines. Or a classic slot such as Couch Potato from Microgaming which has only 1 payline. Start small, and build up.

Bet Level, Coin Value or Coin Size: what’s the difference?

What is a coin value or the coin size of a slot? This is basically the value of the coin you are betting on one payline.

So, let’s take a basic bet. Say you bet 1 penny on a 1 payline slot. Your coin size is a penny and your total bet is a penny. Simple.

But say you are now playing a 40 payline slot. Your coin value is still one penny, but your total bet is now 0.40 per spin.

For many slot machines, that’s all they ask you to do: they ask you to choose your coin value and that will then be reflected in the number of paylines active.

How Slot Bet Level, Coins & Paylines Effect Total Bet
How Slot Bet Level, Coins & Paylines Effect Total Bet

So what is a bet level? A bet level uses the number of coins bet per bet line.

So bet levels look like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc… Many different slots will have different bet levels depending on how much they want you to be able to gamble on their slot machine. Most NetEnt slots will have a bet level if you want to take a look.

In short, this is a multiplier on your coin size. So taking our 1 penny, 1 payline slot example, at bet level 1 you are still betting one penny.

At bet level 2, you are now betting 2 x 0.01 a line, so your total bet is now 0.02 a spin, even though your coin size is still only 0.01.

When should you increase the bet level or the coin value?

So if the bet level increases your bet, why not simply increase the coin size per payline?

Because a bet line win in coins is equal to the value shown in the paytable multiplied by the bet level. So you’ve increased your bet, plus multiplied the paytable by 2.

So if you’re not sure how this works, take home this one little bit of advice: when you can, it’s worth increasing the bet level rather than your coin size, because you want that multiplier.

But before anything else, remember to only bet how much you can gamble. If 0.01 is your minimum bet, don’t increase the bet level and bet more, stick with what you can afford.

What are ways to win slot machines?

Once you understand how slot betlines work and how to bet on slots, you can start looking at ‘ways to win machines’.  These have no paylines. We know. You learn the rules, and then they break them again.

But in many ways, it’s a simpler process; you basically get a win whenever the same symbol shows up on adjoining reels from left to right.

The most standard games are 243 ways to win slot machines that have 5 reels and 3 rows of symbols. You get so many ways to win because if you get more than one symbol on the same reel it multiplies the number of wins by the number of symbols.

This is slightly more complex, but if you want to try them out, we would recommend the Microgaming Immortal Romance slot machine. If you want something even more intricate, then feel free to read about how Megaways slots work, which is a totally different ball game altogether.

How to win a progressive jackpot

Some slots have jackpot prizes that build up the more players that spin and place bets. You can read more about it in our progressive jackpot slots online page.

The one thing we will add is that if you are looking to hit the jackpot on a slot, many of the best online casino sites require all paylines to be active to be in with a chance of winning – however, there are some exceptions.

Sometimes you need to hit specific symbols on a specific payline (like in Cleopatra Megajackpots slot) or sometimes you need to bet the maximum amount (like in the Beach Life game from Playtech).

So make sure you read through different reviews, as well as the rules of the casino games, so you can determine exactly what is needed if you want to win jackpot slots.

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Explaining Mobile Slots Symbols

When playing online slots, there are a number of different symbols you should look out for. There are hundreds of different types of slot symbols, and not all are just symbols that create a win.

We can’t possibly go through every type, because we would still be here next year as so many modern machines have different variations on special symbols and new ones come out every month.

But we can go through the standard and general slot symbols, giving you an idea of what to expect as a baseline. And then when you see a variation of it, you understand the basics of how they work.

Standard Reel Symbols

These symbols are very simple and the designs vary widely. The ones you’ll see the most often are fruit symbols or fruity slots. So you know the ones: lemons, melons, cherries, oranges etc… what you think of when you someone says ‘slot machine‘. You also get bars and 7s as alternative ‘classic’ symbols.

You usually have two to three types of symbols which can be described as high paying, medium paying, and low paying symbols.

Low playing symbols are the ones that are most easy to recognise. They are usually either playing card symbols, like Spade, Heart, Clover and Diamond. Or they are high card symbols; like Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and 10.

Slot Paytable Showing The Value of Symbols In Coins For Number of Symbols
Slot Paytable Showing The Value of Symbols In Coins For Number of Symbols

However, because lots of slot games design these symbols around a specific theme, they can be anything, and this is especially true of higher paying symbols.

So in Old Wild West slot themed games, you may have a shot of whisky and a gun as a medium paying symbol, while the bandit and sheriff will be the highest paying symbols of the lot.

No matter whether you are playing video slots or normal online slots, these standard symbols have one thing in common: they never come with any additional features attached to them and their sole purpose is to line up and give you a win.

Wild Symbols

Wild symbols are used to complete paylines, as they can become any other symbol that’s associated with the payout table. They can be made into anything you desire and can help you create a winning payline.

Some of the wilds you might encounter include:

  • Standard wild: A singular symbol that shows up with regular symbols.
  • Mega wild: A wild that covers a 2×2, 3×3, 4×4 etc… space. ie. Fat Rabbit.
  • Wild reel: One of the reels is totally wild for one or more spins. ie. Dragon Ship.
  • Expanded wild: Like wild reels, except when a standard wild symbol shows up, it expands to cover the reel for that spin.
  • Walking wild: This wild will ‘walk’ reel by reel around the reels, on each consecutive spin. ie. Halloween Jack online slot.
  • Stacked wild: These are standard wilds that spin on the reels in stacks of 3 symbols high or more, sometimes landing to cover the reel, sometimes only landing to cover part of the reel, or not at all. ie. Lucky Lady’s Charm Deluxe 10 game.
  • Spreading wild: This is when a wild lands on screen and then spreads to cover more than one symbol around it ie. Mr Green Moonlight by NetEnt.
  • Sticky wilds: These are wilds that stay on screen, in the exact same position, for more than one spin. ie. Dead or Alive 2 slot.
Example of a Wild Reel In The Starburst Slot
Example of a Wild Reel In The Starburst Slot

The different types of wild symbols often depend on individual mobile casino games, and they can also have more than one feature. So you can get sticky wild reels for example.

Scatter Symbols

Scatter symbols are often a very exciting feature when playing online slots, as they pop up randomly on the reels of the game you are playing and give you a win, regardless of where they are positioned or if they are even on a payline.

Hence the name scatter. They pay regardless of where they are ‘scattered’ around the reels.

More importantly, they are often used to unlock special bonus rounds; much traditionally free spins. Ie. you get to spin the machine for free for a certain amount of spins. (More on those in a second)

Multiplier Symbols

When you play slots and come across a multiplier bonus, this allows players to double, triple and in some case increase their winnings by 10x or more.

Multiplier symbols basically multiply the paytable value of the regular symbols.

Some multipliers might increase your winnings while others can multiply your line bets and total bets.

They are normally considered to be the best and most exciting symbol on a mobile slot machine by regular players because of the big win potential.

Slots with multipliers include Hot Safari from Pragmatic Play and Push Gaming’s Jammin Jars video slot.

Bonus Symbols and Bonus features

All online slot games use their own versions of bonus symbols, but they normally always trigger bonus games which occur when the symbols are spun on a predefined number onto the reels.

Bonus games can take a variety of different forms, often providing the biggest payouts available, with some being skill based and others relying more on luck than judgement.

Bonus games sometimes give instant cash prizes to the player, but more often than not they give away extra spins at the amount of money you were previously betting at.

The most common are:

  • Free Spins: You get a number of spins on the slot machine for free.
  • Click Me Game: Covers all sorts (including the two below), where you click to discover riches – ie. Click on items in a tomb and underneath are different cash prizes.
  • Wheel of Fortune: You get to spin a wheel and win a cash prize on the wheel – the most famous of which is the Mega Fortune slot.
  • Adventure Trails: Made famous by the Rainbow Riches casino slot, you spin a dice and your character moves along a trail, winning cash prizes.

The more complex bonus games might incorporate multiple features. Usually, you get free spins with many different features, from multipliers to extra wilds, to expanding scatters… it can go pretty crazy.

How crazy? Well, take a look at Yggdrasil’s Nitro Circus slot as a good example of crazy and varied bonus features.

Further reading to go beyond the basics

Hopefully, this guide has provided you with more of an insight into the slot games that different casinos offer. You can now go online and explore some of the various games available for you to play.

If we can give you just one bit of advice is to always make sure to stay in control of your gambling. Always be moderate in your betting and in the amount of time you spend playing.

Our top three tips for beginners:

  1. Set a budget for your night, and don’t spend more than that.
  2. Don’t chase your losses. If your budget is gone, it’s gone.
  3. Set a win limit; and if you hit it, click that withdraw button.

Once you’ve got your head around how mobile slots work and how to play, you can start looking at upping your game and learning more about these fruit machines.

Learn about volatility, RTP, RNG and Hit Rate

If you’ve ever read around about how to play slot games, you will undoubtedly hear experienced gamblers talk about variance or volatility.

So what is slot volatility and variance? This is a measurement of risk. A high variance slot will not pay out often, but when it pays it pays a bit. A low variance slot will pay out little and often, but will probably not have a huge massive win.

RNG or random number generator is the maths behind the game and is closely related to the RTP (return to player rate). Click on the link to read more, but basically, this determines the fairness of the rate, and how likely you are to win whilst playing.

Finally, we have the hit rate, which is hard to find and rarely published. The Hit Rate determines how often the game gives you wins. So a 20% hit rate, gives you a win (of some size, small or big) 20% of the time.

Start looking at game playing slot strategies

A basic slot strategy accounts for the top 3 tips we gave beginners above: learn how to control your budget.

Once you are in full control of your finances, you can start playing around a little with betting options; specifically when to increase or decrease your bets to improve your chances of winning big on a bigger bet.

We’ve written a whole blog post about advanced online slot strategies, giving you a taste of the kind of strategies you can use to try out on different slots.

If you want a more practical guide, head to any Elk Studios slot, which has built-in slot strategies within all their games for you to test out.

Our best advice is to pick a low to medium variance game such as Taco Brothers or the Sam on the Beach slot and test them out.

The best 5 slot games for beginners:

Here at, we write slot reviews. So many reviews. There’s a new mobile slot game coming out almost every day, and certainly at least half a dozen a week.

So there is a lot of choices, and a lot of different games to choose from many different fantastic game providers. You could ask 10 different experienced gamblers and they will give you 10 different answers.

But you didn’t ask 10. You asked us. So here’s a good list of slot games we love and give you the best chance to experience the basics of slot games, while still having lots of fun.

1. Star Joker by Play’n GO

The reason this is top of our list is that it was created in order to help new casino gamblers.

The Star Joker slot has 5 reels, 10 paylines, scatters, wilds and free spins with 5,000 times your bet max win. Which is huge, but simple enough for everyone to pick up, with a low minimum bet of 0.10 a spin.

But more importantly, it has an introduction where they show you every aspect of the game, the special symbols, how to make bets, and all with a classic fruity theme.

2. Starburst by NetEnt

Starburst is probably one of the most famous online slot games of all time. It’s one you can usually get a casino bonus on and is top of any casino lobby, and the reason is that it’s simple, it’s pretty and pays often.

Starburst slot machine has 10 payline and pays both ways, so the bet lines pay when symbols land from left to right and right to left. Giving you quicker wins.

You also get expanding wilds that give you a free spin of reels when they land. It’s fun and you can win up to 500x your bet in one spin.

3. Machine Gun Unicorn by Genesis

This is not a choice you’ll find in many beginner slot lists, but that’s because it’s not from one of the big casino game studios.

The Machine Gun Unicorn slot has 5 reels and 10 paylines that pays both ways with a single wild symbol in the Unicorn who has a machine gun instead of a horn.

When he shows up, he kills all the Zombie heads in jars, allowing the cute little ponies with chainsaws and baseball bats to finally live happily. Ridiculous, fun, and low risk, this is a brilliant game to get started with.

4. Mega Moolah by Microgaming

Next to Starburst, this is probably the next most famous game around, and the reason is the progressive jackpot.

It holds the Guinness World Book of Records for the biggest slot win ever when a £13.3 / €17.9 million jackpot was won in 2015. They create something like 4 to 5 millionaires a year if not more.

Best of all, the Mega Moolah slot game is a simple 25 payline machine with scatters, wilds, free spins and multipliers. The more can you bet, the higher your chances of winning the jackpot, but it’s been won on 0.40 bet or 6.26 bet.

5. Triple Diamond by IGT

We had to have one classic 3 reel slot game because not everyone is ready to start playing 5 reel video slots.

The Triple Diamond game from IGT has a Bars, Sevens and Diamonds and 9 paylines, giving you a minimum bet of 0.09 a spin.

You spin 3 reels, where you just hope to get enough Diamonds to get big multipliers on a win, and the top win of 1199x your bet.

It’s simple and classic and helps you get an easy handle on how slot machines work and how to bet.

Not sure which one to start with? Head over to Guts Casino who have one of the fairest bonuses around, and has every single one of our top 5 beginners slot games on their books.


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