Slot Paylines

To bag a win in slots, you need to line up winning combos on paylines. Varying numbers of slot paylines appear in each release, so there should be something for every type of player on all sorts of budgets.

There are very few slots where paylines do not play a factor. Barring “Germinator” and “Cluster Pays'' games, you are almost certainly going to have to rely on paylines in slot machines to win prizes. What are paylines, though, and does the number available in a slot make that much difference to how likely you are to pocket a prize?

From classic slots and fruit machines with their single line to MegaWays games with their hundreds of thousands of ways to win, paylines are something that you are inevitably going to have to deal with when playing slots. If you are not sure what they are and how they work, you have come to the right place. Allow us to walk you through paylines and how it is essential to your slot gaming experience for you to understand the ins and outs of them. If you are ready to begin, read on to find out more.

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What Are Paylines in Slot Machines?

Let us begin with the basics. The quickest way to have slot machine paylines explained to you is to call them patterns. There is typically anything from three to six reels or drums on a slot. Across those reels are a series of “paylines”. These are quite literally lines, and when symbols land on them, they can form a winning pattern. They may run straight across the reels, up-down, diagonally or crisscrossed and zig-zagged over the reels. 

You can usually find out exactly where these lines are by clicking on the paytable. Older slot machines may have numbers on the sides of the reels, and each one of these will indicate a payline. By hovering your mouse over those numbers, you can see exactly where each payline runs. What is their purpose, though?

Slot symbols can appear on each of the reels. As you will be aware, you will typically need to match at least three identical symbols to win a prize in an average slot. However, these symbols cannot just appear anywhere. Most need to appear on these paylines. If three winning symbols appear on three adjacent reels but not on the same payline, they will seldom produce a win. The exception to this rule is slot games with 243 paylines or more, but we will come to that shortly. The most straightforward way to see this is to play a fruit machine or a so-called classic slot. These often have just a single line running through the centre of the reels. You will note that you will not pocket a prize even if you land three identical symbols unless they happen to be sitting on the middle row of the reels. 

Of course, some slots have far more paylines, which opens avenues to win with symbols all over the reels. We will look at these shortly, but first, we should explain why some slots have fixed paylines and others allow you to alter them.

Adjustable Paylines

Many older slots allow players to alter the number of paylines they play with. In these games, coin values and denominations can also be adjusted per payline, which is ideal if you are playing on a budget. In most cases, you will be wagering on a per payline basis. For instance, a stake worth $0.01 played on a single line will cost you just $0.01. However, that same stake played over twenty paylines will see your bet rise to $0.20. The upside of this increase in cost is that you will now have twenty times the chances to land wins. The general rule is that the more paylines you play with, the more flexibility there is in terms of where symbols can appear.

The ability to play slot machines and pick up as many lines (or as few) as you want is diminishing, though. It is mainly older slots that provide this service. Instead, many modern games feature fixed lines, so let us look at those next.

Fixed Paylines

In most modern slots, the number of lines you can play with will typically be fixed. In games with nine, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five or fifty lines, you will still be looking at a fixed stake per line wager. This means that you will end up wagering anything from $0.09 up to $0.50 per spin with minimum bets. However, some fixed-line games have far more lines than this, and you could expect to see a cut-price deal on paylines in those games.

Slot machines that feature 243, 1,024 or many more paylines will not let you wager on a $0.01 per line basis. Instead, you will likely be able to bet with all 243 lines for a cost stretching from $0.30 up to $0.50 a spin. As you can see, you are playing with many lines and saving money in the process. However, to compensate for this, some slot machines lower the RTP (return to player) rate or increase the number of symbols in the game to make it trickier to win.

The Difference Between Paylines and Reels

As we have discussed, there is a major difference between paylines and reels. It is important that you understand the difference between the two. Reels (also known as drums) are the part of the slot that spin. In classic slots and fruit machines, there will be just three of them, rising to five reels in most video slots, often six in MegaWays games, and sometimes (but admittedly, rare), you may find four, or seven-reel slots. It is on the reels that symbols will appear.

By contrast, the paylines are usually invisible. You can find them by using the number on the side of the reels or the paytable. Ultimately, these are the patterns or pathways that you are going to need to see those symbols fall on. Now, do not misunderstand. The symbols still appear on the reels, but their positioning on the reels determines their placement on paylines. Think of paylines as a grid of superimposed patterns over (or under) the reels, and you will understand what we mean.

The number of slot paylines can vary from game to game. Most classic slots and fruit machines will feature just three reels but may have been one and five paylines spanning them. Traditional video slots typically come with five reels and anything from five to 243 paylines. When you play with six-reel games, you could expect 1,024 right up to hundreds of thousands of paylines.

Coins and Betting Levels

We have hinted at this already, but now it is time to take a closer look at how bets work. The best way to do this is to provide you with four examples using minimum bets, from a fruit machine/classic slot, video slot, and MegaWays slot, so you can get an idea of how things work.

  1. A typical classic slot machine or fruit machine may feature three reels and three paylines. These may be adjustable. You can choose to wager $0.01 per spin playing with just a single paylines while playing with all three lines would cost you $0.03 with the minimum stake.
  2. A conventional video slot will feature five reels and twenty-five lines. Again, the minimum you can bet is $0.01 per line per spin. Let us say that the paylines are adjustable and that you want to wager with fifteen of them. Your stake would, therefore, cost $0.15 per spin. If the paylines were not adjustable, you are looking at bets of $0.25 per spin with all twenty-five lines in play.
  3. A 243 ways to win video slot has 243 paylines spanning it. Obviously, you are not going to wager $2.43 ($0.01 per line) here. The software providers know that this is going to be too costly for players on smaller budgets. Instead, they will charge you $0.30 per spin. This works out at  $0.0012 per line. Naturally, it is much cheaper than a typical fixed line slot, but you could end up winning smaller prizes or find more symbols on the reels as the software provider tries to compensate for this.
  4. Finally, there are MegaWays games. Here, you are looking at six reels and often 117,649 ways to win, although the number of lines on each spin is determined at random. You are never going to pay the vast sums that a typical $0.01 per line per spin stake would command. Therefore, most MegaWays games cost $0.20 per turn. This results in a truly cheap stake. To compensate for that, though, the games are highly volatile. This means that wins do not occur often, but when they do, they tend to be whoppers.

Single vs. Multi-Line Slots

Does it really matter whether you play single-line or multi-line slots, though? Not as much as you would think. You see, each slot machine has what are known as RTP and volatility. The RTP (return to player) tells you roughly how much of each stake you wager will be put back into the game for players (all players worldwide) to win and how much the casino will keep. Naturally, the higher the percentage, the better it is for you.

Similarly, volatility plays a major role. As discussed, highly volatile slots pay out less regularly but deliver big wins. Low variance games pay out frequently but with small prizes. Both have a larger role to play in how often you win than paylines do.

Playing slots with a myriad of paylines does not mean you are guaranteed to win. Otherwise, we would all be pocketing immense prizes on MegaWays games. However, paylines do still have a role to play, and here is why…

Single-Line Slots

A single payline slot machine may not sound like it can deliver wins regularly, but that is not true. If two slot machine games (one single line and one with thousands of lines) have the same RTP and volatility, they can deliver wins at the same rate. However, playing with fewer paylines is often “cheaper” for players. By choosing to play with a single line, your outlay will not be extremely high. However, as the amount you can win in slots is proportional to your stake, do not expect to win vast sums when playing on a stake per line basis.

Multi-Line Slots

Learning how to play multi-slot machines is all about discovering when you are being taken for a ride. If you play with more lines, you have an improved chance of winning, right? Wrong. RTP determines the cash pots available, and variance/volatility determines how likely and often you are to win. All the paylines do is increase your stake. Of course, the more you wager, the higher the cash prizes you can win, but they remain proportional to your bet, just like in single-line slots.

What is worth noting is that if you play with a great array of paylines, you may be more likely to land wild symbols and bonus icons. The greater the space on the reels, the more room there is for these to turn up. They cannot guarantee that you will win prizes, but they can put you in a better position, too, as they can trigger special features and bonus rounds.

Multi-line slots are often called video slots, and most come with special features. Because of this, it may be worth opting to play free multi-line video slots. Doing so will allow you to explore each game, learn how they work and see if you like what they offer for free before you wager your cash on them. These free-to-play slots can be found at online casinos, review sites, software provider websites and many other places.

The most common type of game is the classic 5-reel, 25-line slot. However, other popular types of video or multi-line slots include 243 ways to win games, 1,024 ways to win games, MegaWays, and Win Both Ways slots. We will look at some of these in the next few sections. 

MegaWays Slots

MegaWays slots are the latest craze in the online casino world. These games were originally developed by BTG (Big Time Gaming), but the engine has subsequently been leased to virtually every major provider. Most MegaWays games feature six reels, have a cascading symbols mechanic with increasing multipliers, and have a random number of paylines on each spin.

In most cases, you can end up playing with as many as 117,649 lines per spin, although the minimum number of lines varies from 720 upwards. The perk here is that when you bag a win, you will see winning symbols removed from the reels and new ones dropping down to replace them. Because of how MegaWays games work, you do not need to land identical symbols on paylines. Merely landing them on adjacent reels is often enough to denote a win.

Some MegaWays games have up to 500,000 paylines, so this really is a mixed bag genre. Just remember that these are highly volatile games, which means that although stakes are dirt cheap, you are most likely looking at lengthy periods of losing until a win comes along. However, when that win does appear, it often tends to be gigantic.

Win Both Ways Slots

Given what we have discussed thus far, Win Both Ways slots should be straightforward for you to understand. These are slot machines that pay in both directions. While most video slots have paylines that run from left to right (meaning you need to land symbols on paylines from reel one to reel five), Wins Both Ways slots let you go the other way around, too. You can pocket winning combos with symbols on lines running from the far less conventional right to left AND left to right.

In some of these games, you may be charged double for this feature. So, a 20-line game may see you end up wagering $0.40 per spin. However, most software providers understand players do not appreciate this, so games like NetEnt’s Starburst let you play with a Win Both Ways system for the same cost as you would if they were in just one direction. In that game’s case, there are ten lines with a Both Ways Win mechanic costing just $0.10 per spin.

Cluster Pays Slots

Is it possible for a slot machine to have no paylines at all? Oddly enough, yes. In the early years of internet casino gambling, these games were known as Germinator Slots, and they worked by grouping together symbols anywhere on a grid rather than reels. In more recent times, NetEnt has taken the concept and improved it. They have worked in a “cascading” mechanic to boot and repacked the engine as Cluster Pays.

Cluster Pays slots have no paylines at all. Instead, you can win from the top-down, bottom-up, left to right, vice versa, diagonally, or even in the middle of the reels. What matters here is that you need to group together bunches or clusters of symbols anywhere on the screen. Once you do so, you will often see them explode, and all symbols will drop down, with new ones replacing those that were removed.

Cluster Pays slots are cheap and affordable, too. Given that there are no paylines, you are looking at conventional $0.15 up to $0.30 stakes per spin. These are comfortable enough as this is what you would typically find in an average video slot.

Bonus Features in Multi-Line Slot Machines

Video slots or multi-line bonus slot machines will typically come with special features, and these may impact the game in various ways. Their placement on paylines may be key to how such features are triggered, so these are well worth looking at. After reading our guide to bonus features, be sure to have a crack at multi-line slot machines for free, to understand better how each of these concepts works.

With that said, let us look at these bonus modes here and how they can impact your game:

  • Wild Symbols: Wild symbols are notable for acting like jokers and any old deck of cards. They can replace all standard paying icons. Wilds may appear on all reels, or some reels but they are not ordinarily affected by paylines. That said, they can sometimes expand or appear stacked (on top of one another) or may spread, walk, or shift places on the reels. This can unlock winning combos on paylines that were previously out of reach. Wilds may also sometimes act as the best-paying icons in the game.
  • Scatter Symbols: Scatter symbols are one of the best symbols you can land in a slot, as they do not adhere to the rules of paylines. They will always count no matter where they pop up. In most cases, they will usually deliver a cash prize (a figure multiplied by your bet) and trigger bonus features such as free spins or a click and win bonus. Scatter symbols may be responsible for the top prize in the game or just a conventional win.
  • Progressive Jackpots: Progressive jackpots may be won at random, or they may require you to land symbols on paylines to pocket a prize. In older slot machines, you may be forced to land special jackpot paying icons (or the best paying standard symbols) on a specific payline, perhaps even with the maximum bet staked and all lines active. In newer games, you can win progressives via bonuses or at random, although some games will also dole out a jackpot prize if you line up jackpot icons on any active paylines. If this is the case, the more paylines you have in play, the better.
  • Free Spins: Free spins are usually triggered by scatter symbols. These may take place on the same screen as the base game or on an entirely different screen. Most free spin bonuses will use the same number of lines you had in play when you triggered the round. However, some free spin bonuses offer you an expanded payline structure, giving you more ways to win at no extra cost.
  • Cascading Reels and Re-Spins: With the cascading reels mechanic, winning symbols will disappear from the reels, and new emblems will drop down, replacing them. On occasion, you may pocket re-spins or an expanded screen size. This may mean that you get added paylines to play with, again at no extra cost.
  • Other Bonus Features: There are other bonuses that can sometimes spring up and affect your paylines, too. These vary from game to game, either adding paylines, sometimes even giving you extra reels to play with. Mystery symbols, for instance, can transform all identical symbols on the reels into the same new icon and may help unlock other combos on paylines that were previously out of reach. Again, we would check the paytable of each slot to see what is available and then play free demos of slots to understand how they impact your paylines when betting.