Slots Tutorial: Reels and Paylines

Ultimate Slot Machine Guide: A closer look inside slots reels and paylines.

Most of the slots tutorials you find today are centered around strategies, features and other in-game mechanics. Today, we’ll be getting back to basics. Before you understand the more intricate workings of a slot machine, it’s important to know what reels and paylines are, and how they work for (or against) you.

Slot Machine Guide: What are Reels?

Slots ReelsReels, reels, reels – everyone is talking about reels. This 5-reel machine has free spin multipliers. This 3-reel classic offers a ten-grand jackpot. What are these mysterious reels of which they speak?

The reels are the foundation of any slot machine. They are the column-like segments on which all game symbols are displayed, spinning from top to bottom with each play. They are called “reels” for the same reason we call a fishing reel a reel. The are circular, and they spin to perform a function.

Thus a 3-reel machine will have three reels full of symbols, and a 5-reel machine 5 reels of symbols.

These slots reels depict the symbols that all players hope will align in a beautiful cacophony of alike imagery, triggering a win from the machine. They work by spinning round and round, then coming to a random stop.

Being graphically designed on video screens these days, they aren’t actually round anymore, and are powered by a random number generator (RNG), which ensures that each reel will stop in an entirely random, unpredictable position. For this reason, it really is true that casinos cannot predict when a jackpot will pay out, or have any effect on the size or timing of wins.

How do Paylines Tie In?

Slot Machine guide to 3 Reel Paylines

The symbols on the reels don’t always have to appear in a straight line, left to right, to incur a win. In the earliest machines built over a century ago, perhaps, but not today. Now we have paylines running in multifarious angles to help create winning combinations all over the screen.

Paylines come in a wide range of numbers these days. A classic 3 reel machine will generally have 1, 3, or 5 paylines, as depicted in the image to your right. A 5-reel game, however, can have many, often boasting 9, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, even 100 paylines. The image below shows the common array of paylines in a 30-line game.

Slots tutorial Reels and PaylinesTo win, the goal is to line up similar symbols – with or without wilds – along any active payline. Thus those zig-zagging positions can be just as lucrative as a straight line across. The more lines there are, the more likely a game is to strike a multitude of winning combinations on a single spin, derived from just a few alike symbols.

Some slot manufacturers took the concept even further, creating what they call ‘Ways to Win‘ slot machines. On a 5×3 reel grid, they create 248 ways to win, covering all possible payline combinations from the leftmost reel.

Next came ‘All Ways‘ slots. In these versions, the reels can develop a winning combination in every possible direction. It could line up from left to right or right to left – sometimes even top to bottom and vice verse.

You can learn more about those games in our previous slot machine guide on All Ways Slots Pays.


  • Trevor Hallsey

    Passionate webmaster, devoted card game enthusiast, and proud son of the Great White North. With over a decade of iGaming experience, Trevor has launched numerous web portals to share his passion for game theory and all things Canadian gaming. With this site, he acts as a fact checker and mostly writes at the intersection of gaming and finance. He aims to offer statistical insights and unique information that you might see lacking in similar sites.

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