Types of Slot Games

Types of Slots

Slot machine games are a cash cow for any casino, and they consistently outperform table games and other forms of gambling. In 2013, American players lost an estimated $119 billion through legal gambling, while Australian gamers led the pack in the biggest losses per person. In either case, you can bet that slot machines played a large factor in their misfortune.

On the other hand, slots can change a person's life for the better with just a single spin of the reels. In 2003, for example, a 25-year-old software engineer from Los Angeles walked into the Excalibur in Las Vegas, put $100 into a Megabucks machine, and went home with a record win of $39,710,826.36.

While most players will never win a fraction of that amount, it doesn't keep them from playing and dreaming. A life-altering payout is always just one spin away, and this promise of instant wealth allows slots to maintain a permanent place at the top of the casino gambling mountain.

In the early days of the industry, the phrase "slot machine" only referred to one simple mechanical game of chance. This game had three spinning reels, each of which was marked with a few different pictures of fruit. Prizes were small, replay value was non-existent, and they were considered little more than a distraction.

Fast-forward to the modern world. The slot machine is such an adaptable game style that the sheer variety of available styles can intimidate the first time you step onto the gaming floor. Don't stress out, though. Once you've learned the basic game styles, the rest is just a matter of exposure.

In this article, we'll be taking an in-depth look at the various types of slot machine games. Whether you're interested in slot payouts or slot bonuses, there should be something here to pique your interest.

Categories of Slot Machines

While the focus of this article is on traditional slots, there are a number of games that qualify as part of the slot machine family. Before we delve into specifics, let's pause for a moment and look at the overall category. Keep in mind that all of these variations of slots enjoy tremendous popularity in some part of the world, even if you've never heard of them.


The driving force behind this article, traditional slots are the lifeblood of gambling cites such as Las Vegas, Macau, and Atlantic City. Each game has three or more spinning reels, and players are paid when they achieve a winning combination of symbols. These machines allow their owners to enjoy huge profits, and they account for about 70% of the revenue for the average American casino. Games are known as "pokies" in Australia and "fruit machines" in the UK, although their function is largely the same.

Video Poker

Based on Five-card Draw, this game gives five virtual cards to players and challenges them to make the best possible poker hand. Payouts are tied directly to the strength of the hand, with a pair of jacks or better usually being required to finish in the money. While traditional slots always give the house an advantage, some video poker games allow the house edge to be eliminated (through a combination of perfect play and the right pay table).

Video Bingo

Instead of the reel-style of play available on traditional slots, this type of game features an electronic video card. The two most popular types of game are Latin and American bingo. Latin bingo uses a 3x5 card, 75 balls, and enjoys a major following in Mexico and Europe. American bingo, meanwhile, uses a 5x5 card, 90 balls, and is primarily played in the United States and Canada.


The name of this game is arrived at by melding "pachinko" and "slot machine," and it can be found in Japanese arcades and pachinko parlors. According to the laws of the nation, these games must feature three reels, a three coin maximum wager, and buttons that allow the player to manually stop a spin. Since reels can be stopped within 0.19 seconds of pressing a button, these games are beatable by skilled patrons. Most machines offer a payback percentage in the 90% range, while a loose machine in the hands of a veteran gamer can award as much as a 200% return.

Slot machines are a major source of revenue for online and land-based casinos, and they remain among the most popular forms of gambling on the planet. While traditional slots are at the top of the heap, virtual cousins such as video poker also have a devoted following. Some types of slots, such as the pachislo machines in Japan, even allow players to enjoy major profits thanks to skill-based elements.

Types of Traditional Slot Machines

Slot machines come in a wide variety of options, from the basic to the downright complicated. No matter what your area of interest or experience level, there's a game that's been designed to give you hours of enjoyment and a chance at a respectable payday. The following are the most common types of slots to looks out for.

  • Multi-coin/Multi-line
  • Multi-line
  • Buy-a-Pays
  • Hidden Buy-a-Pays
  • Straight Multipliers
  • Bonus Multipliers
  • Progressives
  • Combination Slots

This type of slot first gained popularity in Australia, but in the last 20 years it's grown to be a major part of the American market. Gamers can choose how many paylines they want to play, as well as the number of coins to risk per line. Most slots veterans recommend playing a coin on every payline, as this keeps you from missing out on any possible winning combinations. Be sure to look at the paytable, though, as some games have bonuses that only activate when you're playing the maximum number of coins per line.


The predecessor to the multi-coin/multi-line machines discussed above, these games have largely fallen out of favor in North American casinos over the last few decades. While the number of paylines can be selected by the player, they're limited to wagering just one coin per line. Most gamers have become accustomed to being able to risk multiple coins per line, which is the main reason for the sagging popularity of these machines.


In this type of slot, each additional coin wagered unlocks extra winning combinations. The availability of combinations greatly influences the hit frequency of the game, and sometimes the difference between an 84% and 100% payback can be a single coin. Due to this fact, it's always suggested that players risk the maximum number of coins on a buy-a-pay machine.

Hidden Buy-a-Pays

The name for this type of game was coined by gaming guru John Robison, and it refers to any slot featuring bonus events that are only accessible by playing the maximum number of coins. While the game might otherwise have an average payback percentage, playing the maximum can boost it into the high nineties (or even 100%). You can spot this type of machine by examining the paytable and looking for any sort of bonus that requires max coins to activate.

Straight Multiplayer

This member of the slot machine family allows the player to activate all winning combos by risking a single coin, and any additional coins serve to increase the winning multiplier. That means three coins would pay triple that of a single coin wager, four coins would be quadruple, etc. While some players insist that risking the maximum amount is the way to go, most experts recommend sticking with a single coin wager.

Bonus Multipliers

Just like the straight multiplier games, these machines activate all combinations with a single coin. Additional coins multiply any winnings, but there's also a bonus payout (usually on the top jackpot) that can be activated only with maximum coins. Since this bonus amount is rarely going to come into play, most slots veterans suggest sticking with a single coin wager.


Each time a player makes a wager on one of these slots, a small percentage goes towards increasing the top prize. The jackpots on these games start at a certain dollar amount, and they continue to climb until someone hits the required symbol combination. The game then resets to the base jackpot amount and begins to build again. This form of slot is best if you're looking to become an instant millionaire, although most machines require you to play maximum coins in order to be eligible for the progressive.

Combination Slots

These slots combine two or more of the types listed above. This could be a multiplier and a buy-a-pay, or it might be a multi-line progressive with a hidden buy-a-pay. When it doubt, always examine the machine's paytable for more details (or conduct some online research). Ultimately, most experts suggest risking just enough money to activate all possible payouts.

While most players think all slot machines are the same, there's actually a great deal of diversity to be found. Some games require multiple coins in order to activate every payline, while others have massive jackpots that can only be won by playing maximum coins. No matter what version you're searching for, a close look at the game's paytable should provide the necessary details.

Types of Slot Machines Jackpots

Playing slots can be a lot of fun, but the ultimate objective is always to win some extra money. When a player is able to accomplish this goal, they'll find that slots have two distinct ways of offering jackpots. Both of these are discussed below.

Flat Tops

Slots with a fixed jackpot are known as "flat tops." These machines don't offer jackpots worth millions of dollars, but the odds of hitting one are also better.


If you want to become instantly wealthy, these are the jackpots to shoot for. Each time a player puts money into the machine, a percentage of their wager is used to increase the progressive. It continues to grow until someone wins it, at which point the prize resets to a predetermined amount. While these machines can change your life overnight, the frequency of top payouts is on a par with winning the lottery. Progressives can be divided into three distinct types.

  • Standalone

    This game is not connected to any other machines. When you put money into it, the only jackpot being increased is the one tied to that individual game.

  • Linked

    Multiple machines are linked together. These games are usually located in the same establishment, although they're sometimes spread across multiple casinos owned by the same company. Each time money is fed into a linked machine, the shared progressive jackpot increases. Once someone wins the top prize on one of the machines, the jackpot on all linked games drops to a starting level and begins to build again.

  • Wide Area

    A large number of machines are linked across an entire jurisdiction or state. The payouts on these games are tremendous, and the most famous is Nevada's Megabucks.

Slot machine jackpots are either set at a fixed amount or continue to increase until they're been won. The former are known as "flat top" machines, while the latter are the famous progressive slots. Both types can offer significant payouts, although progressives are renowned for turning players into multi-millionaires with just a few spins of the reels.

Slots by Location

No matter where you play slot machines, they can be placed into two main categories regarding location. These are land-based and online.

Land Based

These are slot machines that can be physically interacted with by the player. Even if their reels are virtual, they still fall into this category if they're located in a real-world casino. Games of this type can also be found in a variety of other locations, from airports and bars to hotel lobbies.

Large Casino Venue

A more recent invention, online slots provide the excitement of casino gambling without having to leave the privacy and comfort of your own home. The majority of these games are found on virtual casino websites, although a number can now be downloaded to mobile devices in the form of an app.

Online Slot Machine

Player Position

When a player enters a land-based gaming establishment, he or she is likely to be confronted with an ocean of slot machines on the casino floor. These games fall into two major categories in regard to design; low level and upright.

  • Low Level Slots

    Also known as "slant top slots," these machines are meant to be played by someone sitting down, which is why a chair is attached to the game (or provided by the casino).

  • Upright Slots

    Also referred to as "stand up slots," these games are meant to be enjoyed by players standing on their own two feet. These tend to be played by young and middle-aged gamblers, as older patrons may experience difficulty standing for long periods of time.

Slots by Payout Rate

These terms are actually myths, but we wanted to include them to make this list as comprehensive as possible. A frightening number of players buy into the false idea that machines get hot and cold, although the presence of the random number generator renders this impossible. When a machine delivers a jackpot, it has the same mathematical chance of paying out another jackpot on the next spin, but the long odds are what prevents it from doing so (not some internal failsafe).

  • Hot

    A machine that's said to be "hot," is one that's paying out on a consistent basis. When a player believes this to be the case, you can expect them to sit at the machine for a long stretch of time.

  • Cold

    A "cold" machine is one that isn't paying out. While several players may come and go from a slot that's supposedly going through a cold phase, there may be another player lurking in the background and waiting to jump onto the machine at the right time. Such behavior can be explained by the player expecting the game to suddenly reverse its trend and start paying at regular intervals.

When you patronize a casino, you'll find all manner of slot machines. Some are designed to be played while standing, and others are only available via an Internet connection. If you're a superstitious gambler who ignores facts and logic, you may also believe in machines that alternate between hot and cold streaks.

Slots by Payout Frequency

Each slot is programmed to pay out a certain percentage of everything that players put in. However, this amount only comes into play over millions of spins, which means that even a slot with a high payback percentage can take all your money during a session and give nothing in return. In regards to the payback percentage, slots are usually defined in one of three ways:

  • Loose

    A loose slot machine is one that's programmed to deliver a payback of 95% or more. These machines are highly coveted by players, which is why casinos almost always keep the actual percentage a secret. If they didn't, everyone would flock to these machines and ignore the rest of the available games.

  • Medium

    These machines aren't loose or tight. Instead, they're somewhere in the middle when it comes to offering a return on the player's investment. On average, expect the payback percentage of these games to range from the high eighties to the low nineties.

  • Tight

    A tight slot machine is the scourge of gamblers, as it takes their money without offering a consistent payout in return. All U.S. states have laws regarding the minimum payback percentage that a slot can be programmed with, and you can expect a tight machine to hover in this range. Examples of legal minimums include 75% in Nevada (McCarran International Airport, for example), 85% in Florida, and 83% in New Jersey.

While we've attempted to define the payout percentages for loose and tight slots, keep in mind that these numbers may differ from one location to another. The ultimate test of the looseness or tightness of a slot is how it compares to other machines. For example, a 90% game wouldn't be considered loose when surrounded by 95% machines, but it would be when compared to a bank of 86% slots.

Classes of Slot Machine

Thanks to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in the United States, games of chance are broken up into three classes. Class I involves either low-level social gaming or traditional Native-American contests, while Class II and III include slots.

  • Class II

    Games that fall into this class are usually associated with bingo. In states where slot machines are illegal, casinos have found a way to comply with the law while still attracting those who want to spin the reels. The resulting Class II slots look and play like the real thing, but there's a major difference: traditional slots pit the player against the house, while this class of slot machine matches players against one another. Each slot has a bingo card inside, and all machines are hooked up to the same computer server. This means all machines being played at any given moment are competing against one another in a silent game of bingo, and the winning slot pays out its player.

  • Class III

    This class includes most forms of casino-style gaming, such as roulette, blackjack, craps, and slot machines with a random number generator. Tribal casinos are allowed to offer Class III games, assuming the owners follow the necessary regulatory procedures and the games are legal within the state.

If you've played in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, then you've experienced the thrill of full-fledged slot machines categorized as Class III. In states where those slots are illegal, however, casinos have developed Class II games that emulate slots while essentially being nothing more than an electronic game of bingo. When you play a traditional slot machine, it's also important to remember that games with a high payback percentage are considered "loose," while "tight" machines are less likely to offer significant wins.

Slot Machines by Denomination

The original slot machine denomination was a nickel, as this was what it cost to play the 1891 gambling machine invented by Sittman and Pitt in Brooklyn, New York. Over 120 years later, slots have evolved far beyond what their inventors could imagine, offering a wide range of denominations for players of every economic level.

The most common and popular games are the penny slots, which means you can enjoy a spin of the reels while only risking a single cent. These games are perfect for those on a fixed budget, as well as those who want to play for long periods of time without risking a sizable chunk of their bankroll.

For those who are a little more ambitious, denominations of five cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, and 50 cents can be easily located. If you have even greater amounts of disposable income, you can graduate up to denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, and $25. For the true high rollers, casinos sometimes include $50, $100, and even the occasional $1,000 game in roped-off VIP areas.

Most modern slots accept multiple denominations. They also accept multiple coins or bills per payline, so a penny slot can be played for more than the base amount.

Types of Reels on Slots

Reels are a vital part of the slot machine experience. As soon as the spin button is pressed, the reels begin rotating at a high rate of speed. Once they stop, the player's level of success or failure is revealed (although the true results of the game are determined internally). No matter where you play in the world, slot machine reels can be divided into two categories.

  • Mechanical

    Slots of this type include physical reels, and they arrange themselves in a horizontal line after the player presses the spin button or pulls the lever on the side of the machine. The reels have various symbols on them, and the configuration of these images determines whether or not the player receives a payout. Mechanical slots are almost a thing of the past, and you're unlikely to find them in most modern casinos.

  • Virtual

    Instead of physical reels with symbols, this type of slot instead offers a virtual representation. All online slots fall into this category, as do the majority of games found in modern gaming establishments. Since the game isn't as limited on the number of symbols, this allows more icons to be displayed and additional winning combinations to be offered.

Reels are a defining element of slot machines, and they come in mechanical and virtual versions. The latter has become the industry standard, and online gamers may have never experienced a mechanical reel in their lives. Slots also come in a wide range of denominations, allowing players to tailor their gaming experience to their current economic level. While slots with higher denominations offer larger jackpots, smaller denomination games are known for issuing more frequent payouts.

Types of Reels on Slots

Whether mechanical or virtual, each slot has a number of reels displayed on the face of the machine. While we've come across some oddball games that offer six or seven reels, games with three and five reels make up the overwhelming majority of options found at any casino.

  • Three-Reel Slots

    These tend to be more simplistic in design, and this layout was common in classic versions of the game from the 1940s through the 1980s. While no longer in the majority, these machines are still created in surprising numbers thanks to players who prefer a more streamlined gaming experience. Betting options are often limited, as well, making them a perfect option for anyone on a budget.

  • Five-Reel Slots

    Virtual slot machines have allowed designers to add all manner of bells and whistles to their creations, and an increase in the number of reels is one of the more noticeable changes. The addition of two extra reels has made more paylines possible, increasing the level of customer excitement and allowing casinos to rake in more cash in the process. Some virtual slots even feature expanding reels, allowing the screen to lengthen and increase the number of lines.

Number of players on a Machine

When slots are created, there are two ways to design player participation. These include the following.

  • Standalone

    This is easily the most common form of slot, with each individual customer playing on their own machine. This allows players to concentrate on the game, as well as enjoy a bit of privacy.

  • Community

    This new type of video slot has enjoyed a certain degree of popularity in recent years. Seats are situated close together near a large screen, with smaller screens available for the regular phases of the game. During certain bonus rounds, however, all players participate at the same time on the larger video display. Examples of this sort of game include Monopoly Big Event and Wheel of Fortune Super Spin.

Licensed vs Unlicensed Games

When a game is developed, its creators can go one of two directions in regard to creativity. These include:

  • Licensed

    The slot incorporates elements from a licensed property such as a TV show or film. In such cases, the developing company must pay a licensing fee to use names and likenesses.

  • Unlicensed

    The content of the game is original, not requiring any sort of licensing fee or agreement.

Most slots have three or five reels, although a minority may include a larger number. While the majority of slots are standalone games, community gaming is becoming more popular. When slots are being designed, the company may choose to create an all-new theme or pay a licensing fee to use material that's been previously developed.

Methods of Slot Payment

When you manage to win on a slot machine, there are two distinct ways that you can receive payment. They are covered in this section and include the following:

  • Coin Tray

    Money within the machine is contained in a coin hopper and deposited onto the coin tray following a big win or the customer pressing the "cash out" button.

  • Hand Tray

    This type of payment occurs when the player receives money directly from a casino employee. This usually happens when the size of the win exceeds the amount that the machine is programmed to pay out, often around the point when tax paperwork has to be filled out.

Methods of Player Payment

As we all know, slot machines aren't free. The player must pay for the chance to win additional funds, and this can be accomplished in one of the two following methods.

  • Cash

    In older versions of the game, the player inserted their money into a coin slot (which is where the name "slots" originated). In modern machines, customers have the option of inserting either coins or paper currency. Slots don't currently accept credit or debit cards, although a handful of designers have been pushing for this over the last few years.

  • Ticket

    Thanks to the TITO (ticket in, ticket out) system, players receive a paper ticket with a barcode once they've won at a slot machine. The ticket can then be redeemed for cash at a teller window or automated kiosk, or the player has the option of inserting the ticket into another machine and playing with the credits that have already been accumulated.

Slots by Bonus Rounds

When you play a slot machine (progressive or otherwise), the top prize can sometimes be triggered instantly. In most cases, however, it's only obtained after a bonus round becomes available to the player. Some machines guarantee a payout after a bonus round has been activated, while others only provide the opportunity.

These rounds are the result of specific symbol combinations, and even missing out on a major jackpot can still lead to free spins and credits. The following are the most common types of bonus rounds found within such games:

  • Spin the Wheel

    The player sets in motion a wheel that's divided up into sections representing prizes such as winning multipliers or free credits. The prize is determined by where the wheel stops.

  • Skill Based Game

    The player must utilize hand-eye coordination to succeed at the bonus round, much like a traditional video game. These are becoming more common, and some casinos offer entire games based around such a concept.

  • Pick and Match

    A number of items are hidden behind icons such as treasure chests, and the player must match two in order to win that prize. Some machines have symbols representing various jackpots, as well, so this type of round can be quite profitable.

  • Pick to Win

    Triggered at random or when a player lines up a certain number of symbols, this type of bonus requires players to select various icons on the screen. Each has a hidden item behind it, and uncovering one allows the player to win it. This might be as simple as free spins or instant credits, or it might be a multiplier that's immediately applied to the base game.

  • Free Spins

    This bonus is often triggered by getting a certain number of scatter symbols during the regular phase of the game. Once this happens, the spins play out using the same wager and paylines and the base game that triggered them. The major difference is that bonus spins often come with a multiplier, greatly increasing each payoff.

Bonus rounds are one of the reasons why modern slot machine games are so popular with players. In addition to the usual credits that can be won during the base game, bonus rounds present customers with the chance for multipliers, free spins, and even progressive jackpots. Some even offer skill-based games, which puts the fate of the player directly in their own hands.

Number of Paylines

Imagine the payline as an invisible line running across the reels. While these lines are often horizontal, they can also be vertical or even zag-zag. If a winning combination appears on a line that's been activated by the player, then a cash reward is issued.

Old-fashioned machines only had a single payline, which made it easy for players to figure out whether or not they'd won. Modern slots are far more complicated, although the machine always displays winnings paylines for the convenience of the customer.

Winning Paylines

Since the 1990s, multi-payline machines have become increasingly popular. Three to five paylines are commonplace, but 15, 25, and even 243 are available. Most machines pay on winning combinations from left to right, although some machines now deviate from this tradition.

Players can activate a slot machine with cash or a barcode ticket. There are numerous types of paylines offered, from one all the way to 243. If the customer manages to win, they'll ultimately receive their money directly from the machine or from the cashier's window.

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