Finding the right slot machine for you

If you’re planning to head to the casino to experience online gambling for real money you probably want to check out the slots arena. Slots are the most popular attraction at the online casino and the casinos invest a lot in bringing the newest and most interactive games to their lobbies.

There are basically two types of slot machines – three-reel slots, which are generally termed “classic slots,” and five-reel slots, also known as “video slots.” The first true video slot machine was developed in 1976. Within a few years, the designers were able to make the machines "cheat-proof" and they soon became popular in casinos around the world.

Today online casinos, such as our very own Springbok, offer players their choice of three-reel or five-reel slots. It’s not always clear which machine is simpler, which has more forthright play options or which pays out at a higher rate. Sometimes an old-fashioned three-reel machine is quite interactive and dynamic and offers big payouts while a five-reel machine presents basic spins and wins and few other interactive elements.

If you’re starting out at the slots, which should you choose?


From the beginning, slot machines were designed with revolving mechanical reels whose job was to display and determine results. The first slot machines actually had five reels but, over time, three reel slots became the casinos’ preferred machines because three reel machines were simpler and more reliable.

In a three reel slot, the number of combinations is cubic. A machine with three physical reels and 10 symbols on each reel has 103 which equals 1,000 possible combinations. Such a structure limits the manufacturer's ability to offer large jackpots -- even the most unlikely event has a likelihood of 0.1%. Assuming 100% return to player would be 1000 times the bet, the maximum theoretical payout would leave no room for other prizes. That machine made for a boring, high risk slot machine that no one wanted to play.

Eventually, the number of symbols increased to about 22. That meant that there were 10,648 combinations. On the other hand, jackpot sizes and the number of possible outcomes was more limited.

In the 1980s slot machine designers began to incorporate electronics into their products. They programmed them to weight particular symbols higher or lower than others. The result was that losing symbols would appear on the payline disproportionately to the symbols’ actual frequency on the physical reel. A symbol could occupy several stops on the multiple reels even though it would only appear once on the reel that displayed to the player.

The "Electronic Gaming Device Utilizing a Random Number Generator for Selecting the Reel Stop Positions" emerged into the market in 1984. It offered a machine that could present better chances of payoff than it actually had while still staying within legal limitations of games of chance. 

Some Differences

In general, classic online slots are slow-paced games with limited paylines. Prizes are generous. A classic slot generally includes three reels and features one to five paylines. The goal of the game is to create winning combinations by lining up matching symbols across enabled paylines which appear as sequences that appear across the reels. Players wager on the paylines that they want to enable which “activates” that line and enables a real money payout on a winning combination.

In 3-reel slots, the player spins the reels and then compares the combinations provided on the payout table (where payout ratios are listed with this sequence). Spins that result in a matching combination of symbols as listed on the payout table achieve a payout when the matching combination occurs.  

The five-reel slots are the video slots. Video slots generally include many more paylines than are featured in classic slots -- some video slots have up to 1000 paylines, or more. If you’re playing a video slot you can choose your paylines that you want to activate and then lay your bet based on the number of selected paylines, the number of wagered coins and the denomination of the wagered coins. The casino determines the value of each coin. Following each spin, the selected paylines are matched to the payout table which then determines wins and payouts.

Pros and Cons

When you’re making your choice about which type of slot machine you want to play, you might want to remember some of the following points: 

Payline Count

The five-reel games almost always have more paylines but bigger isn’t always better. Some games have dozens of paylines and some of the newest ones feature the new 243 Ways to Win line feature in which individual lines aren’t enabled and each spin gives you 243 Ways to Win.

If you’re playing for the excitement and entertainment, you might enjoy the higher level of dynamic interaction that a five-reel, high payline game offers. However, those games don’t necessarily increase the number or level of payouts. So if your objective is to collect more and higher winning prizes, 3-reel games are as effective as 5-reel games.


Most players tend to choose the type of slots that they want to play based on gameplay. The video slots have video and audio effects, bonus features and other elements that make it a more exciting and fun-filled game. The payouts may not be higher but you’ll have a better gameplay experience.  

Bottom Line

Casino observers think that the reason that the 3 reel slots aren’t as popular among younger players is that younger players want the flashy video effects and the frequent prizes which are more commonly found in the 5-reel games.

If you enjoy longer gaming sessions that keep your cash balance at a moderate level, a 3-reel game is probably best for you. 3-reel slot machines aren’t as volatile as 5-reel slots which require bigger bets in order to tap the game’s full potential. That’s probably for you. 

If you want the flash, head to the 5-reel games lobby.