Three Reel Classics

There's something undeniably appealing about a simple 3 reel classic slot, the old-school-style many people think of when they think of a slot machine. Online Casino Gems has an unbelievable selection of these wildly popular, timeless games. 
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Play 3-Reel Slots For Real Money

Slot machines dominate both online casinos and their land-based casino counterparts, accounting for some 60-70% of the industry’s revenue. If an online casino has hundreds of game titles, most of them are likely to be video slots. 

Many bettors, however, are old enough to remember those original family favourites, the chunky ‘one-armed bandits’ with their familiar thunk and clunk sound and smooth mechanical action as the long steel lever was pulled and the reels spun at a dizzying pace. Remember when we all used to head to the amusement arcades on a summer’s holiday, just to pull those shiny levers…? No British seaside holiday was the same again when those machines disappeared. 

Indeed, many casino fans still lament their passing--although a few do remain, but more as showpieces these days. 

Bettors still love inserting coins, pulling levers or hitting buttons, and watching the reels spin in hopes of a payline. For some players, it’s a meditative, relaxing process mixed with the thrilling potential of a big win.

For slot lovers who like a back-to-basics approach, three-reel slots pay distant homage to the history of those traditional casino slots. These are now the closest thing you can get to the historic physical 3-reel machines.

While many enthusiasts have their favourite five-reel video slots, with dozens of paylines and bonus games, the newer three-reel slots try to strip away the fluff and leave you with the soul and guts of slot machines—three reels, just a few paylines, a lot of money on the line, and (most likely) some pictures of juicy fruits synonymous with those lovely old machines. The only thing is, they’re all pretty much computerised now.

So, What Are 3-Reel Slots, Exactly?

When you press the button to spin a three-reel slot, you’re paying homage to some of the classics of the genre.

Interestingly, the first mechanical slot machines actually had five reels, as do most modern video slots. Invented in New York in 1891, the symbols were playing card numbers and suits. Winning poker hands like a royal flush comprised paylines for prizes like cigars or a free round of drinks. This popular game resulted in many wins. To reconfigure it as a profitable casino game, modifications were needed.

San Francisco inventor Charles Fey modified the concept into the “Liberty Bell,” the first three-reel slot machine. It featured only five symbols across three reels—diamonds, hearts, spades, horseshoes, and the liberty bell. Each spin cost a nickel, and three bells in a row offered the biggest payout—10x. This simpler configuration resulted in far fewer wins and a greater house edge.

The most popular three-reel slot machines were “Fruit Machines” or “Fruities,” which caught fire in the UK and became a fixture at British pubs and in those nostalgic, musty-smelling amusement arcades by the sea. They went hand in hand with candy floss and striped rock. The majority of the symbols on the three reels were fruits—cherries, grapes, bananas, etc.—as well as symbols like bars and the number “7.”

Over time, mechanical slots were replaced by electromechanical slots, then fully-digitised video slots. With the power of software, slot games became more elaborate and immersive, with five reels, side games, multiple paylines, and as many themes and animations as the imaginations—and licensing agreements—could come up with. 

However, three-reel slots retained a loyal following and these also made the jump to digital slots. People continued to seek them out for the stripped-down, classic gameplay, without the distractions of themes of flashing graphics and bonus games. Three-reel slots tend to have fewer paylines, but as such the wins tend to result in bigger payouts.

Some casinos even keep a few classic three-reel mechanical slots around for the nostalgia value. 

The Different Types of 3-Reel Slots

Classic 3-Reel Slots

Classic three-reel slots might be old-school mechanical machines, or they might be video slots designed by software companies to replicate the gameplay of those classic machines. As described, they’re more likely to be the former nowadays, and these are the machines with few paylines, bigger payouts and often with as many juicy, fruity themes as you can digest!  

Multi-Line 3-Reel Slots

While 3-reel slot machines tend to offer a bare-bones approach—few paylines with bigger payouts--it is possible to find multi-line three-reel slot machines. More paylines typically mean more chances to win … but the payouts for each win tend to be lower. 

Progressive 3-Reel Slots

Well, everyone who knows their slot gameplay loves a progressive slot! 

Progressive 3-reel slots are similar in gameplay to any other 3-reel slot game. The difference is how the jackpots are calculated. “Progressive” jackpots get bigger with each round of play, growing with each bet placed. Of course, not every penny of the bet is added to the jackpot. The casino takes a portion of each lost bet, helping maintain their house edge. However, like a lottery rollover, there is an undeniable allure to a jackpot that just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Depending on the machine, the jackpot can become truly huge indeed.

Progressive 3-reel slots come in three formats …

  • Standalone. Standalone progressive slots have jackpots that get bigger based on the bets placed on that actual machine. Bets placed on other machines do not contribute to the progressive jackpot. As such, these jackpots tend to be smaller than the eye-popping jackpots typical of other formats. We’re talking hundreds, maybe thousands of pounds. Attractive, but not earth-shattering.
  • Local Area Network. Local area network 3-reel progressive slots introduce the concept of jackpots that grow with bets placed on multiple machines. Usually the “local area” is the casino itself. If a jackpot is scored on any of the networked machines, the lucky player wins the whole jackpot, which can push into the thousands or tens of thousands of pounds.
  • Wide Area Network. Wide area network progressive slots up the ante on the progressive slot concept by linking dozens or hundreds of machines across vast geographic areas—states, countries, even worldwide. This is obviously easy to do with virtual video slots licensed by online casinos--and these are also popular among new online casinos as the big prizes draw a lot of attention and players. With scores of bets feeding the jackpot, this is when we start to see payouts stretching into the hundreds of thousands, even millions of pounds.

Because of the huge potential jackpots, wins at progressive 3-reel slots are pretty rare. Bankroll management is also essential when playing progressive 3-reel slots—you can burn through your bankroll quickly by chasing those big jackpots, especially if eligibility for the jackpot mandates side bets or greater-than-minimum bets. It’s useful to at least keep a few playing tips in mind so you’ll avoid the worst mistakes--even if you cannot affect the odds since these are just simple games of chance.  

3-Reel Slots with Bonus Games

One of the selling points of 3-reel slots is the simplicity. Players tend to prefer the stripped-down approach to slot gameplay, without the bells and whistles of bonus games common on five-reel video slots.

For players who like the bonus games, however, video slot developers have you covered. Three-reel video slot machines with bonus games and free spins are out there. The advantage of bonus rounds is that they multiply your chances to win, and they inject extra excitement into what might otherwise be a tedious exercise of coin-button-spin-coin-button-spin etc.

Tips for Playing 3-Reel Slots

Classic games of chance like 3-reel slots are hard to strategise, because their very nature pushes back against strategy. Designers work very hard to randomise the results produced by these slot games.

In the case of video slots, three-reel slots actually have their outcomes determined by a random-number-generating software program, making it even harder to slug the outcome in your favour.

If you want to be strategic about playing three-reel slots, here are some tips to go about it:

Only Bet What You’re Willing to Lose

Some players go to the casino in hopes of winning big, playing like their heating bill depends on the next spin.

The truth is, the casino always has the advantage by building a “house edge” into every game. This is a percentage of the bets that the casino will collect over the course of all spins on that particular machine. No, this does not mean casinos are ripping you off--just that a small percentage of each game played comes to the casino so that they can then afford to pay out those big wins--or lots of small ones.

The inverse of the house edge is the “return to player” percentage (RTP). For a house edge of 5%, the RTP is 95%--so that means 95% comes back to the players in the form of wins. This means the casino doesn’t lose out across all aggregated games, but can offer those humongous payouts quite safely without damaging their profitability. 95%, by the way, is a fairly low RTP compared to other casino games, so always consider whether you could get better value on a different game. But 95%-97% is fairly typical for any slots.

Overall, the 5% house edge means that all of the players of that slot game will tend to walk away with the house owning 5% of all the bets. A few might win big. Others will deplete their whole bankroll. The more you play, however, the more your bankroll will resemble the RTP—in this example, 95% of the starting balance.

Understanding that the odds are stacked against you, it is best to approach casino games like three-reel slots with eyes wide open. Slot-playing is not a profession or a business that you can master and turn into a money-making career. It’s a lark, a game, a way to pass the time and get the adrenaline pumping by putting a little money on the line for a chance to become a big winner.

Never forget the first rule of responsible gambling—only bet money you are willing to lose. 

Manage your Bankroll

With three-reel slots, the longer your gameplay session, the more likely you are to win or at least come out ahead. This means managing your bankroll. Remember, you’re playing to have fun, not make money. With this in mind, think about how many hours you plan to spend at the casino and plan accordingly.

As you become an experienced slot player, you may notice the rate at which you spend money betting on three-reel slot games. Maybe you determine that you bet about £300 per hour on a 3-reel slot game. If you want to spend four hours at the casino, you had best show up with £1,200.

Set a “Loss Limit”

In addition to betting only money you are willing to lose, it may be wise to set a “loss limit”—a target value that, after you lose that much, your gambling session is over. For example, you might set an expectation before your gaming session—”After I lose £500, I will leave the casino.” 

One of the hallmarks of problem gambling is “chasing losses.” Your loss limit is your boundary—you were willing to lose £500, and it would have been nice if you’d won, but hey … it was a fun night at the casino, even so!

Pick a Betting System and Stick With It

Many players find it helpful to use an established betting system to govern their gameplay. Examples of betting systems include “positive progressive” betting systems, where you increase your bet after a win; or “negative progressive” betting systems, where you increase your bet after a loss. Whichever you choose, make sure you stick to it!

“Hot” vs. “Cold” Machines

A lot of mental energy is expended in the gambling world fretting about “hot” and “cold” machines. A machine might be cold for dozens, even hundreds of spins before catching a “hot” streak, paying out in spades. 

Alternatively, a machine could just naturally be cold, paying out rarely and massively, while “warmer” machines pay out relatively frequently, but in smaller amounts.

Classic 3-reel slots tend to be on the colder side. Players in land-based casinos may try to stake out the machines that are on a cold streak. They follow the smell of frustration to a machine that has depleted the bankroll of a dogged player. When that player gives up, the opportunistic slot player may jump on that machine, hoping that the last sucker has exhausted the “cold” spell and a hot streak—maybe even a big jackpot—is right around the corner. There can be big money in online slots--but only if you’re very, very lucky.

The truth is, there is no guarantee of this working. All data around this “hot/cold” strategy is anecdotal. RNG software can generate truly random results. Even if one player is frustrated and out of money, you don’t know what happened to the player before him, and the player before her, unless you clear your schedule and spend your whole day (or week) watching the same machine. Even then, a machine on a cold streak could easily stay cold, especially a few-payline/high-payout machine like a 3-reel slot game.

Of course, watching machines for streaks only works in a land-based casino. Online, you don’t have other players to stalk--well, not unless it comes with live chat among players, in which case you could catch a whiff of a rumour... The better bet is to find a game you enjoy (win or lose) and simply play without any expectation of winning.

For more information about tips to use when playing the slots, take a look at our article here. 

Where to Find 3-Reel Slots

Almost any casino will offer a robust selection of three-reel slots. 

At land-based casinos, browse the slot sections for fruit machines or other popular three-reel slots. The demo screen often makes it easy to identify the three reels. If you can’t find them, ask for help from a casino employee. You may even be able to find an antique mechanical 3-reel slot if you’re lucky!

Online casinos may have sorting filters that allow you to look only at their slot offerings, and possibly at specific categories like 3-reel slots. Check for titles of popular three-reel slot games, like Double Diamond, Supernova, Sevens and Bars, and Jackpot 6000.


Three-reel slots have crossed the generations to maintain a continuing, devoted fan base in the casino world. From the Liberty Bell to Fruities to sophisticated video analogues, this classic game of chance is alive and kicking for casino patrons the world over.

Just remember the rule about sensible and responsible gameplay and that the RTP is usually lower on slots than on other games, and you’re good to go. Good luck!