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How to Play Multi-Payline and Multi-Reel Slots Online

Slots have come a long way. They used to be the graveyard of the casino, a game where dreams of riches went to die in the glassy-eyed monotony of coin-lever-spin, coin-lever-spin. The blackjack table, the roulette wheel, the craps table … that’s where all the action was.

The tables, you might say, have turned. Slots now dominate the revenue base of both land-based and online casinos, comprising between 60% and 70% of the industry. 

What changed? A big part of the credit goes to multi-reel and multi-payline slots, an innovation that followed in the wake of video slots. Multi-reel slot machines turned the tide on the casino business, revolutionising the gameplay options of the humble slot machine and vaulting it to the pinnacle of casino culture.

Today, most of the video slot games you find on the casino floor or in the library of an online casino will be multi-reel, multi-payline slot games. This guide discusses the ins and outs of this class of casino game so you can approach them as an informed player. 

What are Multi-Payline and Multi-Reel Slots?

On the face of it, “multi-reel slots” are a misnomer. After all, every slot machine has more than one “reel,” the spool marked with symbols that spins. Without multiple reels, how do you build an arrangement of symbols that constitutes a win?

That said, the classic slot machines like the “Liberty Bell” and the “Fruit Machine,” invented in the late 1800s and early 1900s and which first took their places in pubs and casinos as gambling games, had only three reels. They usually only had one winning combination as well—what we term a “payline.”

Multi-reel slot machines usually have five or more reels, as well as multiple winning combinations (“paylines”).

In a way, this type of game actually harkens back to the earliest slot game, a progenitor of the modern slot machine invented by Simon and Pitt in New York circa 1891. This game had five reels and the symbols were playing cards. Many “paylines” existed, taking the form of winning poker hands like a full house or royal flush. Players of this pub game could win prizes like a round of drinks or free cigars.

The problem with this machine as a gambling game was that there were too many winning combinations (paylines). The three-reel classic slot machine with esoteric symbols was developed to create a game that favored the house, while still enticing players to bet their money by dangling the chance of jackpot winnings.

Video slots cracked the slot game wide open. No longer restricted by the limitations of mechanical slots, software developers began to introduce a whole universe of video slot games, with varied themes ranging from ancient Egypt to Greek mythology to popular movies and musical acts. The reels contained multiple paylines, giving players more chances to bet and to win, but the reels were big enough that the house still had the edge.

Additionally, the video format allowed for the introduction of exciting extras, like bonus games, wild symbols, cinematic interludes, and other bells and baubles that made video slots as appealing and addictive as a great video game.

Today’s average multi-reel, multi-payline slot machine at an online or land-based casino has five reels, but sometimes six. Many have between three and five paylines, but others have a dozen, twenty, or even more paylines. The more paylines, the more chances you have to win, but also the more complicated the game becomes and the more rules you have to familiarise yourself with before you can effectively play. 

How Do Multi-Payline and Multi-Reel Slots Work?

Classic slots are easy—just enter a coin, push the button, watch the reels spin, and see if you’re a winner. There… that wasn’t so difficult, was it?

Multi-reel and multi-payline slots are more complicated. To avoid sinking lots of money fruitlessly (pardon the pun), it helps to understand some basics about how this kind of game works. Here are the components of multi-reel and multi-payline slots you need to know about ...


A “payline” is the industry term for a winning combination of symbols in a slot machine. If the reels land on that payline, you win … if you bet on that payline. Multi-payline slots typically require that you choose which payline your bet applies to. 

That said, you can also bet on multiple paylines, giving you more chances to win on a particular spin. Of course, each payline you bet on increases the amount of your bet. Your winnings on one payline could end up failing to cover all the bets you placed, depleting your bankroll even on a winning spin.


“Coins” are the basic unit of betting that you use to place wagers on multi-reel slot spins. Of course, the earliest and classic slot machines took actual coins as their bets. Many aggregated the coins in the guts of the machine, forming the first standalone progressive jackpots out of a portion of the bets--with some of the bet kept for the house’s profit. (Read more about how progressive slots work, here.)

Video multi-line slots still use “coins” to describe the minimum bet. However, a “coin” can be worth different amounts of money in different games. A “coin” in a “penny slot” game may only debit a penny from your bankroll. High-roller slot games could debit your bankroll £5 or more with each coin bet. 

Bonus Games

A direct outgrowth from video games, bonus games harness the power of a video slot game as essentially a giant computer game. Watching reels spin and line up to paylines is not the only gameplay available in most multi-payline slot games. Instead, spins can randomly trigger “bonus games” or “bonus rounds,” designed to make gameplay more immersive and addictive and break up the monotony of classic slot gameplay.

A bonus game could be just about anything—a mini board game, a skills game, a separate game of chance, a game requiring hand-eye coordination … software developers are constantly devising ways to hook players with creative bonus games.

Bonus games can also make a slot session more lucrative. Winning bonus rounds can multiply your winnings, entitle you to free spins, or otherwise make it more likely for you to score a payline and come out ahead.

Bonus Symbols

Another innovation impossible outside of the video realm, bonus symbols spice up your gameplay by introducing unusual and powerful symbols into the reels. Bonus symbols include:

  • Wild Symbols. A wild symbol can help you create a payline by standing in for any symbol you need it to, sort of like a wild card in poker.
  • Scatter Symbols. A scatter symbol is similar to a wild symbol. With wild symbols it doesn’t matter what the symbol is. With scatter symbols, it doesn’t matter where it lands. The right scatter symbol can create a payline, even if it lands in the wrong place, by “scattering” its effect to the right place.
  • Cascades. Cascades are randomly-triggered effects that cause some symbols to disappear, explode, or otherwise make room for new symbols that fall from the top of the reels, like a cascade. These advantageous effects can create a payline where none would have existed otherwise. Multiple cascades can even result in multiple paylines on one spin!

Tips and Tricks for Winning at Multi-Line and Multi-Reel Slots

Whereas a certain amount of strategy may apply to the winning of certain casino games, video slot machines tend to be pretty pure games of chance, the outcomes determined by random-number-generating software. There is little you can do to slug the odds in your favor.

Nevertheless, to have a successful slot session, keep the following tips and guidelines in mind … and you could also read our article on this topic while you’re at it.

Check the Return to Player

Many video slots publish their “return to player” (RTP) percentage. This is the inverse percentage of the “house edge”—that is, the profit the casino collects over the aggregate of all the bets placed on that game. If a game has a house edge of 7%, that game will have an RTP of 93%, meaning the more spins you make, the more likely it is that your bankroll will approach 93% of its starting balance.

Of course, individual mileage will vary. Some players will win big, others may deplete their entire bankroll.

Regardless, if you want to extend your gaming session, consider looking for multi-reel slots with a higher RTP. This can be a challenge—video slots tend to have some of the worst RTPs in the casino, ranging from 97% all the way down to the 80th percentile or lower. These games build their fan bases from the themes and the gameplay, not the RTP.

Know the Rules

The more paylines a game has, the more complex it is. If you play the game effectively, your bankroll is likely to approach the house edge. However, if you don’t understand the rules of the particular slot game, you could end up sinking your bankroll even faster than you would otherwise. Take the time to familiarise yourself with the rules of the video slot machine you choose.

Check the Pay Table

Pay Tables are critical to understanding the gameplay of a particular multi-payline slot. It is the index of the different paylines and how much you stand to win if you bet on that paytable and it comes up. This is essentially your “betting menu” — what you can bet on, and what you stand to win. 

Check the Number of Paylines

More paylines does make the game more complicated … but it also means more chances to win. With a decent betting strategy—never betting on so many paylines that a win puts you too far behind—you can play longer with more paylines, because you win more frequently than on games with fewer paylines. 

Make Peace with the Coin Size

Remember, a coin could be worth anything from a penny to multiple pounds. Choose a video slot with a coin size you are comfortable with. If the goal is to have a long gameplay session, choosing a coin with a low value will allow you to take more spins before your bankroll is depleted.

Be Wary of Max Bets

Multi-payline slots tend to tempt players with a “max bet” button, which automatically bets the maximum number of coins on all paylines with the next spin.

As tempting as this may be, it is a dangerous bet to place and a quick way to run out of money. You may be more likely to win the spin and avoid the ignominity of scoring a payline you didn’t bet on … but if you payout on that payline is too small, it may not cover the total bet, not even close.

Generally speaking, it is better to build a strategy that ignores the “max bet” function and instead bets intentionally on certain paylines. Getting caught up in the excitement--and then the downfall--of max bets is one of the biggest mistakes made by slot players.

Practice Good Bankroll Management

Bankroll management is all about pacing yourself. If you want to have a long, fun night at the casino, there’s no point in placing max bets or big bets on a lot of paylines. As you master the game, you will discover that the more spins you afford, the more likely you are to come out ahead.

Consider how much money you are willing to risk, how long you want to spend on your slots session, and tailor your bankroll so that you can only spend that much money in the allotted time.

Pick a Betting System

Betting systems give players structure, so they aren’t just betting with their gut or on a whim. Some players swear by certain established betting systems, insisting that they give them an edge to win. Betting systems might be “positive progressive,” where you increase your bet after each win and decrease it after each loss; or “negative progressive,” where you increase your bet after each loss and decrease it after each win.

Take Advantage of Free Spin Bonuses

With their high house edges and complicated gameplay, multi-reel slots may seem like a great way to light your money on fire. However, the house edge can be offset if you take advantage of “free-spin” bonuses offered by online casinos. They offer these bonuses to entice new members or to hype up a new slot game. These free spins give you a chance to win money without placing bets, or at least get a few extra spins that offset the house edge and extend your play time. 


With such a long heritage, multi-payline and multi-reel slots are certainly among everyone’s favourite casino games, and there has never been a better time to play them; a massive variety now abounds everywhere, and they’re only getting more and more exciting.

These slots are among the simplest casino games, but they will always be in the top ten choices for players--especially for British players--hence how many such games you will find at each casino venue. The thing to watch with multi-payline and multi-reel slots is just not to get too carried away; be shrewd about your bankroll management, and you might well come out on top. Good luck--and remember, it’s all just a game of chance.