In this article, we explain everything there is to know about paylines in online slot machines. You will learn how classic slots differ from those with Win Ways and Cluster Pays mechanics, and how Megaways slots can have more than 100,000 winning combinations.
Whether you are a complete novice, or a relatively experienced player seeking more in-depth knowledge, this guide will help you understand how paylines work. We will explain the game mechanics behind all the different payline configurations and reveal how they relate to game volatility and RTP (Return to Player percentages).
Lastly, we will recommend the most popular slots in all these different payline configurations, and let you try these games for free. By the end of this article, you will have a clear idea of what kind of online slots there are on the market, and which games are most suitable to your taste and betting strategy.
What Are Paylines - We explain what paylines are and how slots have evolved over the years.
The Difference Between Slots Fixed Fixed and Variable Paylines - We discuss the difference between slots on which you can choose how many lines to bet on and slots on which you always bet on all paylines with every spin.
The Most Common Payline Configurations - A look at all the different payline configurations and slot categories there are.
Classic Slots - How slots with a standard configuration of 5 to 50 paylines work.
Win Both Ways Slots - Slots on which you can get winning combinations from the leftmost to the rightmost part of the reels, and vice versa.
243 Win Ways Slots - Slots in which you win by landing 3 symbols on adjacent reels and that offer 243 different winning combinations.
1,024 Win Ways Slots - Slots with a 5x4 reel set. You win by landing 5 symbols on adjacent reels.
720 Win Ways Slots - Slots with 5 reels and between 3 to 5 rows on each reel.
3,125 Win Ways Slots - Slots with a 5x5 reel set which offer 3,125 different winning combinations.
Cluster Pays Mechanics - Slots that use large 7x7 or 8x8 grid instead of reels. You win by forming clusters of adjacent, matching symbols on the grid.
Megaways Slots - Slots with expanding reels that allow for 5 to 7 rows on each reel. These slots can have up to 117,649 winning combinations.
How the Number of Paylines Affect My Chances of Winning - Is three a relation between a slots paylines or Win Ways and the game’s RTP and volatility?
Pay lines, also known as betting lines or win lines, are symbol combinations that result in a win on a slot machine.
They are called paylines because the symbols align in patterns which can be seen as lines running across the reels. When you open a slot machine’s game settings, you will see the number of paylines it has and the distinct pattern of every payline.
In the original slot machines, players would win whenever three matching symbols aligned in a horizontal line across the middle of the reels. In other words, these machines only had one single payline.
Slot machines have evolved significantly since those days, and today’s slots have paylines in various complex shapes. What all slots have in common, however, is that you must land matching symbols on all the reels to win, and that winning combinations mostly run from left to right.
When it comes to paylines, we can divide slot machines into two categories.
First we have slots with variable pay lines, and secondly slots with fixed pay lines - and to truly grasp how paylines and paytables work, you must understand the difference between the two. Move on to the next section to learn more.
When you play a variable slot machine, you can choose how many paylines you want to play on.
You will place a bet on every line you choose, and together, these bets make up your total stake. In other words, your bet size is relative to the number of pay lines you play on.
Let us look at some images from Play n’Go’s popular slot, Book of Dead, to illustrate how this works.
As you open the game settings, you can see the game’s 10 paylines. Pay attention to the coin value and Lines which are displayed at the bottom of the screen.
A closer look at the slot’s 10 paylines.
With a coin value set to $0.20 per spin and one line chosen, you will bet $0.20 per spin. You can see your stake and balance in the black strip at the bottom of the image.
In this image, we have increased the number of lines to two, and as you can see, your stake is now doubled. In other words, you will increase your stake by $0.20 for every payline you add, as $0.20 is your chosen coin value.
With all the 10 paylines activated, you will bet $2 per spin, as a $020 coin value x 10 paylines = $2.
As you can see in the examples above, selecting multiple paylines will be more taxing for your bankroll. However, by activating more possible winning combinations, you naturally increase your chances of winning.
Whether this trade off is worthwhile depends on your bankroll and your betting strategy, and you can always decrease your bet size by deactivating paylines if you feel that your bankroll is running low.
Many modern video slots have fixed pay lines, which means that you will always bet on all available pay lines.
For instance, in NetEnt's flagship slot, Gonzo's Quest, you always play on all 20 pay lines.
A look at Gonzo’s Quest. Notice that you can adjust coin value but that you cannot choose how many lines to play on. Instead, you can adjust the Bet Level, which determines how many coins you bet on all the 20 paylines.
Here are the 20 paylines as they are shown in the game settings.
As you can see, you cannot choose how many lines to bet on. You bet on all 20 lines by default, as displayed under Bet. Since your coin value is set to $0.01, you will bet a total of $0.20 per spin.
By increasing the Bet Level by one step, you will bet another $0.01 on all the 20 paylines. By looking at the figure shown under Bet, you can see that you are now playing 40 coins instead of 20. As a result, you are betting $0.40 per spin instead of $0.20, as your coin value is set to $0.01.
With all the 20 paylines activated, you will bet $4 per spin, as a $0.20 coin value x 10 paylines = $4.
We have come a long way from the days when simple fruit machines ruled the casino floors.
As we have already mentioned, today's slots may have both fixed and variable pay lines, and the actual number of paylines can range from a mere five to more than a hundred thousand.
Here are the most common online slot payline configurations:
Megaways slots are highly volatile games which use Win Ways in combination with a reel modifier that alters the number of reels and rows on any given spin. This combination results in highly volatile games which can allow for more than 100,000 winning combinations. Learn more about Megaways slots.
Win both Ways – Slots on which you can land winning combinations from the leftmost to the rightmost reel, and vice versa. Skip to the next section to find out more.
Most classic online slots have between 5 to 50 pay lines, and you will find that many developers settle somewhere in the middle, right around 20 to 30 paylines.
Slots in this category can have vertical, horizontal, diagonal or even zig-zag-shaped paylines. They can also have both fixed and variable pay lines, although the latter seems to be more common if we are to go by the industry's game developers' most recent releases.
Classic slots cannot be defined as low or highly volatile, as RTP percentages and volatility scores may vary significantly from one slot to another. You will find low-volatility slots such as Starburst and Blood Suckers II along with super-volatile slots such as Reactoonz and Book of Ra Deluxe.
Our recommended classic slots:
Multiple payline slots do not use conventional paylines. Instead, you win when you land three identical symbols on adjacent reels. Depending on the size of the reel set, these slots can therefore have anywhere from 243 to thousands possible Win Ways.
In other words, the symbols do not have to follow a specific pattern for you to win, which makes it easier for players to read the reels and determine if they have won. Read on to learn about the most popular Win Ways configurations.
Microgaming was the first game developer to introduce 243 Win Ways slots.
These games use a classic 5x3 reel setup, and as the name implies, you can win in 243 different ways. As we have already mentioned, you win when three identical symbols land on adjacent reels - and when this win mechanic is applied to a 5x3 reel set, you end up with a total of 243 winning permutations.
The 243 Win Ways system as illustrated in Microgaming’s popular slot, Thunderstruck. You can play Thunderstruck II at LVBet Casino.
This game mechanic makes it easy for players to read winning combinations, as they do not have to memorise intricate patterns. As long as matching symbols appear on all five reels, you have won.
Our recommended slots with 243 win ways:
Slots with 1,024 Win Ways are similar to 243 Win Ways slots.
You win by landing three adjacent, identical symbols on the reels. The increased number of Win Ways is due to these slots having four rows instead of the conventional three.
Artemis vs Medusa from Quickspin shows the standard 5x4 reel set in a typical 1,024 Win Ways slot. You can play Artemis vs Medusa at King Johnnie Casino.
Many slots in this category pay from left to right, however, there are Win Both Ways games in this category as well.
You should be aware that 1,024 Win Ways slots tend to have relatively high minimum bets. Therefore, these games are probably not your best option when you have a limited bankroll. On the other hand, they are also often volatile, which means that you can hit massive wins if you have a sufficient bankroll and enough patience.
Our recommended slots with 1,024 win ways:
Slot machines with 720 Win Ways can be described as a hybrid between 243 Win Ways slots and slots with 1,024 Win Ways. These games have varying rows, and consequently, a varying number of symbols on each reel.
In a 720 Win Ways slot such as Mermaid's Diamonds, you will see that the first and last reels have 3 rows each. Reel 2 and 4 then have 4 rows each, while the middle reel has 5 rows. When you add up all the symbol positions up, and apply the Win Ways mechanic, you end up with 720 possible winning permutations.
Mermaid's Diamond from Play n'GO, showing the varying reels of a typical 720 Win Ways slot. You can play Mermaid’s Diamond at Playzee casino.
Sign up with any of these casinos to receive a free bonus that you can use on slots with 720 Win Ways:
Slots with 3,125 Win Ways are not as common as the other Win Ways categories that we have mentioned. However, they work in the same way, meaning that you win by landing three identical symbols on adjacent reels. The increased number of Win Ways is then due to an enlarged reel setup that comprises 5 reels with 5 rows each.
The typical 5x5 reel set in 3,125 Win Ways slot, as it is seen in NetEnt’s popular slot, Reel Rush.
Our recommended slots with 3,125 win ways:
In 2016, the Scandinavian game developer, NetEnt, introduced Cluster Pays mechanics with its release of Aloha: Cluster Pays. The game's massive success spawned a whole series of Cluster Pays slots from NetEnt and inspired competing game developers to create their own Cluster Pays slots.
Slots with Cluster Pays mechanics swap traditional reels and paylines for massive grids and symbol clusters. In a way, you could see these games mechanic as an evolution of the Win Ways system. However, in Cluster Pays slots, the actual symbols that have to be adjacent for you to win – not the reels.
Cluster Pays slots have grids in varying sizes, but 7X7 and 8x8 configurations are the most common ones. You then win by forming clusters of adjacent matching symbols on the grid – and the larger the Cluster is, the more you win.
A winning Cluster comprising more than 9 identical, adjacent symbols.
A typical 7X7 Cluster Pays grid, as it is shown in Play n'GO's popular slot, Reactoonz 2.
As matching, adjacent symbols form winning clusters, the symbols in Cluster Pays slots can align vertically or horizontally on the grid. Therefore, this game mechanic allows for complex winning combinations and slots have different requirements for how many symbols a winning cluster must include. In Aloha: Cluster Pays for, example, a winning cluster must comprise at least nine symbols.
Cluster Pays slots are generally very volatile. If you are looking for slots with win multipliers in the thousands, this is a slot category you must explore.
Here are three great cluster pays slots:
Megaways is a patented game engine created by the renowned software developer, Big Time Gaming.
The company leases this sought-after game engine to its peers, and today, most prominent game developers offer several Megaways titles. You will find that many leading brands both produce brand new Megaways slots and use this popular game engine to revamp some of their most popular titles.
Megaways slots have a random reel modifier that makes the reels expand during the game. As such, a reel can have between 2 and 7 rows on any given spin, allowing for more than 100,000 winning combinations. Megaways slots are also usually stacked with bonus features and considerably volatile.
When looking at two consecutive spins in Curse of the Werewolf Megaways, you will see that the number of rows and symbols on each reel vary. In spin A, 24 symbols result in 3,840 possible Win Ways, whilst spin B has 25 symbols and 4,800 Win Ways. You can play Curse of the Werewolf Megaways at bitStarz casino.
Here are three great megawyas slots:
Win both Ways is not as much a slot category, as it is a feature that can be applied to all other categories.
Generally, slots will pay from left to right; however, in Win Both Ways slots, you can land winning combinations in both directions. In some slots, the Win Both Ways system is incorporated as a bonus feature.
Win Both Ways slots are popular as they provide players with more winning opportunities. However, you should be aware that game developers will compensate for this advantage by adjusting the game algorithm.
As such, you should always refer to a game's RTP (Return to Player) percentages and game volatility to accurately assess its payout frequency.
Here are three great win both ways slots:
The answer is yes, and no.
Your chances of winning on any given slot ultimately boils down to the game's Return to Player percentage (RTP) and volatility score, and both these factors are reflected in a slot’s game mechanics.
When you play variable slots, you increase your chances of winning by activating more paylines. In this context, the number of paylines will unquestionably affect your chances of winning. When it comes to fixed slots, however, you cannot alter your winning chances as you bet on all paylines with every spin.
Win Ways and Megaways slots often, but not always, become more volatile as the number of Win Ways increases. Volatile slots statistically pay out less frequently, and therefore, one could argue that you have a smaller chance of winning on these kinds of slots. This argument is also relevant to Cluster Pays slots, as these are also fixed and generally volatile slots.
However, it is not all that simple, as volatile slots have massive win multipliers which can yield massive wins on relatively small bets. Therefore, you must decide if your goal is to win more frequently, or simply win more and adjust your bet size, game choice and overall betting strategy accordingly.
Bearing this in mind, here are some guidelines that can help you choose slots that are appropriate to your betting strategy:
Cluster Pays slots are generally volatile. Therefore, you should not expect frequent wins, but when you do win, it will likely be a substantial win.
Here are three great cluster pays slots:
Megaways slots are volatile slots which can yield huge wins. Do not expect to win too often, but rest assured it will make a big difference in your bankroll when you do.
Here are three great megawyas slots:
Slots with 1,024 Win Ways are generally quite expensive to play due to their many winning combinations. As such, they are also quite volatile.
Here are three great 1024 Win Ways slots:
Online slots with 243 Win Ways can have both low and high volatility and may, therefore, be suitable for both small and large bankrolls. Ensure you check the game statistics before you play.
Here are three great 243 Win Ways slots: