How Slots Work Online

Zoe Walker - EditorZoe Walker - 06 April 2020 in Features

Whether you play slots at a brick-and-mortar casino or online, you’ve probably come to realize that slot machines are probably the most popular games out there. There is something thrilling about spinning the reels and waiting for the images to come to a halt, before finding out how much you’ve won.

Land slots and online slots are similar in the way they are played. You will essentially make your bet, spin the slots wheels and wait for the result. If Lady Luck is on your side, you’ll line up the right symbols and win a prize.

Also similar is the determining factor in your chances of winning. Both land slots and online slots have randomness playing a big role when determining your possibility of winning.

So, have you ever wondered how slots work online?

Let’s break the information down for you to help you understand how online slots work.

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How do Slots Work?

How Slots Work Online

Look closely at an online casino slot and you’ll instantly recognize the game. There you have it: a certain number of reels (depending on the game variant) which spin after you place your bet; then come to a stop – at which point you find out if you’ve won or not. Fundamentally, the two work very much in the same way.

While the outcome of both types of slot machines is determined by randomness, you will note that licensed online casinos use special software uniquely for this purpose. This software is called RNG or Random Number Generator software. Licensed casinos need to prove the randomness of their results, and do so through testing by online gambling authorities. This fact provides peace of mind for players who can rest assured that the software is random and transparent.

The Random Number Generator

What you don’t see behind the flashing lights and whirring sounds of the online slot machine is its backend – that’s where all the real business takes place. Every online slot game is backed by special software that generates a constant selection of random numbers. So check this out: A typical Random Number Generator activates thousands and thousands of numbers every single second! These numbers range anywhere between zero and four billion, so you can just imagine how random they really are!

How is the outcome of an online slot spin determined?

  1. You press 'Spin' on the chosen slot game
  2. A random number is activated
  3. The RNG software determines when the reels should stop spinning
  4. The reels stop and the software calculates the result of the spin
  5. You are then notifed of the outcome

It may not seem like it, but the loss that you had in the previous spin or the win that you had in the spin before that one have absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of your next spin. Each spin can be considered one that is completely independent of spins that you had in the past, and those that you’ll have in the future.

How the Casino Makes its Money

If the outcome of every slot spin is completely random, how can the online casino be sure that it will make money from its customers? After all, an online casino is a business in every sense of the word, and needs to make sure that it can remain solvent.

The answer, in layman’s terms, is that in the long run, the online casino has a slight edge over its players. That means that the House (online casino) will always come out with a profit.

It’s not RNG software that gives the online casino its edge. There are other factors that give the casino its advantage; ranging from the sizes of the wins in the game, the types of symbols on the reels, the bonus features in the game and the chance of winning in these bonus features.

It’s possible to beat the casino over a short period of time – this is what is called a ‘lucky streak’ – but if you play for a longer period, the player always come out with a loss. That’s what keeps these guys in business!

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Common Online Slot Concepts

In this section we are going to talk about two concepts that you will come across when you see online slots discussed. These are:

  • StarRTP (Return to Player)
  • StarVolatility/Variance

RTP (Return to Player)

When we talk about the RTP of an online slot game, we refer to the amount of money that you can expect to get back from the slot after you play for a long period of time. It also indicates the house edge that the online slot has over you.

Example of RTP

  • StarAn online slot game has an RTP of 97%
  • StarYou wager $1 million over the years of playing the same game.
  • StarAccording to the RTP of the slot, you should expect to get $970,000 back in winnings over that same long period of time.
  • StarIn other words, the online slot has a 3% edge over its customers.

What’s important to note is that we purposely used such a long period of time and such a huge amount in wagers to illustrate this example. Why? Because that’s how the RTP percentage rate is calculated. The RTP rate is not represented over a short period of play. In fact, the chances are that you’ll hit a lucky streak and beat the house over a shorter period. There is no way to determine the returns on your bets over a short period of time. You could do really badly or you could do really well and get returns of up to 1000% on your first spins!

If you’re looking for sound online slot advice, you are best sticking to online slot games with high RTP rates. This simply means that, statistically, you have a bigger chance of winning over time. We consider a good RTP rate to be anything from 96% and up, which is pretty normal in the industry. You could take some time to look for online slots with returns of over 98%, which aren’t very common, but do exist. A good online casino will always make sure that its slots’ RTP rates are clearly visible on its site.

Volatility/Variance

How Slots Work Online - Volatility/Variance

An online slot’s variance index is sometimes part of the information that you receive about the game. It is also referred to as the game’s volatility, and essentially refers to the average between prizes and rolls. It serves as an indication of the level of risk in the slot game.

A slot’s volatility level determines the interaction between the times you make a bet and the times you win.

Online slot games are divided into three levels:

  1. High volatility
  2. Medium volatility
  3. Low volatility

High Volatility Online Slots

A rule of thumb is that the higher the volatility of a game, the higher the amounts of your prize - but also the higher the number of spins you need to get these rewards.

These games are best geared for players who love a challenge, and who have a bankroll to support them! Playing high volatility games means that you can go for quite some time before you see a win, but when you do, you will realize that it was worth waiting for. The question is whether you can afford to support the long periods of play that you sometimes need to hit a prize in a high volatility game.

It’s normal for a high volatility online slot to have a RTP rate of 92% - 94% on average.

Medium (Average) Volatility Online Slots

While the rewards aren’t that frequent, they are not that far apart to make you give up so quickly.

Seasoned online slot pros say that these games hit the sweet spot when it comes to rewards and entertainment. They have a reasonably low risk, but also have the potential for you to hit prizes nearly as high as high volatility slots.

The average RTP percentage rate on medium volatility online slots is between 95% - 96%.

Low Volatility Online Slots

These are the slots you want to look out for if you want a prolonged gaming session with a small bankroll. In the short term, the risk is surprisingly low, but you’ll find that the prizes are just as small – although they come fast and furiously on these types of games.

You’ll find classic slot games and 3D slots to be low volatility, with RTP above 96%, and sometimes even as high as 98%.

Traditionally, you’ll find that low volatility slots are those that are preferred by online players, which means that they are more profitable for online casinos in the long run. Players love to see results, even small ones, and these slot games provide just that – and very frequently!

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Dispelling Online Slot Myths

Over the years, many myths have built up around casino slot games. They usually have to do with things you should or shouldn’t do in order to ensure that you win at the games. Some of these tips are true, but others are clearly incorrect.

We’re here to dispel some of the most common online slot myths:

  • Myth #1: Steer clear of an online slot where the jackpot has been hit recently

    Not quite! Remember we spoke about that Random Number Generator? Well, the randomness of the software applies to the frequency of the jackpot as well! Someone can hit the jackpot today, and the next person has just as much chance of hitting it the next day as he or she does next week. Each spin is isolated and its result has nothing to do with the previous spin or the one coming after it.

  • Myth #2: If you place the maximum wager on the bet, your odds of winning increase

    Wrong again! Don’t think that by pressing the ‘Max Bet’ button on the slot game, you’ll increase your chances of winning the jackpot. What you should take into account, though, is that some progressive jackpot games will only pay the big prize to those players who wagered the maximum amount on the game (‘Max Bet’). So, while the chances of hitting the jackpot are the same, the actual prize you win will change according to whether you used the Max Bet or not.

  • Myth #3: Play a slot game where the jackpot hasn’t been won in a while, because it will surely pay out soon

    See Myth #1. This is just another version of the myth. Again, we reiterate that there is no connection to the fact that the jackpot hasn’t been won in a while or not. A jackpot may hit now and then in another minute’s time. Or it could hit now and in one month’s time. It all boils down to randomness.

  • Myth #4: The time of the day/week/month/year determines when you win at a slots game

    You may have heard a rather silly myth that if you play at a particular time of the day, or nearer the end of the week or at the start of a month, you stand a bigger chance of hitting the jackpot on an online slots game. At this point, you get it the time of the day doesn’t influence your wins, right?

  • Myth #5: You can’t improve your chances of winning at online slots

    We can’t blame you for believing the myth that there is nothing you can do to improve your chances of winning, after we’ve jammed it down your throat that it all comes down to randomness. There are in fact ways that you can improve your chances. You can, for example, choose low volatility slots, or slots have smaller jackpots, because – in the short term at least – you have a better chance of winning.

Frequently Asked QuestionsOnline Slots FAQs

The good news is that you can play practically any type of slot game online. From classic slots to fruit-machine slots; from video slots to branded slot games and right up to high paying progressive jackpot games – there is something for everyone..

Yes you can! A welcome bonus is an offer from the online casino which matches your first deposit into your real money account. With this free casino cash, you can play all the great slot games found at the online casino and win big! In fact, slots are some of the best games to play with a welcome bonus because they nearly always count 100% towards the offer’s wagering conditions.

On some online slot games, the jackpot accumulates value every time it is played. Sometimes the progressive jackpot involves a single game, while other times the jackpot is linked to multiple games in a network. At one point, the jackpot is hit by a lucky player, and that sometimes means a life-changing sized win! The jackpot is then reseeded and grows until it is hit once more. Examples of very popular progressive slot games include Mega Moolah by Microgaming and Mega Fortune by NetEnt.

Sometimes the online casino wants to reward you or give you extra perks in the form of free spins on leading online slot games. There is no set amount of free spins that is usually awarded. The offers vary from site to site.

At recommended online casinos, fairness and transparency are extremely important to the operators. One way that this is reflected is by ensuring that all their games use fair Random Number Generators (RNG). The RNGs are certified and tested to be random by third-party auditors (such as eCOGRA) and their results are published on the online casino.

Yes! Most online casinos allow you to play their software for free, including all the excellent slot games in their portfolio. This allows you to test-drive the slots and other games and practice for free, so that you can improve your slot play and get to know the rules, before switching to real-money play.

Absolutely. Most of our recommended online casinos are fully compatible for all forms of mobile devices. You can play all your favorite slot games on the go, and even win real money from practically anywhere you happen to be – whether on a smartphone, tablet or iPad.

We like to say that volatility is the combination of a game’s frequency and the difference between its highest/lowest payouts. When we say that a slot has high volatility, it means that the frequency in which it pays out isn’t very often, but when you see a hit, it’s big! A low volatility slot is one that doesn’t boast very big wins, but the prizes come more frequently. Somewhere in the middle of these two, you’ll find medium volatility slots.

Every online casino has a limit to how much you can withdraw from your account at once, whether the winnings are from slots or other casino games. Some online casinos will limit the withdrawals per day, others per week or per month. Highrollers generally have better withdrawal conditions than other players.

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