Understanding Paytables and the Vocabulary of Online Slot Gaming

Even in the rapidly expanding world of modern gambling, slot play occupies a space all its own. Whether online or in brick-and-mortar casinos, no part of the gaming sector comes to close to matching slots for variety, ubiquity, or popularity.

This massive appeal means punters have lots of options available. One of the first questions gamers may be asking themselves is: “which is the better gambling option: larger 5-reel slots, or smaller-scale 3-reel ones?”

Both styles have appeal. 3-reel slots tend to be simpler, sleeker, and cleaner in style of play, while 5-reel titles usually offer more complex pay structures and more in the way of bonus features.

Let’s see where both of these options stack up on a variety of topics:

Bonus Features

There’s no question that most punters’ favorite part of online slot play is triggering those bonuses. With options like Free Spins, instant cash payouts, and occasionally astronomical progressive jackpots, there’s good reason for it!

There’s also no question that, when it comes to big features, 5-reel titles have the clear advantage. They tend to be larger in scale, sometimes so packed with ways to win that it borders on comedic.

Though some 3-line offerings have considerable features available, these are the exception and not the rule.

Advantage: 5-reel slots.

Visuals, Graphics, and Sound

More reels means more possibilities for designers to take advantage of, and this is perhaps mirrored in visual elements as well.

Firms do tend flex their visual muscles most in their larger, more complex titles. This means that 5-reel games have the edge here as well.

Advantage: 5-reel slots.


Again, this is a no-contest win for 5-reel slots. Players favor them by an overwhelming margin.

This is partially because, as discussed above, companies do tend to put the majority of their development resources into 5-reel games. But there’s another reason as well: advertising.

With developers putting so much time and money into larger-scale titles, it should come as no surprise that these releases get most of the ad budget as well.

As a result, these titles become better-known, then benefit more from word-of-mouth among punters. But whichever way you look at it, 3-reel titles are in the minority for sure.

Advantage: 5-reel slots.

RTP and Variance

This is ultimately where the rubber hits the road. Visuals, bonus features, and good advertising may draw players to flashy new slots in droves…

… but that doesn’t necessarily make them the smart choice.

Smart punters know that, for all the bells and whistles the gaming world has to offer, the most important element by far is expected payout.

And it’s here that 3-reel slots make a case for themselves. It’s a sad fact that many of the most feature-packed, visually sophisticated titles available on the market use those very same assets to distract gamers from poor odds.

After all, a ton of fancy bonuses are of no use at all if they are borderline impossible to trigger!

That’s why players can find great odds in every kind of online slot! At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many reels a given title has, how good its advertising, or how flashy the graphics may be.

The most important factors, RTP and variance, are completely independent of how many reels are available. So good options should be available on any and every scale.

It’s not the paint job that counts: it’s what’s under the hood!

Advantage: neither!

The Verdict

With the outsize popularity of slot gaming in today’s market, it’s no surprise that new players may have trouble choosing from the massive amount of options available.

So which is better: 3 reels, or 5?

At the end of the day, the most important thing is not how many reels there are, but the return punters can expect to see for their expenditure of time and funds.

What’s more, some titles just feel right. There’s just no formula for a gamer finding the right fit.

We recommend looking at which titles offer the best RTP around, trying a few out, and seeing what spikes interest!


Which style is more common: 5-reel or 3-reel structures?

5-reel slots are more common by far.

Why is this?

Designers and punters alike seem drawn to the larger-scale options available in 5-reel settings. They tend to invest their time and money in these titles, which then receive the lion’s share of advertising budgets, driving up their popularity.

But the popular choice is not always the smart one!

How should I decide which titles to play?

Of course it’s nice to see top-tier visuals and bonus features galore, but the most discerning players know that expected payout matters more by far.

The two most important factors involved in determining this, RTP and Variance, have nothing to do with reel structure.

(See above, and follow the relevant links for a more in-depth discussion of these two crucial concepts.)

Back to articles

lcb activities in the last 24 hours

Join today and start earning rewards

You will immediately get full access to our online casino forum/chat plus receive our newsletter with news & exclusive bonuses every month.

Enter your name

Enter your email address

Join instantly with your social account


Search Results

Select language

English English Français Français Nederlands Nederlands

Don't show this again

Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter