3 Reel vs 5 Reel Slots

Slots are the number one game available online. Each casino you visit will have more slots to choose from than any other game. And with literally thousands of online slot machines from which to select, making a decision sure ain’t easy. Everyone has their preferences, and these are often dictated by theme as much as anything else – whether it’s a superhero, exotic destination, mythological god, or some holiday style you’re after.

Other players, you may be surprised to hear, are a bit more specific in what they’re looking for, with a strong preference for either 3-reel or 5-reel slot game play. But beyond the obvious as to the number of reels in motion, the real question is, what REALLY is the difference between these two types of machines?

3 Reel slots

Three reel slots have just that – three reels. Basically, they’re the original one-armed bandits like you’d find in a land-based casino in Vegas or Niagara Falls, configured for online play. Considered by many nostalgia territory, these are often classic fruit machines (with fruit, bell and bar symbols), though themes may vary somewhat between games.

Players who prefer 3-reel slot games do so mainly for their simplicity. This means a few things including:

  • Fewer symbols to follow
  • Fewer betting options involved (which certainly makes it easier to stick to a budget)
  • Fewer paylines (usually between 1-5)
  • Clearer payouts (with fewer lines to follow)
  • And most of all, a good old-fashioned feel!

The slower, simpler play also makes for lower volatility. Bet less, win or lose less. So if you’re the slow and steady type, this type of game might just be the right thing for you.

5 Reel slots

This type of slot machine is the most prolific, and lends itself best to the engaging play you expect online. Most of these games are video slots which means they have advanced animation and graphics, often with video clips interspersed, especially in themed games like those based on films like Gladiator or The Dark Knight.

Betting here is a bit more complicated as you need to choose the number of paylines you’d like to activate. Some come with as many as 50 or even 100 paylines, which means a lot of choice! This, however, gives you many more ways to win, with many more potential winning combinations. Some games even go beyond paylines and feature as many as 243 or 1024 ways to win!

Five-reel slot games, let’s be frank, are also, generally speaking more exciting than 3-reel play in that they have far more bells and whistles built-in. These include wild symbols, scatter symbols, multipliers, free spins, and bonus rounds. The options are almost endless and for most, a tremendous source of entertainment.

5-reel slots are also the primary domain of progressive jackpot games, like the extremely popular Mega Moolah slots. This basically goes hand-in-hand with the advanced features that these slots offer.

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Which slot machines pay out better?

This is literally the million-dollar question (at least in the case of progressive jackpot slots). But seriously, slots are a game based entirely on luck, so there’s no great strategy to consider. And they’re meant to be a form of entertainment for most, so you may not be making your choice based on this type of stat.

That being said, if you’re looking towards the bottom line there are two important factors to keep in mind.

Odds – The odds of each game are pre-determined by the casino/gaming software company, which programs the payout percentage into the game, and delivers results based on its Random Number Generator. Hence, it is irrelevant the number of reels being played. Put in practical terms? If a game has a 97% payout percentage, it will, over a certain period of time, pay out $97 on every $100 taken in.

Frequency – This is another matter entirely. Because a 5-reel game has more reels, it has more potential winning combinations. This means it pays out more often. However, although more frequent, the prizes tend to be smaller than when playing a 3-reel game.

So which slots game should you choose?

The truth is, there’s no real answer to how many reels you should choose. It’s a matter of personal preference. If you’re looking for some classic easy fun, then 3-reel slots are your destiny. If a fast pace, engaging graphics, and exceptional features are what you’re after, then you’re more likely a 5-reel video slot lover.

Your best bet is to switch things up over time, try new games, and get a taste of the full slots offering available out there. Once you find a game you really like, you can always come back when the urge strikes. In the meantime, it’s always fun to take advantage of the endless variety you’re sure to encounter online.