What Is A Slot Reel Array?

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Whether you’re playing online or in-person at a brick-and-mortar casino, slots come in all shapes and sizes. And those shapes and sizes are known as reel arrays, which is a key part of learning how to play the slots.

The most basic version of a reel array is a 3×1 slot with a single payline. These are typically known as classic three-reel slots or steppers, and they have one symbol for each of the three reels. 

But reel arrays can get a lot more complex than that, especially given all the slots innovations happening at online casinos. Here, we’ll review everything you need to know about slot reel arrays, how they’re laid out, how they may affect a game, and more.

Reels and Symbols

Divine Fortune Slot Screenshot
Divine Fortune, a 5×3 reel array slot.

Slots are typically made up of three reels or five reels, and each reel usually features between one and five symbols. These arrays are represented as number of reels by number of symbols. For example, a five-reel slot with three symbols per reel would be a 5×3 slot. 

Some of the most popular video slots, such as Divine Fortune (pictured above) and Gonzo’s Quest, both feature the common 5×3 reel array. That means the array is made up of 15 symbols total.

The most common array for a three-reel classic slot is 3×1.

Once you understand those basic reel arrays, you can more quickly understand the setup of more unique slots. If you see a 5×5 slot, you know it’s a five-reel slot with five symbols per reel for 25 symbols total.

Some of the more unique reel arrays are associated with specific types of slots. For example, the 3×5 (three-reel, five symbols per reel) array is usually a 243 all-ways-pay slot, which means 243 paylines are automatically in play every spin.

Paylines vs. Coins

Coin Slots

For some slots, such as most 3×1 arrays with a single payline, you just set your coin value and the number of coins you want to play. The coin value applies to both the wager as well as the coins that you win. So if you set your coin value to $1 and play five coins, you’re betting $5 per spin. If you win 100 coins on a spin, you’d win $100.

Also, the more coins you play, the bigger the prizes become, similar to video poker. Even penny slots can have a wager range as wide as $0.10 minimum, $200 maximum per spin.

Payline Slots

If it’s a slot with paylines, you’ll need to set the number of paylines you want to play as well as the value of each payline.

Slot paylines represents how symbols can line up across the reels to create a winning payout. Some slots will have you choose between one and five paylines, others have up to 50 or more. Each payline can win independently of the other as well, so the more paylines selected, the higher your chance of a payout.

When you have paylines across your reel array, you’re playing for multipliers rather than coins. So the higher your bet per line, the higher your payout – but the higher your bet per spin as well.

For example, if you’re playing a 5×3 slot with 25 paylines, you can play all 25 at $1 per line. That means every spin is a $25 bet.

Further, you win multipliers based on the value of the payline, not the value of the overall bet. So if you bet $1 per line and win a 10x multiplier, you win $10. But because it’s $25 per spin, you really lost $15.

That’s why the best strategy for slots—no matter the reel array or whether it’s paylines or coins—is to practice Responsible Gaming.

Slot Grids

Space Wars 2 Powerpoints Slot
Space Wars 2 Powerpoints, an example of slot grids.

A relatively new innovation that’s becoming increasingly common at online casinos is the slot grid. If you’ve ever played Candy Crush, you have a good idea of the layout.

Rather than spinning reels, each space in the grid will generate a random symbol. That means the reel array isn’t represented by two numbers (like 3×1 or 5×3). Instead, the reel array is the number of symbols down each column of the slot grid.

For example, a 3-4-5-4-3 slot would have three symbols on the left and right side, five symbols down the middle, and four symbols on each side.

However, any slot that falls outside of the typical three-reel or five-reel array is often considered a grid slot.

For example, an 8×8 slot would likely fall under the grid slot category, even if it has eight spinning reels.

Are Digital Scratch Cards Considered Slots?

Gorilla Go Wild Reveal Scratcher
Gorilla Go Wild Reveal, a popular digital scratchcard.

Yes, pretty much. Digital scratch cards feature a grid of random symbols, and the right combination will trigger a prize. You set the value of each scratch card (betting per card versus betting per spin) in the hopes of triggering a multiplier that applies to the card’s value.

Basically, a digital scratcher is simply a more basic slot machine made to look like the lottery scratch cards sold at the gas station.

Does Reel Array Affect RTP or Volatility?

No, the reel array does not affect the return-to-player (RTP), nor does it have to do with slots volatility. Put another way, two slots with the same reel array can have different rules, payout sizes, RTP, and volatility.

For example, the highly-rated Aladdin’s Legacy online slot at Golden Nugget Casino has a 5×3 reel array with 20 paylines – the same as the Divine Fortune slot. But Aladdin’s Legacy has low volatility and a 95% RTP while Divine Fortune has medium volatility and a 96.6% RTP. Divine Fortune is also in the top 10 biggest slots wins of the past year.

What’s the Best Type of Reel Array?

No reel array is better than another. Slots are all based on personal preference. Some players like the simple 3×1 classic slots with a single payline. Some prefer immersive 5×3 video slots with 25 paylines. On top of that, a big percentage of slots players just go based on the theme that they like, such as fantasy, action, or adventure.

But now that you know how reel arrays work, you’re better equipped to explore all the different choices across the many legal US online casino sites.

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About the Author

Mike Epifani

Mike Epifani

Casino Content Manager
Mike Epifani is a gambling expert and professional writer with more than a decade of industry experience. His current role is Brand Content Manager at Bonus.com, part of the Catena Media network. Mike has written hundreds of guides on online casinos, casino gaming, sports betting, sweepstakes sites, and lottery play.
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