When slots were invented over a century ago, they started as simple machines that played on three reels with a limited number of symbols and a single win line that ran across the center. Players pulled a lever to initiate the spins, which earned the machines the nickname “one-armed bandits”, a moniker people use in reference to slots to this day.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, with slots evolving into advanced, software-driven games with multiple paylines, superb animations, and tons of cool features like bonus games, free spins, and wild substitution symbols.
Despite these improvements, classic three-reel slots have not lost their loyal following. Many casino goers still prefer them over their fancy multi-line cousins because of their simplicity and classic feel. Classic slots are a great introduction for slot rookies who want to learn the ropes of this casino game. Let’s dive deeper into the peculiarities of three-reel slots, their gameplay, odds, and features.
Themes and Symbols in Classic Slots
Classic slots play on three spinning reels and feature a limited number of paylines. Many of the oldest games award payouts on a single horizontal line that runs across the center of the screen. Others feature several horizontal and diagonal paylines. This increases the player's chances of earning payouts. When identical symbols align on a payline, the player wins the corresponding prize.
When one-armed bandits were first introduced to the general public in the US, they awarded monetary prizes. Shortly after, the machines were outlawed. Bar and pub proprietors tried to circumvent the ban by replacing the cash prizes with confectionery items like bubble gum and candy sticks with different fruit flavors.
This practice gave birth to the traditional fruit symbols many three-reel slots still use today. Payouts are often awarded for matching symbols with cherries, plums, oranges, lemons, and watermelons. The BAR symbol was derived from an old logo of the Bell-Fruit Gum Company, used in the early 20th century. The lucky 7 and the diamond were introduced as top-paying symbols later on.
The function of the wild symbols is substitution. They can replace other icons and sometimes have a multiplier attached to them for further profit boost. In Microgaming’s Diamond Deal slot, for instance, the diamond is the top paying symbol and is also wild. If you land two lucky sevens alongside a diamond on the single payline, the game would pay 100 credits (for a one-coin bet) as if you have scored a combination of three lucky sevens.
Today’s developers of retro slots no longer restrict themselves to the fruit theme. There are three-reel games with different themes and symbols, with Microgaming boasting the largest selection of classic slots, including progressives like Cash Splash, Lotsaloot, and Major Millions. Some classic games like Wacky Panda and Monkey’s Money are inspired by animals, others like Trick or Treat borrow their theme from celebrations like Halloween.
Gameplay, Bet Sizing, and Coin Denominations
Classic slots appeal to novice gamblers because of their simple gameplay. In the online versions, the three reels occupy most of the screen. The paytable that contains the winning combinations, along with their payouts, is usually positioned to the side of the reels or above them.
Below are the gaming controls that allow you to size your bets and spin the reels. You can hit the Bet One button to post a bet of one coin or click it repeatedly to increase the number of coins you play per spin. The Bet Max button enables you to wager the maximum number of coins of your chosen denomination with a single click.
The purpose of the multiplier is pretty much self-explanatory – it boosts your profits by a predetermined amount. The multipliers in classic slots are not as potent as those in modern multi-line games. They usually only double or triple the payouts of winning combinations.
Many retro slots support up to three coins per spin. Coin denominations vary between games, but values like 0.01, 0.05, 0.10, 0.25, 0.50, and 1.00 are commonly supported. Games with a minimum denomination of 0.01 are commonly called “penny” slots.
Some classic slots like Betsoft’s Lucky 7 award payouts for as little as one cherry symbol landing on the center line (the only win line in the game). The overall amount a spin costs depends on the number of coins you play and their denomination. For example, if you bet the maximum of three coins and use a denomination of $0.10, each wager will cost you $0.30.
The cash prizes players can potentially collect are listed in the paytable. The latter contains the winning combinations and the amounts they pay for bets of one, two, and three coins. Some classic slots developed by Microgaming and IGT have additional features like wild symbols and multipliers.
Maximum Bets and Jackpots
1Maximum Bets in Classic Slots
As we explained, betting the maximum refers to betting the highest number of coins the game supports. In the context of classic slots, this is usually three coins per spin. Below is an example with the paytable of Betsoft’s Lucky 7 game. Examine it and see if you notice any tendencies.
2Example of Classic Slots Paytable
|Betsoft Classic Lucky 7 Slot Paytable|
|Winning Combination||Payouts for 1 Coin||Payouts for 2 Coins||Payouts for 3 Coins|
|7 7 7||1000||2000||5000|
|3 x Lucky 7s||250||500||750|
|3 x Cherry||150||300||450|
|3 x Triple Bar||100||200||300|
|3 x Double Bar||50||100||150|
|3 x Single Bar||20||40||60|
|Any 2 Cherries||10||20||30|
|Any 3 Bars||3||6||9|
|Any 1 Cherry||2||4||6|
As you have probably noticed yourself, all winning combinations but one offer prizes that increase proportionately in equal increments with each additional coin you wager. For example, the payout for three triple bars with one coin is 100 credits while those for two and three coins are 200 and 300 credits.
The only exception is the top-paying combination of three 7s where we observe a huge discrepancy between the payouts for two-coin and three-coin bets. The difference between the top prizes for one and two coins is only 1,000 credits while that between winning two-coin and three-coin bets is 3,000 credits.
In other words, the only way for you to have a chance at snatching the fixed jackpot of 5,000 credits is by betting the maximum on each spin. If you worry about the cost, you can use a lower coin denomination. Otherwise, you miss out on the opportunity to earn extra-large payoffs. This tendency can be observed in the vast majority of classic slots, not only Lucky 7.
The Nudge and the Hold Features
As a general rule, classic slots lack special symbols and bonuses like free spins and “pick me” bonus games. However, they are not entirely devoid of interesting features. Some 3-reel games boast the so-called nudge feature which is particularly useful in near-miss situations where the matching symbols align on all positions but one.
The Nudge Feature
The nudge feature was born in the United Kingdom where slots with three reels and a single payline are commonly referred to as “fruit machines”. Such games randomly award one or more nudges after specific spins.
When available, the nudge can be used at the end of any round, allowing the player to move a reel one position down to try and complete a winning combination. It is not difficult to see how this helps the players.
Suppose you line up high-value symbols across the center of reel 1 and reel 2 and see part of the last symbol you need appearing on the upper grid of reel 3. If the nudge is available, the symbol will move one position down to the center payline and you will collect a payout for the now-completed combination.
The nudge functionality is also featured in certain online slots like NetEnt’s Super Nudge 6000. This is a three-reel slot with 5 paylines where you need to enter the so-called Supermeter Mode to use the nudge. The number of nudges you get depends on the number of coins you bet.
You receive a single nudge for bets of 20 coins, two nudges for bets of 40 coins, and the maximum of three nudges for 60-coin wagers. The credits you win are stored in the Supermeter for the duration of the feature. If your Supermeter reaches 6,000 coins or more, you automatically exit the feature and return to the base game.
The Hold Feature
Another mainstay of fruit machines is the hold feature. It is similar to the nudge in that it also is randomly activated. The player can get one or more holds on specific spins. How exactly the hold works depends on what classic slot you are playing.
In some games, you get several holds you can use on the next spin. Others award multiple holds that you can opt to utilize during the next several spins. The name of the feature pretty much tells you what it is intended for. It allows the player to hold one or more reels in position and respin the rest. This might result in locking a winning combination.
Figuring Out the Odds of Simple Three-Reel Slots
1The Odds of Classic Slots
Simple retro slots use the same approach as their modern cousins where odds and house edge are concerned. In other words, the odds of hitting winning combinations are not proportionate to the payouts said combinations award.
The early three-reel machines were purely mechanical and had fewer symbols per reel due to the limitations of physical space. Players could calculate the true odds of winning as long as they knew the number of symbols each reel contained.
Some of the positions on the reels are blank and lack any symbols whatsoever. The symbols and the blanks are collectively known as stops. The odds are easy to calculate when you know the number of symbols per reel.
For example, if you have 10 symbols per reel, the number of winning combinations will be equal to 1,000 (10 x 10 x 10). Provided that the machine has a single winning combination which pays 950 to 1, the house has a clear edge (of 5%) over the players because they will win only $950 once every 1,000 spins on average.
If each symbol had the same chances of appearing as the rest and the games paid at true odds, the casino will not register any profits in the long run. To prevent this from happening, game designers “weight” the reels so that there are fewer high-paying symbols per reel than low-paying ones.
3How Operators Reduce the Odds
With randomly-generated games, certain stops like the blanks and the low-value symbols have more random numbers attached to them. This makes the appearance of high-value symbols less likely and reduces the odds of winning the flat jackpot.
Modern video slots rely on the same principles but use virtual reels on which a great number of symbols can be mapped. Thus, the player cannot determine the number of possible combinations and figure out the odds.
A Smart Approach Toward Playing Classic Slots
The results in both classic and video slots are completely random, which is to say no strategy can help you win consistently over the long haul. You will win some sessions but will ultimately end up losing in the long run because the reels are weighted in favor of the house.
Slots are meant to entertain you but you must pay a price for this entertainment. With that in mind, there are several smart things you can do to improve your playing experience, preserve your slot bankroll, and extend your gameplay.
Examine the paytable
Examine the paytable beforehand to determine whether or not playing a given classic slot is worth it. The paytable also indicates whether you must play the maximum number of coins per spin to qualify for the flat jackpot. If the jackpot is significantly enhanced for max-coin wagers, you most definitely should bet the maximum.
Choose Classic Slots with Higher RTP
Choose classic slots with higher payout percentages when playing online. Unlike most landbased casinos around the world, many online gambling operators are willing to post the theoretical returns of their classic slots. The higher a game’s RTP is, the better for the player. Your bankroll will last longer if you play a classic game with an RTP of 95% rather than one that returns at a 91% rate.
Play Slots With Higher Coin Denominations
Play classic slots with higher minimum coin denominations if your bankroll allows it. Games with high coin denominations normally have higher Return to Player percentages although this is not necessarily the case with all machines. Do not heed this advice if you have a limited bankroll at your disposal, though, because the machine might gulp it down in no time.
Stay disciplined and set limits for each betting session. If you intend to play classic slots more frequently, you can divide your weekly or monthly budget by the number of slot sessions you have planned for the respective period.
Try to keep your sessions shorter because the more spins you go through, the higher the chances of bankroll depletion. Another good idea is to set loss limits for each session and quit as soon as your session budget drops to the chosen amount.
Classic Online Slots That Have Stood the Test of Time
Modern video slots with sleek graphics and tons of extra features are all the rage right now, yet some players still prefer to spin the reels of the classics. Some three-reel slots have aged incredibly well, continuing to attract the action of purist spinners. We handpicked five classic slots that have truly stood the test of time. You can play them online with free demo credits or for real money.
Break da Bank
Break da Bank by Microgaming is an absolute classic where three-reel slots are concerned although a five-reel version is available as well. The game is popular among spinners worldwide and features 5 paylines, with coin denominations ranging from $1 to $25. It features wild symbols with multipliers and offers a flat jackpot of 2,400 credits. This equals $60,000 in cash if you win with the maximum denomination.
Triple Diamond was adapted for online play by IGT, a company that initially specialized in the manufacturing of slots for landbased casinos. The online version is a replica of the landbased machine.
It awards payouts on 9 winning lines but you have the option to deactivate some of them if you wish. The online version is a bit expensive at some online casinos since the minimum coin denomination is $25. The game’s logo is wild and helps you form more winning combinations. The wild pays for one and two hits but you need three symbols for the rest of the combos. The RTP stands at 95.06%.
Grand Spinn Superpot
Grand Spinn Superpot is a creation of the Swedish software studio NetEnt. This three-reel slot is more visually impressive when compared to the previous games we recommended. However, the superior graphics hardly take away from its classic feel.
The game gives off enticing Art Deco vibes and plays on a single payline with the option to bet up to ten coins per spin. It is also equipped with the nudge feature. You can win up to 8x the line bet with the wild multipliers featured in Grand Spinn Superpot. The maximum jackpot you can bag is quite appetizing and amounts to 10,000x your bet level.
Goblin’s Cave is one of the classics in Playtech’s catalog. One unique thing about this 3-line slot is that it features the hold functionality. At the end of each spin, the player can select which reels to hold. The selected reels will remain in place while the others respin. Coin denominations range between $0.01 and $5, with the option to wager up to five coins per payline.
Lucky 7 is one of the few classic slots developed by Betsoft, a company held in high regard for its 3D games. It replicates the straightforward experience of classic slots to the tee as it uses a single payline running across the center of its three reels.
Winning combinations are formed with the standard set of lucky sevens, cherries, single, double, and triple bars. Matching combinations occur quite often for a single-line slot. However, most of the wins are low payers and return even money to the player. The maximum jackpot of 5,000 credits is awarded for three-coin bets and a combination of three sevens.