Slot Machine Paylines - The Ultimate Guide

SlotsWolf Editorial
By SlotsWolf Editorial
Last updated on Mar 29, 2022
10 min

Even if you are new to slots, you have probably heard about slot machine paylines. In this article we will teach you everything you need to know about what they are, why they are so important, and how they can alter your gameplay experience. 

Read this guide to learn how many types of top online slots there are according to the number of paylines and how the mechanics behind makes them so different. 

What are Slot Machine Paylines?

Slot machine paylines represent in simple terms the line on which a combination of identical symbols will grant a win. The number of slot paylines nowadays varies a lot from merely 1 to stunning hundreds of thousands. Only on one of these slot payline, you will be awarded a prize for scoring a combination.

Another very important aspect to mention is the fact that you will only receive a win on the slots paylines you place a bet on. Let’s say that the slot has 25 paylines and you only decided to bet on 10 of them.

If a winning combination lands on a line you didn’t place your wager upon, you won’t receive the prize.

Therefore it is always recommended to play with the maximum number of paylines available when you do have a choice. 

How paylines work

The paylines mechanic is pretty simple, as explained above. If you land a winning combination on one of them, the game will reward you with the prize, if not, you’ll have to spin again. In terms of shapes, slot paylines can be straight or take various zig-zags across the matrix and can be horizontal, vertical, or even diagonal. 

Slot machine paylines

Usually, the bigger the slot’s matrix, the more paylines it will have. Their orientation and shape are decided by the software provider and come predefined with a couple of exceptions.

Fixed Slot Paylines vs. Variable Slots Paylines

Paylines in a slot machine can come in two varieties: fixed and variable. Fixed paylines slots will restrict you from deciding how many paylines you wish to have active at a given time. Basically, all the lines are activated and will remain so for the entire duration of the gameplay. 

Fixed paylines appear usually in modern video slots that use the multi-way payment feature where there are hundreds or thousands of ways to win.

Your stake will be spread across all the possible paylines so gamblers can have the best possible shot. Also, since you can’t select the number of active lines, the wager budget stays relatively in a wide range, fitting most budgets. 

Variable paylines slots will let you decide how many active lines you wish to have at a given time. You will usually find the buttons in the slots menu and as you select the paylines, they will highlight, showing you their position across the matrix. In these slots, you usually find a couple of “quick customization” buttons like:

  • Bet One: A simple option that will instantly place your bet on a single payline. It will usually choose the middle payline which runs horizontally across all the reels through the middle row. 

  • Bet Max: Another simple option that automatically selects all the available paylines and places your wager on all of them.

  • Select Paylines: Usually, you will find either one button or a + and a - one that lets you select the number of active lines. As you click on them, you will be shown on the screen which of the lines are active and which ones are not.

While you may think that variable paylines slots are better because they allow you more customization it’s not actually like that. It’s more like a trap because most players will be tempted to lower their wager by selecting fewer active lines, therefore diminishing their chances to receive a win. 


The orientation and direction of paylines or for short, the payways are often misunderstood by players. We’ve already explained that the paylines can take many forms and shapes to cross the entire matrix and that if you don’t land the symbol common on one of them, it’s not considered a winning combination. 

However, it’s also important WHERE on that payline the combination falls.

  • Left to Right - The most frequently used payment system in slots. You need to land the symbols that form the winning combination starting from the first left reel. In these slots, if a winning combination lands starting on the far right, you won’t get a prize, even if the combo landed on a payline.

left to right payline

  • Right to Left - It’s basically the same system like the one above, only reversed. You need to land the winning combination starting from the farthest right reel instead of the left one.

  • Pay Both Ways - Recently, this slot payment system became more popular as the slots became more complex. It pays both left to right and right to left. The perfect example can be seen in Starburst, a popular slot released by NetEnt. 

  • All Ways - This system can be found in slots where the number of paylines is very big. Usually, 243 or more ways to win. You will receive a prize for landing a winning combination mostly anywhere because you only need a symbol on each reel. 

multiways paylines

  • Cluster Pays - Cluster pays are the most advanced payment system at work. It can only be found in slots with a huge matrix, something like 7x6, 7x7, 7x10 etc. There are actually no paylines and instead, you need to form clusters of matching symbols to get a prize. 

Types of slots according to the number of paylines

Online slots are by far the most popular casino games on the market therefore, these games are never in short supply. With so many companies developing slots of all shapes and sizes, it’s understandable why the number of paylines available in a slot can vary so much.

paylines adjustable

From retro one-liners to modern video slots with thousands of possible combinations, there's just something for every single taste on the market.

1 Payline

These types of slots are usually the tiny 3x3 or 3x1 fruit slot machines. There is only one payline that typically runs horizontally across the reels. Don’t expect to find too many bonus rounds or other sorts of features in these slots. Beginners and casual players prefer 1 liners because they are very simple to play and usually require low maximum bets.

3 and 5 paylines

These titles fall also in the classical slots category just like the one-liners. The only difference is the additional number of paylines. Three-liners are also pretty king on the budget and come with slightly more features. 

Multi-Payline Slots

As the number of features introduced in slots increased, so did the overall grid, the number of symbols, and eventually the number of paylines. Most slots released nowadays feature between 10 and 100 paylines displayed in various shapes across the matrix. 

Most of these titles come in a “standard” 5x3 size and have at least a couple of features like a Wild, a Scatter or some sort of Free Spins


Megaways slots are a very recent addition on the market. Initially developed in 2015 by an Australian software developer company, called Big Time Gaming, the Megaways system is a random reel modifier that can change the tides of the game with each spin. 

Basically, the number of reels and paylines in a slot can change either randomly or through a certain bonus feature. The number of lines that the game starts with is fixed and it can only be modified in-game by a random trigger and not willingly by the player. 

The goal of the slot remains the same, as you need to land a minimum number of identical symbols to receive a prize. The only difference is that the number of paylines available can reach 117,649 or even more.

Understanding the Paytable

The slot’s paytable is basically a list of payouts or how much a certain symbol is worth when landed in a combination. All the possible combinations for that specific symbol can be found in the paytable.

paytable book of ra

You can find this list with the “Pay Table” button found in the game’s menu.

Other elements: Coins, Bet Levels, and Credits

The term “coins” is used to define the credits wagered on each paylines and comes from the old one-armed bandit days when you had to put a coin inside the machine before pulling the lever. 

Nowadays, these coins are electronic, but the principle is somewhat the same. You basically bet a certain number of coins that have a denomination (value) on each of the paylines. Some slots allow you to choose the value for a single coin, while others will come as predefined.

To find out the expense of a single spin you just need to multiply the coin value by the number of active paylines. For example, if a slot has 10 paylines and you wager 1 coin on each payline with a value of $0.01, the total wager for a spin will be $0.10.

Final Words

If you are a slot lover, you can definitely find a title that will suit your tastes, no matter if you are searching for 1 paylines slots or modern megaways slot machines. Now, many new players ask if the number of paylines actually matters. It does because it changes the volatility and the whole gambling experience.

Basically, a 1 liner with 3 reels is a much simpler game compared to a slot with a colossal reels matrix of 7x10 that uses either the megaways or the cluster pay mechanics. The number of symbols will greatly vary as well as the minimum wagers and the chances to actually land a winning combination.

In the end, slots are balanced and designed to fit a certain niche. Don’t try to think which one of them is better because the real answer is “the one that’s right for you”.


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