3 Reel vs 5 Reel Slots

So, you’ve decided you want to hit the casino, and you want to put a few pennies into a slot. But which one to choose? Our recommended casinos often feature hundreds of slot options, and you might have no idea the difference between a 3 reel spinner and a 5 reel progressive. Deep breath. We’re going to take care of you. For now, know that a 3 reel is a simple, old school machine with limited options and variety. A 5 reel machine — which differs in that there are 5 columns of symbols instead of 3 — often is more complex, but potentially more fun. Master 5 reel games and you may enjoy the better rewards from beating their generally longer odds. Everything changes between 3 reel and 5 reel games due to the number of potential paylines — and the varying difficulty in hitting each of them.


3 Reel – On a typical 3 reel slot, you’re only going to see one payline stretch across the three reels, which makes this a simpler game to figure out and master. Simple doesn’t have to mean less exciting, though. You’re not necessarily going to win less because of that single payline. But you will win in fewer ways.

5 Reel – These machines often give players a variety of payline combinations they can play. Many machines will let you play 1, 5, 10, 20 or more paylines — if you read our reviews, you’ll be able to see how many paylines are available on popular slots at the best casinos. Some 5 reel slots also feature a “243 ways to win” setup, where you don’t use hard paylines, per se, but instead can create combinations that only involve placing matching symbols anywhere on the reels. The big thing to know about paylines in 3 reel vs. 5 reel play is that the 5 reels are going to offer more variety and complexity.


3 Reel – When someone references volatility in regards to slot machines, they are talking about how often a player should expect to win or lose. All games will have a house edge built in, but a high volatility setup is going to pay out in bigger chunks with less consistency, while a low volatility slot will give you a lot of wins, but for not so much money per win. Generally, 3 reel slots tend to be of the low volatility variety.

5 Reel – Almost all high volatility slots are 5 reel slots, but not all 5 reel slots are high volatility. You’ll find a pretty wide distribution in how 5 reel slot spay out to players, but it’s safe to say that more 5 reels tend toward high volatility than not, in particular with progressive jackpots like Mega Moolah or The Dark Knight.


3 Reel – In keeping with its old school backstory, 3 reel machines tend to stay simple in regard to graphics and sounds. You won’t see any dramatic video cutaways or intense musical interludes. Instead, you’ll get a lot of traditional “pings” and “dings” and the like along with some often cheesy but delightful fruit symbols.

5 Reel – This is probably the most noticeable difference between these slot types. 5 reel machines can get pretty crazy with their use of graphics and sounds. A lot of 5 reel slots are based on works from pop culture (superhero movies are especially popular), and those games will often feature clips from the movies or TV shows behind the design. You’ll get characters talking or intense music breaks as well as some intense graphics, often tied to small side games. Again, 5 reel slots offer the excitement of volatility and larger winning paylines. For players who want it, they also offer the fastest action, cutting edge graphics and an immersive gaming experience.

Jackpot opportunities

3 Reel – Most 3 reel slots do have some sort of jackpot, but it’s not the kind of thing that’s going to dish out millions and change your life forever. Occasionally you’ll get a 3 reel with a massive payday, but mostly, 3 reel jackpots keep their biggest payday to a factor of thousands for bets smaller than a dollar, meaning the best case might be hitting for a few thousand bucks. Nothing to sneeze at, but these are more “We can take a fun vacation” prizes than “We can buy a house in West Vancouver.”

5 Reel – You’re more likely to find a life-changing payday among the 5 reels. In particular, there are massive payouts to be found among the progressive jackpot family of slots. The most notable of these is Mega Moolah the Number 1 slot on Royal Vegas Casino, but most software providers run a number of them. Progressive jackpots get bigger with time, building up as more and more players pour money into the game without hitting the jackpot. Once a lucky player spins the right combo to win said jackpot, the total resets and the jackpot begins recounting. These jackpots can start as high as $1 million and count up from there, so this is where you can take your biggest swings for outstanding paydays.


3 Reel – As I’ve said a few times already, simplicity is the big draw for 3 reel slots. You’re going to choose a coin size, spin the reels, then repeat until you’ve had your fill. Not much in the way of variety here.

5 Reel – These machines offer a lot more in terms of strategy and entertainment options. You can choose how many paylines to play and all that, but then there are often different types of games hidden within the slot. Many machines will feature “scatter symbols” that can be used to trigger free spin bonus rounds, where you can spin the reels for free and take home all the winnings. Some games also have other little bonus games that tie into a grand plot, creating something of a video game experience along with the slot playing.

So which game is for you?

In the end, it’s up to you which type of game to play, and frankly, you shouldn’t feel like you have to pick one or the other. In general, though, I tend to think of 3 reel games as being better for beginners who don’t completely understand how slots work. Because of its simplicity, a 3 reel slot is going to be easier to learn on. After you’ve taken some reps there, try sliding over to one of our endorsed 5 reel machines and see if you can follow along with the action. In general, veteran players tend to prefer all that complexity — as well as the bigger jackpots.

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