Different Slot Game Features & How They Work

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Illustration of a slot game, with reels spinning, and neon slot symbols.
BetMGM Apr 08, 2024, 7:05 AM

Online slots are the most popular games at BetMGM Casino. That’s because they’re easy to play and offer tremendous entertainment value. As with all casino games, a basic understanding of how they work can enhance your gaming experience when you play slots online. Continue reading for a comprehensive guide to what you need to know.

Slot Reels

When you launch an online slot game on your mobile or desktop, you’ll typically see two main elements: a background reflecting the theme of the specific slot, and a play area consisting of vertical columns (known as “reels”) and horizontal rows where slot symbols will appear. The average slot has 5 reels and 3 rows, creating a 5×3 grid. When you press the Spin button, the reels spin, and symbols land to fill positions at random.

Cascading Reels

With the rise in demand for different types of slot games, developers have added variations to the traditional 5×3 format. One of the most popular innovations is cascading reels. Also known as tumbling reels or avalanche reels, this feature increases a player’s chances of forming winning combinations. Instead of the reels spinning again when you make a win, winning combinations are cleared from the grid to make space for new symbols to drop into. If the new symbols make a new winning combination, they’re also cleared from the grid. The process repeats until there are no new winning combinations. When this point is reached, wins pay out, and the reels spin again.

Megaways Reels

This popular innovation features reels with a variable number of positions. As a result, a different number of symbols can land on the reels on any spin. Almighty Buffalo Megaways is a typical example — it has 6 reels that can have 2–7 positions on any spin. If all reels are at their maximum, this yields 49 symbols with 117,649 ways to win.

Slot Paylines & Betways

Slot paylines are the patterns that determine whether spins result in wins (or not). Think of them as pathways along which symbols can fall to make winning combinations.

The standard combination is three or more symbols on a payline, starting with the leftmost reel, although this can vary.

Different types of slot games have different numbers of paylines.

Many modern online slot machines replace paylines with betways — also known as “ways to win” or simply “ways.” In these slots, symbols don’t have to line up in patterns to make winning combinations — they only have to land on adjacent reels. This generates 243 ways to win on a 5×3 grid. The more reels and rows present in a game, the more winning opportunities there are.

Slot Symbols

If the reels provide online slot games with their framework, symbols fill in the picture. Broadly speaking, there are four categories of slot symbols

Pay Symbols

Pay symbols are the bedrock of any slot. They fall onto the reels on every spin and carry prize values that pay out if the symbols form matching combinations. Any given game will have a set of symbols ranked in terms of value, as shown on the paytable. The lower value symbols are often card royals (for example, 9, 10, jack, queen, king), while higher value symbols will reflect the theme of the game, such as Norse gods in Thunderstruck II, African animals in Serengeti Pride, and so on.


These special symbols act like the joker in a pack of cards. They can substitute for just about any pay symbol, which enables them to complete wins.


Scatter symbols are named as such because they don’t have to form combinations to work — they can appear scattered on the reels. Typically, landing three or more scatters will trigger a special feature.

Special Symbols

In addition to the common symbols already mentioned, there can be special symbols specific to a game. Mystery symbols, for instance, will reveal different symbols after a spin is complete. Various bonus symbols associated with specific features may also appear, such as Link & Win bonus symbols that trigger the Link & Win feature in slots like Mighty Titan Link & Win, Cairo Link & Win, and many more.

Slot Features

Online slot games typically feature various special features designed to keep things interesting and enhance the player’s chances of winning.

Free Spins

Free spins, or the free games bonus, is one of the most common (and popular) special features. This bonus is usually triggered when the player lands a certain number of scatters on the reels, which launches a bonus round of spins that you don’t have to pay for. The more innovative slots find ways to tie features into their themes. For instance, the Immortal Romance slot has a feature called the Chamber of Spins, in which you can unlock four different free spins bonus rounds associated with the four characters in the game.

Hold and Spin

This bonus feature is triggered when a certain number of special bonus symbols hit the reels. This initiates a round of respins (typically three.) The triggering symbols lock in place, and the other reel positions spin individually. Only bonus symbols and blank spaces can appear, and the arrival of bonus symbols resets the respins counter to its starting number. Bonus symbols typically carry cash prize values and sometimes jackpots, with a grand jackpot reserved for players who manage to fill in all the reel positions with bonus symbols. Hold and spin features often go under trademarked names, such as Link & Win.


Mini-games add a fun, interactive element, requiring the player to take some action. Typically, a mini-game involves picking matching symbols from a set of concealed symbols to win a prize.

Bonus Wheel

Many games have a randomly activated feature that awards a spin of a bonus wheel. Depending on the game, this can award free spins, multipliers, or even a progressive jackpot.  

Play Slots Online at BetMGM Casino

Keen for a session of online slots? If you’re located within one of the U.S. states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, or West Virginia, you can register at BetMGM for the chance to play hundreds of different online slot games with every kind of theme you can imagine. New players on the site can enjoy an optional Casino Welcome Bonus and other membership benefits, which can be redeemed online or in a physical BetMGM casino.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.