3 Reel Slots

If you’re old enough to have spent much time playing slot machines, fruit machines, one-armed bandits or any other nickname for these machines in the real world you’ll know that it was a world of 3 reel slot machines.

For generations, the standard layout of a slot was a trio. This was the standard when they were invented and remained so until well into the Internet age. It’s only in the last few decades that the mechanical machines started to add extra reels – usually in pairs to keep the numbers off.

In the cyber gaming market, the standard layout of online video slots has been 3-by-5 for a while now, with five reels showing three rows of figures to give 15 symbols in total.

But history doesn’t just move in one direction. While technology has made graphics, sounds, animation and gameplay more sophisticated and generally BIGGER, another big theme has been emerging in the online gaming world: portability.

You’re probably playing the majority of your games on a mobile these days – that just makes you one of the majority. And mobile phone screens, are for now perfectly suited to the 3 reel slot layout, especially in portrait mode.

History doesn’t go in a straight line, but change is a constant, so it’s likely that this 3-reel moment will pass, and mobile games will start to become more and more sophisticated and with more reels.

But if you love a triple spinner, then this is a great time to check out some 3 reel games and find out just what’s the magic in the “magic number.”

Our guide to 3 reel slots is a starter on this fascinating subject.

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3 Reel Slots Reviews

The History of 3 Reel Slots

The first reels started spinning in 1891. And there weren’t three of ‘em, but five!

Most gambling games – even high tech ones – have roots that go back into older games, and the slot machine is just the same. Each press of play you make on your state-of-the-art phone is designed to mimic a deal of cards. And so, the very first game tried to offer a version of five-card poker hands. There were actual cards glued onto the reels, which span and paid out depending on which hand was represented by the final position. Taking out a couple of cards gave the house the edge that made the game a guaranteed profit maker, with stakes wedged up in cash and prizes (often cigars or a whisky or two) paid out from the bars that hosted them.

Charles Augustus Fey

Gambling today is built on innovation, and it was then. In order to save weary barkeeps from having to dole out smokes and drinks to winners, a machine that could pay out automatically was needed. This was invented by a lad called Charles Augustus Fey – probably! – and in order to make this one giant leap, he simplified the game and gave us the world’s first 3-reel slot!

American gambling laws have always been a mess. Back then, the popularity of the machines caused one of our Yankee cousins’ regular moral panics and the games were banned. Or, rather, games that simulated card games were banned. That’s how we get the symbols on reels that we see today, with the bell chiming up first.

Once these were banned in their turn, manufacturers returned to doling out prizes in concrete form (often chewing gum), and put innocent-looking fruit symbols on the reels!

However and whatever you won, the reels were spinning on mechanical power. The “one-armed bandit” name was earned by the lever at the side of a machine that players pulled back to set the reels spinning. In 1964 the one-armed bandit was slain by the Bally company (still going), who released the Money Honey game with electrically powered reels spinning on the press of a play button. Legalities now sorted out – in some locations – American players could also enjoy much bigger jackpots thanks to the machine’s large capacity cash stores.

Video Slots

Video slots appeared in 1976, with images on screens replacing physical reels completely. IGT – another company who are still in operation – now own the company, Fortune Coin, that made this innovative 3-reel leap of faith.

In 1996 we enter the modern era of slot gaming with the first bonus game appearing on a second screen. Reel ‘Em from WMS was a 5-reel, and the standard for future games was very much set by this point, with 3-reel games largely the stuff of nostalgia.

Of course, the slots that clog up every corridor in Las Vegas are still there, ranked in their beeping hundreds of thousands, but most players now play their games online. And removing all physical limitations from the slot game realm made literally anything possible.

Yet the games remain remarkably similar to the machines that have been around since the late 19th century. We’ll allow that some of this is a decision by makers to stick to what they know works. There’s also the self-consciously retro appeal of a lot of modern games. But these companies are ultra-capitalist organisations, if they can make more money by producing a game that will rope in more players then they’re going to give it a spin.

So we assume that players love these games and love these setups.


3 Reel Slots Basics

3 Reel Slots

A 3-reel game is very simple.

The classic set-up features our familiar 3-reels. Historically, these machines featured just one pay-line, the single horizontal across the centre of the screen.

That’s rarely the case these days, but choosing to play a 3-reel game does mean that you will have fewer pay-lines, with five being a fairly typical number.

3 Reel Slots Machine Odds

Although there are likely to be fewer symbols and fewer pay-lines on a 3 reel slot machine, the return to player and the chances of winning shouldn’t be any different than they are in a 5-reel game. In fact, you can have a fairly good chance of winning any bet that puts money on the slots industry doing its best to reduce payouts to players (they’re a business, that’s their job), so the more popular 5-reel games are likely – as a whole – to offer less of a return than 3-reelers.

The truth is that there is no simple linear relationship between the number of reels and your likelihood of winning. A large number of other factors are at a play – largely, how much the designers want you to win.


All good reviews of slot machines and all good casino websites will give you a figure called RTP, or theoretical RTP for each game.

This figure is a theoretical number rather than an exact prediction about how you will do on a game, but it is the only measure of “generosity” that we have for slot games.

There are legal limits on what must be offered by games. You shouldn’t really play a game that doesn’t tell you this figure.

The current averages are somewhere around 96%. This sounds very generous. But it translates to a “house edge” of 4%. That’s a profit of £4 for every £100 spent baked into the system. And this figure is just a measure of how things should go. For example, an RTP figure will be calculated – and relayed to the player – on the basis that players do everything right. That is, that they make good decisions when they are offered them. You may not.

Calculate Odds

It is possible to work out a full table of odds for every game. It’s an entertaining thing to do if that’s the sort of thing that entertains you. It isn’t the sort of thing that entertains us.

If you do enjoy this sort of mathematical information then there’s a load of material out there to explore. Our view is that it adds another dimension to the game to players who are interested in stats, but it’s not necessary and it won’t help you to play the game better or to have a more enjoyable playing experience.

The simplest mathematical equations you need to keep in mind when you play a 3-reel slot are these. The RTP means that in the long run, you should expect to lose money playing any slot. The longer you play a slot for the closer the actual result of your play will be to the RTP.

Safe Play

You should also always play safely. Never bet more than you can afford to lose. Never play with money that isn’t yours. Do never bet to chase losses and never play when you are upset or intoxicated. Never play as a way of getting out of financial trouble, and never play in order to regulate your emotions.

Good, responsible sites will offer you good advice on how to play safely and how to regulate your play or find professional help if you do get into trouble while playing 3-reel online video slots.

Play at those sites.

Odds are a huge and fascinating subject. But all you really need to know is that more lucrative outcomes from the random sequence you’re triggering when you press play are much more unlikely to happen than the less lucrative ones.


The other commonly used measure of a slot machine is its volatility. Most reviewers stick to “high” “medium” or “low”.

A game that is “low” volatility will pay out smaller prizes more often. A high volatility game will pay out bigger prizes but will reward players less often.

Again, these are not very exact measures.

To give you an example of how complex these games are here is the mathematics for a typical slot game with 20 symbols on each of its three reels. This gives a possible 8,000 finishing combinations for the machines. If there is a single jackpot symbol on each reel then the odds of hitting is 8,000 to one.

In order to work out the odds of any symbol combination, you need to know how many possible positions there are on each reel and how many of each symbol there are. Modern online games aren’t as constrained as an old mechanical slot, so a modern 3-reel might have 32 positions on each reel, upping the odds with its 32,768 combos.

A shortcut to the odds of a win happening is to look at the pay-table. These are bets, after all, and if an event pays out 20 times your stake, ie, 20 to 1, then it is likely that it is a little less likely than that to happen (paying out exact percentages cuts down the house edge).

How to win on a 3 reel slot machine

There is no quick and easy way to jump to the front of any jackpot queue. Games at honest sites are based on genuine random number generators.

There is no way around this. There is no way to predict when a machine will pay out (something you could do to some small degree on mechanical slots). No lucky bet, no lucky strategy and there is no lucky way of sitting when you play.

There is no luck.

So the best way to win on 3 reel slots is the same way as on any machine. That is to play it safe and to make your money last as long as possible, that gives you more spins and makes hitting a big pay-out slightly more likely.

The only prizes you may win by spotting timings are progressive jackpots. Some are timed to pay-out within a certain time frame – say monthly – and as you reach the end of that time period without a pay-out the probability of a pay-out does increase.

What is more likely though is that as progressives come towards guaranteed pay-outs on timing, or the prize values hit really high numbers they will attract ever-larger numbers of players and your chance of hitting the unique big prize becomes less likely.


There is no luck.

So the best playing strategy is a safe one for you personally. One that you can afford, and one that you are comfortable with. One that you enjoy.

Keep playing for fun and stop when it’s not, and that’s the best chance you have of playing sustainably for a decent period of time.

The New Generation of 3 Reel Slots

Three-reel slots are on something of a comeback. Players enjoy them. They’re typically simple, and – while they can be very sophisticated – offer a very nice look on smaller screens.

The gameplay is familiar to a player of any slot. The same decisions generally need to be made, with the only possible difference being a relative simplicity in making betting decisions because of the reduced number of pay-lines.

Example: Jackpot Joker Slot

To look at a popular example, Jackpot Joker is a hugely popular series of games that includes a 3-reel version.

Its gimmick is a doubling up of the reels to two sets of 3-by-3 reels, with the top set opening up only for a big prize bonus game.

This game has a 95% RTP and a possible top prize of 100,000 coins.

Like a lot of 3 reel slot games, it is designed in a retro style that actually tries to reproduce the look of bricks and mortar machine from back in the day. (As someone who was around back in the day and saw these machines, that’s not to our taste, but it takes all sorts!)

The gameplay is retro too. You press a button, reels spin, and you either win or you don’t. It’s a relatively simple experience. In common with a lot of 3 reel slot games, it has 5 pay-lines. The controls are simple: a spin button, a bet total button, and an information button (always click the information button when you’re playing a game!)

This game has two pay-tables. One is in play for smaller betting amounts, the other opens up when you stake up more.

It has seven symbols: cherries, lemons, plums, melons, strawberries, bells and sevens, that pay out 20, 30, 40, 50, 100, 150, and 200-times stake respectively for sets of three along any pay-line. All of these figures double on the next paytable and then jump to paying 100, 200, 400, 500, 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000-times stake when you bet 100 coins.

The jackpot is paid out for reels full of the joker symbol.

Should You Play 3 Reel Slots?

Guess what?

Yes! Of course, you should play 3 reel slots. If you’ve grown up in the age of 5-reel games then these blasts from the past might look like a new novelty, but over a century or so of play they earned their spurs as the go-to game for many a gambler.

And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy these classics now. We love spacey designs with big reels and big symbols that make the most of the compact game set up to make a game really fill your smaller screens.

The games are simple to play and easy to understand whatever device you use to spin them. The returns and the gameplay should be as generous and as sophisticated as anything you’ll find in a 5, 15 or 23-reel game and 3-reel slots are deserving of the attention they are currently receiving.

Rachel Pine

Slots Expert

Rachel Pine is our slots expert who has worked in the online gambling industry for 10+ years. Over the course of her career, Rachel has reviewed more than 3,000 slots.