3 Reel vs 5 Reel Online Slots

Slot machines are the most popular online casino game, however there’s a myriad of versions with different rules, formats, payout percentages, and strategies. The most basic type of slot machine is known as a 3 reel slot, while newer slot games feature 5 reels. In this article we’ll take a look at the main differences between 3 reel and 5 reel slots


    In this article you will find
  • Payline differences
  • Volatility differences
  • Graphics, sound and gameplay

Combinations and Paylines

The main difference between these types of slots is that 5 reels offer more combinations and paylines making them ideal large jackpots. With 3 reels you get at most 3 paylines (i.e. three chances to win per spin) while 5 reel machines offer between 9 – 143 paylines. The most common theme for a 3 reel slot machine includes the traditional fruit, bell, and bar symbols, whilst 5 reel slots are often based on major motion pictures, comic book heroes, and TV shows, In addition 5 reel slots feature bonus rounds, scatter symbols, and multipliers offering a richer gameplay experience.

Low volatility vs high volatility

If you prefer to play a game that is slower paced and easier to follow then 3 reel slot games will be preferable. With a 3 reel game you can track the symbols as the reels spin and follow the game easily. 3 reel games are also good for gamers who like low volatility - loosing a few dollars or winning a few in each session.

In contrast a 5 reel slot machine has so many pay lines that you normally don’t know if a spin is a winner until the game tells you. Even then it is hard to determine exactly you much you've won won as the payline zigzags over the screen. For players who like high volatility i.e. higher losses but bigger wins and the chance to win life changing  money then a 5 reel video slot,  some of which have progressive jackpots that reach as high as $2 million dollars will be the better choice.

Graphics, Sound, and Gameplay

5 reel slots offer smooth animations and graphics with a larger variety of symbols, with the newer 5 reel slots interspersed with video clips and interactive bonus rounds. These bonus rounds is where most players will realize the big winnings so 5 reel players need  more patience as stopping play before reaching a bonus round makes it harder to turn a profit.

Incredible Hulk 5 Reel Slot

5 Reel Slot

In contrast the attraction of 3 reel slots is the retro look and feel featuring classic graphics. While there hasn't been much change in terms of 3 reel slot design in the last 20 years the graphics have been updated to feature smoother designs and a slick gameplay with smooth rolling symbols and fun sounds. 

Typical 3 Reel Online Slot

3 Reel Slot

Jackpots & Payouts

The payout rates are similar for 3 and 5 reel slots with most online casinos offering between 96% – 98% across all slot titles. The main difference is that with 5 reel slots a large chunk of the payout is contained in the jackpot while in 3 reel slots it is spread out more evenly across all prize levels.

Bottom Line

If you are the type of player who likes to play for a long time with minimal bankroll fluctuations and the chance to double or triple your balance on a good day then 3 reel slots are for you. However if you are keen to win 100x with a jackpot,you should focus on playing 5 reel slots. The top jackpot on a 3 reel machine is around 750 coins while on 5 reel games they range from 10,000 coins to millions on progressive machines.

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