If you’re familiar with online slot machines, you’ll know that symbols and icons are the very things that make the slots exciting. As you spin the reels, you’ll see them appearing, and if you land symbols that match, you can trigger a win.
In our ultimate guide to slot machine icons and symbols, we’ll go into full detail about what slot game symbols are, how you land wins, what the different kinds of symbols are, and what to look out for to trigger special features.
A Brief History of Slot Machines
Way before slot games existed on the internet, you could spin the reels of classic slots in real-life casinos – of course, it wasn’t as convenient as being able to play from your computer or mobile device.
The original slot games were invented around 1895, if you can believe it. Although they were much more rudimentary than the highly interactive and themed games we can see at our favorite online casinos now, they did have something in common with top modern games like Starburst, Book of Dead and Sweet Bonanza – they all had symbols.
In keeping with the gambling theme, the very first slot game symbols were playing cards. The inventor of slots, Charles Fey, also used horseshoes (for luck) and an icon of the Liberty Bell as symbols on his very first slots.
When Microgaming developed the first online casino in the 1990s, the games also came with symbols – many early online slots featured fruit and playing card numbers and letters. And although it’s been well over 100 years since slots first came to be, some traditions continue today.
What are Slot Game Symbols?
Most slot games come with a defined amount of paylines, and you’ll need to match symbols on these paylines on adjacent reels from left to right. When a certain number of these symbols appear on the paylines, you’ll trigger a win.
This means it’s not enough to simply land more than one of the same symbols on the grid; it all depends on where they fall.
Standard symbols usually pay out on the lines as described, while other “special” symbols may trigger features like bonus rounds or add extras like multipliers to your win.
There are always some exceptions to the rule. For example, certain slot machines don’t have any specific paylines.
- Cluster pays, where you need five or more of the same symbol anywhere in a vertical and horizontal line, laid out on an enlarged grid
- Megaways games, where you need to have a matching symbol anywhere on three or more successive reels
- Totals, where you just need the same symbol appearing a set number of times anywhere on the grid
Different types of symbols can trigger different levels of wins, and you can usually find all of the details on this within the pay table when you open up the game info button. An info icon on the game screen usually represents this.
All slot games must come with some symbols – otherwise, they wouldn’t be slot games! The term “symbols” or “icons” doesn’t only apply to the themed imagery on the game reels; sometimes, it can be a lot more simple.
Picture the kind of classic slot machine you’d expect to see at a traditional casino in Vegas. Even if it only has three reels and one symbol on each – it still has symbols. These usually take the form of 7s or Bar symbols, and online slots can have these, too.
Another of the main types of classic slot icons is what you’ll find on the “fruit machines”. There are many online slots where the main symbols are fruits like apples, grapes or oranges.
You’ve probably seen these Bar symbols before without considering what they mean. One popular theory suggests that when gambling was prohibited in the United States, slot games paid out with chewing gum, particularly a brand with a Bar symbol. That’s also a theory about why fruit symbols became so popular – they were chewing gum flavors.
In retro-style online casino slots, the higher value symbols are usually represented by the Bar or the 7. We’ll go into more detail below about the differences between high and low-value symbols.
Most online slot games have high-value symbols and low-value symbols. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule, but often the low-value symbols take the form of letters and numbers that you would find in a deck of cards, like 10, J, Q, K, and A. These symbols still need to be matched on the paylines, but unlike the themed icons, the win they trigger is much smaller.
Sometimes you’ll also need to match more of these on the reels to trigger any win. These lower-value symbols tend to appear much more frequently than the higher-value ones, so even if they don’t start a huge payout, you’re still likely to win quite often.
The great thing about the low-value symbols being consistent across most slot games is that no matter what you’re playing, you’ll know what to look out for. These symbols will be so familiar that they can fade into the background when you’re playing, and you can just look out for the higher-value symbols and special symbols.
As the name would suggest, high-value symbols pay out more money. You often also need to land fewer of them on the grid to trigger a win. As most games come with a theme, the higher-value symbols usually have something to do with that theme. For example, if you’re playing a slot like Sweet Bonanza, the high-value symbols are all kinds of candy.
Many modern online slot machines come packed with special features like bonus rounds, free spins, and all other kinds of ways to either increase your win or make your gameplay more interactive. Most of these features are based on landing “special” symbols on the reels.
Mystery symbols aren’t a feature of many slot games, but they are an exciting addition when you find them. When you land a mystery symbol on the grid, it might first appear as something like a question mark before changing so that all mystery symbols reflect the same standard symbol.
Depending on what else you’ve landed on your game grid, you might trigger a big win if you land some of the mystery symbols.
Wild symbols are common, and you’ll find them in almost every modern slot game. The point of the Wild symbol is that it can substitute for other standard symbols when it appears on the game grid.
This usually excludes special symbols like the Scatter but includes higher and lower-value symbols. For example, if you land two As and need a third to trigger the win, a Wild can substitute for it if it lands in the right place on the grid.
Some slots also come with “expanding wilds”, meaning that the wild will expand to cover more than one block on the grid. This could also increase your win, depending on what other symbols appear. You also get “multiplier wilds”, which can add a multiplier to your win when it appears on the reels.
Overall, a Wild symbol is like a bit of magic because it can do anything the game developers want. So its function can be very different depending on the slot game that you’re playing.
Multiplier symbols are a great feature of modern slot games, allowing you to multiply your wins. While most multipliers will times you win by anything between 2x and 10x, some will enable you to multiply your winnings by up to 100x!
Some slot games have these special symbols in the base game, but more frequently, they’re a feature that can be found within the bonus round. This makes free spins play that much more exciting as if you land a multiplier, it generally sticks for the whole bonus round, providing the potential for a seriously huge win.
So many slot games come with free spins rounds, which are often the most fun part of gameplay – plus, the more free spins you get, the better the chance of a win.
The bonus round is usually triggered by landing a certain amount of the Scatter symbols anywhere on the grid, and sometimes the amount of free spins you’ll get is determined by how many Scatters fall on the grid. For example, you might get five free spins for three Scatters but can bag up to 20 free spins if you land five Scatters.
In addition to triggering the bonus round, Scatter symbols will usually always have their value attached, so you’ll also start a win when they appear on the grid. In certain slot games, the Scatter symbol can only appear on certain reels, while on others, you can land it on any of the reels.
Scatters are most often themed around the game. For example, if you’re playing a book-themed slot, your scatter will probably be a book. You can always check the game info to see what you should look for while playing.
It’s worth mentioning that in certain slot games that are particularly loaded with special features, you might find Scatters and special “bonus” symbols with a different look. In this case, the Scatter symbol might unlock free spins round, while the bonus symbol takes you off to another special feature or bonus game.
Hold & Win symbols
Also known as triggering the “link round”, Hold & Win is an increasingly popular feature for online slots and slot machines in traditional casinos.
Here you’ll be looking out for a special symbol, usually themed around the game you’re playing. If you land a certain amount of these (usually six or nine), these will lock in place while all of the other symbols fade away, and you trigger three re-spins.
Re-spins will continue until no more special symbols fall into the reels, and once this happens, your total win will be calculated by adding up the value of each of the special symbols. If you’re lucky enough to fill the whole grid, a jackpot sometimes awaits you.
While it’s not a specific type of symbol, it’s worth mentioning Megaways slots here. While in most games, the number of symbols appearing on each reel is consistent with each spin, this is constantly changing in Megaways games, so you have more ways to win. Usually, the same symbols can appear, but the different combinations can lead to bigger wins.
That’s a Wrap
You should now have a solid grasp of everything you need to know about slot machine symbols and icons.
All that’s left to do is head to your favorite online casino and get spinning. Good luck!