How to Play Online Slots

Online gambling is illegal in North Carolina, but players can play online slots on social and sweepstakes casinos.

While no one knows for sure, it looks promising that online casinos will be legalized in North Carolina ‘soon,’ which could mean as soon as 2024. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for the North Carolina legislature to pass online gaming laws to play online slots. Until real-money online casinos are a reality in North Carolina, sweepstakes casinos are legal and available for those who want to gamble online.

Social and sweepstakes casino options

Sweepstakes and social casino sites offer online casino games and poker by playing with ‘Sweeps Coins,’ not real money. Playing with Sweeps Coins allows the sites to be valid and legal. The good news is that you can win cash prizes on these sites.

Two of North Carolina’s retail casinos are branded by Harrah’s. On Harrah’s website, part of Caesars Entertainment, you can play several games for free. Slotomania, Bingo Blitz, and Caesars Slots are all under the flag of Caesars, and each of those apps offers visitors multiple games.

Additionally, North Carolina residents can take advantage of other major social casino sites, like Wow Vegas, Pulsz, High 5 Casino, McLuck, Chumba Casino, Luckyland Slots, Funzpoints, Stake.US, Sweeptastic, Chanced, Fortune, Zula, and more.

Online slots

Slots are the most popular gambling option in a casino and online.  Any online slot site may have hundreds of slot games. Such a broad selection might initially seem intimidating, but despite this extensive variety of games, most are variations on a theme. Online slots all work more or less the same way.

Once you learn to play one game, you’ll have the basics for most other games. Remember, casinos want you to play and have fun, making it easy to get started and giving you variety to hold your interest.

We will look at the basics of the games, slot rules, the different symbols, how the paylines work, and what features there are.

How to play slots online

You can start playing online slots almost immediately; we will show you how. But we do recommend you read on for more details on how to play.

  1. Choose a casino and set up an account—If you are in North Carolina, you must play on sweepstakes or social casinos. We suggest reading reviews on social casinos to choose the best one for you. Signing up is easy; usually, you just need your name and email address.
  2. Choose a slot game—Once you have an account, you will have a lot of games to choose from. Usually, you will have the choice of scrolling through the games or a smaller choice of the most popular games on the site. Once you find one you like, click ‘Play Now.’ We recommend you read the instructions and paytable first.
  3. Decide how much you want to bet—Each game has a minimum and maximum bet range. The bet is how much you will pay for one spin. The more you bet, the more you can win. Make sure you set the right bet before playing.
  4. Spin the reels—Now it’s time to play. Click the spin button to play one round. The animation begins once you click on it, and the symbols fall into place.
  5. Win or lose—If the symbols align in the correct order on any of the paylines, you win. The paytable determines the amount of your payout based on how much you bet. Then, you bet again for the next spin.
  6. Features and bonuses—These are extras added to the game to increase the excitement and give you more ways to win. We explain more about them below. Each slot game details features and bonuses in the instructions and paytable.

How online slots work

Regardless of which slot you choose, the slot display will have several symbols, usually laid out in a grid. Once you’ve bet and pressed the ‘spin’ button, the symbols will randomly come onto the screen. Usually, they appear to spin and fall into place. You win or lose based on which symbols land where. Typically, the symbols must match in a line to win, and the less common symbols pay the highest.


The vertical columns of symbols on the screen are called reels. You will see anywhere from three to seven or more reels. Five reels are the most common. The reels spin after you’ve made your bet and clicked the spin button.


The horizontal rows of symbols on the screen are called rows. Most slot games have three to five rows of symbols, but some have more.


The paylines are the patterns of symbols across the screen in rows. The pattern is determined by which symbols are on the reels—usually, the paylines read from left to right. You win if the correct pattern lines up across the rows.

For example, if one of the symbols is a cherry and is a cherry in the first, second, and third reel, AND they align on the same row, you will win. Most slots pay if you have winning symbols in a line or diagonal.

There are usually a lot of ways for the symbols to match and for you to win. The number of paylines on any given slot depends on the game. For example, most five-reel games with three rows (5 x 3) have 20 paylines. But a 5 x 3 could have as many as 243 paylines.


The paytable shows how you win and how much you win. It shows you which combinations of symbols pay, what order they must be in, and how much you win for each symbol and combination of symbols.

Make sure you look at the paytable before you start playing so you know what to expect. The paytable will also explain special symbols (like wilds), scatters, and bonus features—more on all of those below.


You must have the right combination of symbols on the right lines to win in a slot game. How much you win depends on the number of symbols in the correct combination and the value of the symbols. Generally, the symbols that show up less often pay more. Additionally, the more symbols in a combination, the more it pays.

For example, if cherries are rarer than bells, lining up three cherries will pay more than lining up three bells. Lining up five cherries pays more than three cherries.

The random number generator

Slots use a random number generator (RNG) to determine which symbol appears in each row in each reel. The random placement of the symbols ensures the game is fair.

Online slot features: wilds, scatters, and bonuses

Slot features give you another layer of excitement and more ways to win. Features can vary significantly from game to game. Below are some of the most common types you’ll find.

Wild Symbols

Wilds appear in almost every online slot game. Wilds are a special symbol that can substitute for any other symbol to form a winning combination. Often, the payout increases if there is more than one wild on a payline.

Read the paytable to know what the wild symbol is, how it works, and what it pays.

Scatter Symbols

Many online slots also have a scatter symbol. Typically, when a scatter symbol appears, you get a win regardless of which reel or row it is on. It does not have to be on a payline with other symbols. Usually, the scatter pays more than other symbols and often unlocks additional features.

Again, read the paytable to know what the scatter symbol is, how it works, and what it pays.

Bonus spins

Bonus spins are free spins. You don’t place a bet on a bonus spin, but you do get paid if you win! The payout is based on the amount you bet when you hit the bonus spin.

In most slot games with bonus spins, free spins activate when three or more scatter symbols appear in the same spin.

As usual, read the paytable to know how the bonus spins work.

Pick a bonus game

This bonus feature is rarer than wilds, scatters, and free spins, but you will definitely encounter it if you play online slots.

Pick a bonus is a separate game within the slot you are playing. It is often triggered when three or more bonus symbols land on the screen.

This game within the game is simple. Typically, there are several covered prizes to choose from. You reveal the prize by clicking on a selection. Prizes may be coins or an advancement to the next round. Once the game ends, you return to where you left off in the main game.

Progressive jackpots

Progressive jackpots are prizes that get bigger the longer you play and the more people that play. A small amount of each bet is placed in the pot and accumulates until someone wins.

Once someone wins the jackpot, it starts over. The casino starts the jackpot with a minimum amount, and the prize pool grows again.

The list of features and bonuses available is too long to cover here. Check out Slot Features And How They Work for a more complete list.

How to Choose a Slot Machine

Once you understand the basics of playing slots online, you’ll find that most slots are variations of the basic game. You’ll find a style you like best as you play the different games. The best way to try different slots without risking your bets is to play in demo mode first. Losing real money is not an issue for North Carolina slot players since you’ll be playing on sweepstakes sites.

The components to look for are the theme, features and bonuses, return to player (RTP), hit frequency, and volatility.


Since playing slots online is all about entertainment, the theme is important. You want to play a game that you find entertaining and interesting. Whether you prefer Viking, French pastries, aliens, TV shows, or the classic cherries and 7s, there is a slot game for you.

Features and bonuses

The features and bonuses are important because they add entertainment, excitement, and more wins. As you gain experience with slots, you will find the features and bonuses you like playing best and those that are luckiest for you.

Return to player, hit frequency, and volatility

  • Return to Player is the percentage returned over the long term. If the stated RTP is 97%, then for every $100 you bet over the long term, you can expect a return of $97.
  • Hit frequency is the likelihood of a slot hitting a winning combination of symbols. Most slots have a hit frequency between 20% and 30%. The higher the hit rate, the more likely you are to win.
  • Volatility is how often a slot will win and the size of the wins. High volatility slots pay larger amounts less often. Low volatility slots pay smaller amounts more frequently.

While playing slots online is for entertainment, it is nice to win, even if the win is Sweeps or Gold Coins. Knowing the RTP, hit frequency, and volatility of the games will help you find the winning combination that gives you the most bang for the virtual buck.

Online slots are for fun and enjoyment

Remember, online casinos want you to play, so they make signing up and playing as easy as possible. Once you get started, you’ll discover how quickly you can learn the different games and play online slots.

About the Author

Walter Yuhl

Walter (Way) Yuhl is a freelance writer and business professor. Way has written for the Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff Business News, Bangkok University, and Shandong University of Science and Technology as well as edited content for the U.N., Thailand International airports, and other organizations. He has worked with Cantena Media since 2019.