Three Reel vs Five Reel

Three Reel vs Five Reel

Nearly 120 years after inventor Charles Fey produced the world’s first slot machine, the game’s layout remains largely unchanged.

Fey’s original “Liberty Bell” game was built around three independently rotating reels, on which a final symbol would be displayed. Lining up matching symbols across these three reels was the objective, and players earned different payouts depending on the difficulty of a given combination.

Today’s online slots have evolved exponentially since Fey’s day, adding video clips, sound effects, bonus games, and progressive jackpots along the way. But even amidst all that progress, you may notice one part of the experience has remained intact: Fey’s three-reel design.

Aside from a few bells and whistles, most online slots feature the same three-reel layout favored for over a century.

But they’ve been joined by a new group of slots in recent years, as slot designers expanded the game screen to include five reels. More reels to spin means more symbols on the screen, which leads to a higher frequency of winning combinations.

Leaving out a handful of novelty slots featuring six reels and up, the bulk of online slot gameplay is centered around either the three-reel or five-reel design.

At first glance, the distinction may appear to be only superficial – something to break up the monotony inherent to thousands of games using the same reel layout. But as you’ll discover by comparing three-reel and five-reel slots below, this variation within the online slot world essentially creates two distinct branches on the family tree.

And unless you know your way around the reels, you may be making crucial mistakes or missing out on great gameplay elements.


As time goes on, and more five-reel games are added to the virtual slot landscape, three-reel options have been increasingly relegated to the nostalgia department.

For that reason, most three-reel slots out there stick closely to the old-school reel symbols. Everything from the “7” and “BAR” to the ubiquitous fruit symbol will be in play, lending the games a classic feel.

The biggest distinction between three-reel slots and their five-reel brethren concerns the concept of paylines.

When using three reels, the standard setup uses just a single payline, straight through the center, to connect the middle symbol on each reel. That means diagonals and zig-zag connections won’t count.

As a result, three-reel slot gameplay can be a little boring, with long droughts of losing spins broken up by the occasional big winner. That dynamic adds a sense of suspense, but it can be far less profitable over the long run.


The five-reel slot turns your favorite online casino into a fun-filled gambling extravaganza.

These games are typically themed around licensed pop culture properties, and feature interactive video clips to immerse players in the experience.

Five-reel slots also expand the reel screen, which puts 15 symbols on the screen after each spin rather than just three.

By including multiple paylines – 15, 20, 25, 30, 50, and even 100 payline online slots are the most common – five-reel games offer livelier gameplay. Most spins will produce small winners, what with so many paylines and symbols to work with, but they won’t be the big-gainers that make three-reel slots such a thrill.