Those newer to slot machines may find the concept of paylines confusing, especially on modern machines where the patterns are all sorts of directions. The concept of the payline goes back to the original slot machines, and have evolved over time.
But first, let’s define what a payline itself is. A payline is the spaces across the various reels that, when symbols that result in a payout appear on consecutive spaces of the payline, the player gets paid based on what the paytable offers.
Originally, there was only one pay line, directly across the center of each slot machine reel, which was evaluated to determine whether a spin was a winner or a loser. The space above and below the payline was visible, which allowed with even the original games to show near misses and so forth. An example of a modern game using that format can be seen in the picture at the top of this article.
As slot machines evolved, three and five payline scenarios began to exist on the same three reel slots, with three paylines across where the space above and below just used to be for show, and two diagonal paylines would complete the set on a five-line game. 9-line games also began to appear, albeit less frequently.
Five reel games could see even more lines, although they weren’t as common as their three-reel counterparts.
With the advent of video reel slot machines, which were computerized, five-reel slots became much more common, and with it the ability to do more paylines. Games with 15, 20 or 30 paylines were much more normal, and as games evolved there are now games with 100 paylines. Stinkin’ Rich, above, is an example of a slot machine with 100 paylines.
Some games do away with paylines altogether and use the all ways pays format. As long as the matching symbol appears on adjacent paylines, it will pay out. Multiple symbols on a reel means the pay is paid out multiple times, once per symbol.
So, a payline is what governs when you get paid, and when you don’t. On many games with paylines (although not all), you can decide how many paylines you wish to play, and generally speaking you pay one credit per payline at minimum (there are a few exceptions where you can get two paylines for a credit).
Ultimately, this governs the size of the wager, and the size of the payouts based on what the spin provides. It’s a simple concept but is crucial to the operation and play of a slot machine.