3 Reel vs. 5 Reel Pokies

If you were keen to see what all the fuss was about with online slots, odds are you may have already looked around for a few at an online casino, only to have closed the page in utter dismay!

With so many online slots, we understand that your search can get quite overwhelming!

To avoid the run-around looking for a particular type of online slot, NZ Online Pokies irons it all out for you. By the end of this little article, you’ll be an online slots whizz in no time.

The main difference to know from the start is that there are really only two basic types of slot machines, a 3 reel and a 5 reel.

3 reel slot machines are the most basic and are probably the most recognizable since most of us grew up with the old ‘one-armed bandits’ in our minds, thanks to all those old movies with Las Vegas casinos in them.

As the name suggests, these slot machines have 3 reels containing various symbols, which are usually fruit icons such as cherries, apples and so on. These machines are also called ‘fruties’ for that very reason.

5 reel slot machines on the other hand are far more complex beasts! These machines are the modern take on the old slot machine and features 5 reels and exciting themes based on popular movies, comic book heroes and much more.

Take a look at this simple comparison we’ve put together clearly demonstrating the differences between 3 reel and 5 reel slots, so you can make an easier, more informed choice.

Paylines/Winning Opportunities

Between 3 reel and 5 reel slots, so you can make an easier, more informed choice:

3 reel: The majority of 3 reel slot machines will only have a single payline, although there are machines that have up to 5 paylines. Single payline 3 reel machines are popular because it’s easy to see what’s going on but these machines can still be pretty challenging, which is why even highly experience online slots gamers still play them regularly.

5 reel: The thing with 5 reel machines is that you can choose how many paylines you want to play per spin. If you’re new to 5 reel machines and transitioning from the traditional 3 reel machines, then you can simply choose to only play one payline at a time. You can increase this up to 10 or even 20 paylines per spin (or more). Some 5 reel machines also feature ‘soft’ paylines, meaning you don’t have to have matching symbols on paylines to win, they simply have to be showing across all 5 reels. These commonly take the form of ‘243 Ways to Win’ machines.

Low Volatility vs. High Volatility

3 reel: Volatility refers to the win/loss frequency of a given slot machine. A slot machine with a low volatility will pay out more often but the amount it pays out will be less than a machine with a high volatility, which will pay out much more, but less often. More often than not, 3 reel machines feature low volatility characteristics.

5 reel: Generally speaking, most 5 reel machines will be characterized as being high volatility machines. This is especially true when it comes to progressive jackpot machines, which don’t pay out often but when they do its usually big! Of course not all 5 reel machines are high volatility as you will no doubt find out.

Graphics and Sound

3 reel: As you may have already guessed by now, 3 reel machines do not feature any hi-tech sound effects or movie theme soundtracks. In keeping with tradition, most 3 reel machines will feature a series of bell sounds and chimes on winning combinations and maybe a basic little melody. After all, the reason many players love these machines is that vintage look and feel!

5 reel: This is where it can get really wild and exciting! 5 reel machines often feature themes based on popular movies or comic book heroes (or villains) and the sound effects are cutting edge, along with HD graphics, animations and even scenes cut from the movie. Some games will feature cameo appearances from key characters or action scenes and some will have special music for additional bonus games.

Jackpot Opportunities

3 reel: generally speaking, 3 reel slot machines do not feature huge jackpot pay out opportunities. In keeping with the simplicity of the game style, 3 reel jackpots usually do not exceed a few thousand NZD as a top prize, which most fans of 3 reel machines are quite happy with.

5 reel: If you’re looking for really big jackpot opportunities as your key reason for choosing a type of online slot, then 5 reel machines are definitely what you should be looking at. 5 reel machines generally feature big jackpot opportunities and when you start considering progressive jackpot games, you’re looking at really massive jackpot opportunities, usually in the millions.


3 reel: As we have already established, 3 reel machines are all about old school tradition and the gameplay is very straightforward. Fans of 3 reel machines love the fact that all you have to do is pop in a coin in your favourite denomination, spin the reels and sit back and watch the fruit go by.

5 reel: 5 reel machines can get very complex and many of them are extremely sophisticated, representing the state of the art in online slots design and technology. Many 5 reel machines will feature special game symbols like wilds, scatters, multipliers and expanders. All of these symbols have a special job and help to make the game more interesting. These games also feature additional free spins bonus rounds or even different chapters in a story.

Deciding between the two

Choosing between the two is a matter of individual preference although we do think that beginners should start with 3 reel machines until they get the hang of it all. Of course 3 reel slot machines are more than just a learning tool and can be loads of fun if relaxing and making a few dollars is a bonus.

Taking it to the next level with 5 reel machines is also recommended as this can be incredibly entertaining and challenging. Winning a big payday on a 5 reel progressive is also nothing to sneeze at. Either way, remember to stick to our top online casinos in New Zealand and slots and you won’t go wrong!

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Last Updated: November 15, 2018