Slot machines are truly everywhere now, not only in the casino as they have always been but also accessible through online and mobile applications. And no matter where these slots are located, all these games feature bright lights, jackpots, loud sounds, money wheels… anything and everything to perk people’s interest to play. Slot games also have a variety of bonuses and features to attract additional action. 

But when we watch customers play a slot, do we understand the simple mechanics that happen as they hit “Spin?” This article will compare and contrast the basics of two such mechanics: lines and ways win evaluations.

So let’s examine what happens when a player sits at a slot and starts playing the game. After a few spins, a win amount usually pops up accompanied by a happy jingle. The screen flashes with an assortment of lines or symbol animations popping out in deliberate order. This display, called a pay evaluation, shows the player how the win was calculated. These pay evaluations use the game paytable along with the combination of the symbols displayed on screen to determine the payout. The more combinations that land on screen mean bigger wins, although not all games pay according to the same rules. The two most popular win evaluations in slots are lines and ways.


The technical workings of line pays are very straightforward and easy to understand, thus making them appealing to players. Each game has a set of predefined paths called lines.  Matching symbols along a line from left-to-right awards the respective pay to the player. Typically, line games pay for three, four or five of a particular symbol showing on the screen.  This is conventionally termed thee, four or five “of a kind.” Lines pay independently on their own path, unaffected by the pays awarded from other lines. Often three matching symbols on the first three reels will pay on multiple lines simultaneously.

Line pays have been around since the advent of slot machines and are still the most common evaluation used in slots today. Popular classic games began with only a single line to determine all pays. Over time, these mechanical games began to pay on three lines, five lines, nine lines and so on. Video slots have trended towards higher line counts, and now it’s common to see games with upwards of 100 lines. These high line counts paved the way for the next major method of win evaluation: paying on “ways.”


Each game manufacturer has a different branded term for what we can generally call paying on ways. Paying on ways takes the idea of lines and simplifies it by taking away the specific paths.  Instead, players win on any left-to-right path starting from the first reel. Since any possible path will pay, understanding the win screen becomes much simpler for the player. As long as the symbols land left-to-right, the win is awarded.  

Paying on every way creates a multiplier effect when stacked symbols exist on the reels. For example, a single lion on all five reels would pay a single five-of-a-kind award. If three lions land on the third reel the total payout becomes three five-of-a-kind awards. Taking it further, let’s say three lions land on each reel. This would award a whopping 3x3x3x3x3 = 243-five-of-a-kind lions!  

This multiplicative nature makes it very easy for players to understand what they’ve won. If matching symbols exist from the left to the right, the number of combinations paid out is found by multiplying the matching symbol count on each reel involved. The player doesn’t need to know how many lines are passing through the symbols, how many lines will give three-of-a-kind or four-of-a-kind or even where the lines are.

A common misconception: paying on ways is the same as paying on all possible lines. There are a couple of key differences that make these methods of pay evaluation distinct. The differences primarily stem from the ability of lines to overlap each other, whereas ways only pay for each unique combination a single time. In short, lines each pay independently, whereas ways pay all at once.                 

As an illustrative example, consider a standard three-high, five-reel game. The maximum number of ways and the maximum number of lines are both 243. The paytable for the lion symbol pays for two-, three-, four- or five-of-a-kind.  Now let’s suppose that a single lion symbol lands on each of the five reels… in a ways evaluation, this screen clearly pays for a single five-of-a-kind lion. But in a game with all 243 possible lines, the payout is substantially more complicated. The lines evaluation pays on 27 different lines with a combination of two-, three-, four- and five-of-a-kind pays (18, six, two and one of each respectively).  While both pay types use paths to determine their awards; the differences create two distinct gambling experiences.

Recognizing the difference between lines and ways pays gives a better understanding of what players enjoy. This in turn gives insight into which future titles will resonate with the same players. Knowledge is power and in slots equals more money.