Slots Special Symbols

Slot machines were once associated with fruit symbols, bars, and bells, but nowadays, the variety of themes and features in modern video slots has led to the introduction of many interesting symbols, often referred to as special symbols. These are various themed images that have different functions in the game – they can substitute for other symbols, trigger free spins or bonus features, and many more.

Before looking into the feature-rich video slots found today online and in land-based casinos, we need to see how it all started. The evolution of slots and their symbols has begun more than a century ago and the slow modernizing of these games laid the foundations of today’s multi-billion gambling industry.

Standard Symbols in Slots

1Playing Card Symbols

Although fruit machines often come up into our mind when thinking about the oldest casino games, they are, in fact, a late development. Gambling started with table games like poker, roulette, and blackjack, while the first gambling machines had more in common with poker than with the modern-day idea of slots.

The first machines, which were popularized in the late 19th century in American bars, had 5 moving reels and card faces as symbols. Players would put a nickel in the small slot for coins, pull the lever, and wait for the reels to show a poker hand – the better the poker hand, the better the prize. Of course, there was no way for these first machines to incorporate an automatic payout mechanism, which is why players received a free drink from the bar owner.

In the coming decades, the machines were improved but the card symbols remained. Even today, many online video slots feature card faces as their low-paying symbols.

2The Liberty Bell Slot Symbols

In 1985, Charles Fey, a car mechanic based in San Francisco, invented the first gaming machine that paid out coins. A few years after that, he invented the Liberty Bell Slot Machine, which became the most popular gaming machine of its time. It had 3 spinning reels and several symbols that were painted on each of them – a diamond, spade, and heart symbol, as well as an image of a cracked Liberty Bell.

The biggest payout was given when three bells appeared in a row and players received 10 nickels as a reward. Soon, these games were installed in many bars across the United States. Fey created several variations of this machine and later, he also invented the first Draw Poker machine.

3Fruit and Bar Symbols

At the beginning of the 20th century, gambling machines were incredibly popular and in 1907, arcade machines manufacturer Herbert Mills came up with the Operator Bell. This machine was almost identical to Fey’s original creation but Mills was the first to add fruit symbols to the game. There were lemons, plums, oranges, and cherries on the machines and they were associated with the different flavors of gum that were offered as a prize.

In addition, the manufacturer added an image of a stick of a Bell-Fruit Gum, which later became known as the Bar symbol. Over the next couple of decades, different combinations of these symbols appeared on slot machines but the most popular images remained the fruits, card faces, the Liberty Bell, the Bar, the Lucky 7, and the Horseshoe.

Watch Why Do Slot Machines Use Fruit Reel Symbols?

The Wild Symbol

In the 1970s, Las Vegas-based firm Fortune Coin Company pioneered the first video slot, which gave rise to multiple developments, including in the symbols that appeared on the reels. One of the first special symbols to be added to the classic slot games was the wild symbol. In can be found in most online slots today, although it comes in different forms and shapes, depending on the theme of the game.

Separate Payout
Variety of Wilds

The Scatter Symbol

Another special symbol that can be found in many video slots is the scatter. Its name derives from the way it appears on the reels and pays out. Unlike the rest of the slot symbols, the scatters bring a payout even if they do no land on a fixed payline. Depending on the style and theme of the slot, the scatter symbol may be represented by various images.

How Scatters Pay Out
Triggering Free Spins

Bonus Symbols and Multipliers

Bonus Symbols


In Bonus Rounds

Many video slots also feature bonus symbols, which once again are different pictures and images, depending on the overall theme of the game. As you can see, they are very similar to the scatters but unlike them, they need to land on a specific payline to activate a bonus game or some other special feature.

In most video slots, bonus symbols do not form separate winning combinations. When three or more of these symbols land on an active payline, they trigger the respective bonus feature. As we have explained above, the mechanics of the bonus games differ significantly from one game to the next. They can also be re-triggered or not.

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Additional Special Symbols

Expanding Symbols
Exploding Symbols and Cascading Reels
Split Symbols
Symbols with Mixed Function

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Find the answers of questions people asked so far:

Dan Dorothy

What is the difference between Scatter and Bonus symbols in slots?

Asked by: Dorothy | Asked on: 2023-06-12
Answered by: Dan | Answered on: 2023-06-13

Scatter symbols are very similar to Bonus icons in slots as they often have pretty much the same function. When a certain number of Scatters appear anywhere on the reels, they tend to award a special payout and trigger some of the special features of the slot. Typically, Scatter features award free spins but it is possible to unlock different types of bonus games via this special symbol. Scatter payouts are special as they do not require hitting the symbols on a specific payline or formation. Bonus symbols can also unlock different extra functions of slots, improving players’ chances of landing extra payouts. The main difference between Scatters and Bonus symbols is usually that the latter does not offer a special payout and it is rarely capable of triggering the feature by appearing on random reels and positions on the slot’s grid.