A Guide to Slots, Wilds and Scatter Symbols

Have you ever had someone tell you it’s important to go wild when you play slots? Or, more likely, have you heard the phrase: that person is a wild card? Well, even if you’ve never heard either of those expressions, the concept of wilds is probably something you already understand, even if you’re not sure why.

As we all know, casino gaming has influenced a lot of things in the world around us and one of those is the words we use. Everything from “roll the dice” to “raise the stakes” has been taken from the betting arena and pushed into common parlance. Thanks to this dynamic, the word “wild” has taken on a new meaning over the decades. Yes, under normal conditions it still refers to something that’s untamed or lives outdoors (undomesticated). However, there are times when the word wild describes something that’s versatile, which comes from the casino expression “wild card”.

This usage of the word is now fairly common in the English language and it’s probably the reason you already know what “wild symbols” are in slot games. Put simply, whenever you play slots from the likes of Microgaming, Playtech or NetEnt, you’ll have standard symbols and special ones. These “special ones” comprise of wilds and scatters. For now, we’ll leave scatters and tell you a little bit more about wilds.

Why Are Wilds Important?

As we’ve said, wild can mean versatile and that’s exactly what wild slot symbols are. When you’re spinning our favourite slot, wilds will substitute for any standard symbol (not scatters). For example, if you needed three cherries on an active payline, but only had two in view, a wild could help. As long as the wild helps to create the familiar left-to-right combination, you’ll win a prize. To put it another way, any time one or more wilds roll into view, you have a chance of making one or more winning combinations with fewer symbols than you would otherwise need.

From a playing perspective, the power of wilds is fantastic as it basically means you’ve got more ways to win. However, what’s also important to note about wilds is that they can unlock jackpots. Although certain online slots will use a different dynamic, it’s typically the case that five wilds release a game’s top prize. So, in practice, wild slot symbols have two functions. This not only makes them truly versatile (as the word itself suggests), but hugely valuable.

What Types of Wild Slots Symbols Can You Find Online?

In the early days of video slots, when developers were just starting to move away from three-reel fruit machines towards more complex structures, wilds were fairly simple. Today, however, the power of the internet has changed things. As you scroll through the selection of slots at our top-rated online casinos, you’ll find games with a wide variety of wild symbols. As you’d expect, the underlying mechanics haven’t changed, but the way in which wilds appear has. In the following list, we’ve outlined the main wild symbol types you’ll find when you play the best online slots:

Shifting and Wandering Wilds

We’ve grouped these two wilds together because they have a similar function. Generally, a shifting wild will only appear on the last reel and move one space in any direction before the next spin. For instance, when you’re playing Dolphin Cash from Playtech, the dolphin could appear on the middle row of reel 5 and then shift across to the bottom of reel 4.

Dolphin Cash - Wild symbols

In contrast, wandering wilds have a bit more freedom. So, if you took a spin on the Gnome Wood, a wandering wild could appear on reel 2 and then move across to reel 4. That, in a nutshell, is the difference between these two dynamic wilds.

Gnome Wood - Wild symbols


Stacked Wilds

As the name implies, stacked wild symbols can be aligned on top of each other. What tends to happen with these symbols is that they all appear individually. However, the moment at which two wilds land above/below each other is when their true power shines through. Indeed, because the aim of the game is to hit a winning combination, a stacked wild basically makes things easier because they cover more of the board.

For example, if you had two cherries on the bottom rows of reels 2 and 3 and two oranges on the same reels in the middle row, you’d have a chance of banking a double win. If a standard wild rolled in and stopped at the bottom row of reel 3, you’d pick up a cherry win. But, if it was a stacked wild that covered the middle and bottom rows, you’d receive a cherry and orange win. A great slot for stacked symbols is Playtech’s Thor as you can cover an entire reel with wilds.

Thor - Wild symbols


Sticky Wilds

Take a spin on South Park or Miss Kitty slots and you’ll find sticky wilds. What’s great about sticky slot symbols is that they allow you to win more than once. Put simply, when you roll in a sticky wild, it will do its usual job of substituting for anything else except for scatters. However, once the spin is over, the wild will remain (i.e. stick) in place.

South Park - Wild symbols

One of the main times you’ll see sticky wilds is during 'free' spins bonus rounds. Once the 'free' spins start, any wilds that appear will stick in place for the duration of the round. This is great because it often means you’ve got multiple wilds hovering in place as the reels turn. Naturally, when a sticky wild is present, you’re increasing your chances of a win because it gives you a second chance to make a combination.

Trailing Wilds

These wilds are often part of a bonus feature. The always popular Avalon II slot game is famous for its trailing wild feature. After you’d activated the bonus round and chosen your quest, the 'free' spins will start and that’s when the trailing symbols have a chance to do their thing. Like the other wilds we’ve described, the name pretty much says it all i.e. whenever a trailing wild rolls in, it will leave a trail in its wake.

Avalon II - Wild symbols

For example, if one of these symbols appears on the top row of reel 1, it will then trickle down to the middle row and, potentially, the bottom row. Basically, if there is space underneath a trailing wild, it will fill it.

Expanding Wilds

The final type of wild slot symbol you’re likely to encounter at our recommended online casinos all have the ability to expand and cover one or more reels. The reason these wilds are different to stacked symbols (which can also cover an entire reel) is that you only need one of them. A case in point is Microgaming’s The Dark Knight Rises slot. When you spin in a single wild on reel 3, it will expand cover the entire reel. This, in turn, gives you many more ways to bank a win.

The Dark Knight Rises - Wild symbols

What Are Scatter Symbols?

If you remember, we mentioned a second type of special symbol that goes alongside wilds. Known as scatters, these symbols are important because they unlock bonuses. Depending on the slot you play, the number of scatters required to unlock a bonus will differ. In most cases, three is the minimum amount required. What’s also great about scatters is that they payout instant prizes. So, before your 'free' spins or bonus game starts, you’ll receive a payout that’s usually a multiple of your overall stake (not just your line bet).

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Wild Facts

By now you should be fairly confident about wilds. Although the industry’s top developers have found new and exciting ways to make these symbols more lucrative, the fundamentals haven’t changed. Indeed, if you can remember that wilds substitute for any other symbol (expect scatters) and unlock jackpots, you’ll be able to adapt to any situation.

So, if all that’s clear, we’ve going to leave you with a few interesting facts about wilds:

  • Although wild symbols are an important part of modern video slots, they were actually introduced back in the 1900s. In a bid to improve on Charles Fey’s original slot game, Liberty Bell, manufacturers of one-armed bandits introduced wild symbols. A typical winning combination back then would have looked something like this: Wild-7-7.
  • NetEnt’s Excalibur slot game features a Golden Wild which allows you to multiply your best win up to four times. The inspiration for this game came from Las Vegas and one of the biggest live slot wins in history. Back in 2003, a Vegas visitor decided to spend his last few dollars in the Excalibur casino. Taking a spin on the Megabucks slot game, the player rolled in the jackpot combination worth $39.7 million (£28.9 million in today’s money). Since then, Excalibur has become synonymous with big money slots.
  • Did you know that some slots are base almost entirely on wilds? Owing to the versatility and popularity of wilds, you can now find spinners that use them as the main feature of a game. Some of the most impressive examples are: 7s Wild, Sphinx Wild and Jungle Wild.

If you’re looking for a way to win with wilds, make sure you check out guides to the best casino slot machines.


How do I actually get the welcome bonus?

Welcome bonuses will be automatically credited to your account after you’ve signed up and/or made a deposit. Some UK casinos ask that you use a promo code/bonus code during the deposit process.

How to play for free?

Making a deposit isn’t compulsory and virtually all of the best UK online casinos will offer free place games. When you scroll through a gaming lobby, you’ll see two buttons connected to each game. One button will take you to a real money game, the other will be labelled as “free play”, “fun” or “practice” and give you full functionality but without the cost.

Can you keep winnings from free spins?

Yes you can. However, it’s important to note that the amount you can win will often be capped and anything you do win will be subject to the site’s standard wagering requirements.

Are there apps for mobile?

Yes. Although some online casinos use a mobile website, there are others that allow you to play games via your mobile or tablet using native apps. To see which casinos have their own mobile apps, you can read our expert reviews or visit you native app store for iOS, Android, Blackberry or Windows Phone.

What devices can I play on?

Thanks to modern iGaming technology, you can now play on all internet-enabled devices. PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone devices are all compatible. Moreover, thanks to Omni-channel technology, you can use the same account (with a single operator) across a range of devices.

What is the minimum deposit?

The minimum deposit at most UK online casino sites is £10 although some places will offer slightly lower (£5) or higher (£20) limits.

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