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Slot variance and volatility guide

Published by Niki | March 31, 2019 | Last updated: April 26, 2023

The complete guide to online slot variance and volatility

When dealing with the subject of slot volatility, also known as variance, we are getting into the technical aspects of slot gaming, where mathematics is the dominant factor. Whether you like it or not, online slots are controlled by ‘random number generators’ which means that wins can never ever really be predicted.

Slot gameplay is purely based on luck, but a bit of knowledge around the programming of specific titles will arm us with some tools for understanding the title we are about to play. That's why we at CasinoWow wrote detailed content to inform you in deep.

Machines are however programmed to operate in various ways and while the overall payout of a game may not be affected, there is a swing in the nature of the game as you play it. This ‘ebb and flow’ is called ‘variance’ or ‘volatility’.

Slot Variance and Volatility Guide

When you know what the variance of a game is, you will understand a little more how easy it will be for you to move away from the house edge.

How does understanding slot variance help me?

When studying the volatility of a game, without realising it, we are trying to determine the maths behind the programming. It is not necessary to get into complicated formulas in this guide, as others have done the ‘grunt work’ of establishing the variance of games for us. We just need to have a look at the game info or read a good review on any particular title to get an idea of the game swing and volatility.

If you know what the game variance is before playing, you can strategize on your betting style to ensure that you don’t go broke too quickly. The slot variance will basically tell you how the machine will treat you so that you know how to treat it.

Return to player statistics

The return to player percentage and the house edge is basically the flip sides of the same coin. If the return to player is 96%, it means that the ‘house edge' is 4%. The RTP is determined over the lifespan of the game, which includes millions of spins, so the big number should not deceive you.

Always remember that the moment you log in at an online casino, you are already behind. The house edge, however, pays out in their favour on every spin. The casino will bank an average of 4% on this slot for every spin made. Where you have made a win, just realise that someone else out there has made a loss.

Slot variance doesn’t tamper with the payouts though. It just teaches us how the payouts will come. For instance, will they land frequently in smaller amounts, or will they land less frequently, but with the chance of higher returns?

Levels of variance

When gambling hard-earned cash, any bit of information is welcomed to push you further ahead. Understanding the level of volatility on a game is this ‘foot up’ that you need. It most certainly cannot guarantee that you will master any game, but can surely teach you how to control your playing style to get the best that you can out of the game.

There are three primary levels of variance determined in the marketplace. These three distinguishing groups are low variance slots, medium variance slots, and high variance slots. There are blended classifications too, such as low/medium variance or medium/high variance, but for the sake of simplicity, let us take a look at the 3 primary categories.

Low variance

These styles of slots also carry a lower risk than other slots and are designed for players who want to endure a longer playing session. The payouts come far more frequently, but the amounts won are far lower than high variance games. This will, however, keep your bankroll fairly balanced for long periods, meaning that you could enjoy the entertainment for hours without losing it all.

You can take a look at games like Mega Moolah, to find a very good example of this type of title.

Distinguishing whether a game is low variance slot or not can be done in the following ways:

  • Take a look at the paytable. The overall combination wins are not very large. Often lower wins will not even cover the bet you played to win them.
  • The Jackpots are somewhat modest. A jackpot on this type of game will rarely pay over 50x your line bet.
  • The most full-proof way of learning whether the title you are playing is in fact of low variance or not is by tracking the pattern of payout over the course of 500 to 1000 spins. Has your bankroll changed significantly over this time? If not, then the game is most likely a low risk or low volatility offering.

This type of game can prove advantageous to a player who wants to get the best out of his/her bonus, as you normally have to spin the reels a set number of times before you can cash out on bonuses. Low variance games will help you chew through the spins with minimal damage.

Medium variance

The medium variance slots category finds the finer balance between low and high payouts, as well as low and high hit ratios. Naturally, the risk is higher than that of low variance offerings, but then the rewards are better too, as this type of game will offer a number of low payouts coupled with a good number of high payouts as well. They are also tempered enough not to give you any unpleasant surprises while playing them.

Most slots bear this type of variance, and although the swing in gameplay is far less volatile than that of high variance offerings, you will still need to be realistic and realise that there is always an element of risk when playing online slots. More often than not, the casino will win.

If you are averse to losing money and just want to have fun, it is probably more advisable to spend your money on lower risk slots.

Slot Variance and Volatility Guide

High variance

Now, finally for the other end of the volatile game ‘pool’. Here you may need to be a risk-taker with nerves of steel. In the industry, high variance slots are known as ‘streaky’ and I guess that is because you will endure streaks of losses and then if you have any money left, streaks of wins.

The swing from loss to win may be a long one. If you have the bankroll and the patience, you can, however, win big on these types of slots. The typical play pattern in this type of slot is infrequent wins, but when they land, they land decently.

These games will often form large payouts by way of ‘Wild’ Multipliers to massively increase the wins on basic combinations. If you trigger the bonus features, you are sure to clean up, but these you will have to wait for. To get your teeth into this type of game, you can try titles such as Rise of Merlin.

Below is a shortlist of tell-tale signs that you are engaging in a high volatility slot game.

  • High Variance games have a low hit frequency. Most high paying features carry a low hit frequency, so a good tell is the presence of multiplier symbols, and an overload of stacked or expanded ‘Wilds’ or ‘Wild Reels’. When struck these symbols are sure to pay out well, which is very unlike low variance games.
  • At face value, go into the paytable, and have a look at the lower payouts. If they are higher than normal and hold a decent win, the chances are good that the game is of high volatility and you won’t often encounter these wins.
  • Once again, the only sure-fire way of determining volatility is keeping a close watch on your bankroll over the course of 500 to 1000 spins. If there is a massive variance on your bankroll over that time, the chances are good that you are hooked into a ‘high variance’ slot game.

High variance games are well suited to ‘High Rollers’ and experienced slot players, who know how to temper their betting to follow the ‘mood’ of the swing.

Get more information about the best online slot games of each cathegory here:

In conclusion

Hopefully, the above information proves useful in your understanding of various slots gameplay. It is our wish to ensure that you are well equipped to handle the online slots arena, responsibly. The information herein is just another arrow in your quiver towards making the most of your time on the online gambling stage.

Remember, always gamble responsibly, and go into every game with a strategy and plan and come what may do not deviate from it.

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