Slot Variance

Volatility (also called variance) is a measure of how often a slot is likely to hit a winning combination and consequently, its average payout size.

Slot volatility (also called slot variance) is a measure of how often a slot is likely to hit a winning combination and, consequently, its average payout size.

VarianceWin FrequencyWin SizesDescription
HighRareBighigh risk, high reward
MediumAverageAverageaverage risk, average reward
LowOftenSmalllow risk, low reward
Key differences between low, medium, and high volatility slots.

What Is Slot Volatility?

Slot volatility is the risk factor associated with slot games. It represents how often and how much you can expect to win. Volatility is a factor that determines your winnings in the short term. It is aligned with the return-to-player rate (RTP), which calculates the percentage of total bets paid back to players in a long-term period.

High volatility games feature less frequent winning combinations but higher prize money. Likewise, games that give regular small wins with fewer pay lines are referred to as low volatility games. Whether land-cased or online, volatility determines the odds of getting a jackpot, the prize money, and all the risks involved in the game.

Although it's an essential factor to consider when playing slot games, slot volatility disclosure is not required nor always publicly available. At most, some casinos display a volatility rating of 1-5. When picking 3-star volatility, you'll probably play a game of medium to medium-high risks.

However, playing a few games will pretty much show a game's volatility. Another option is to check the paytable. Slots that promise massive amounts of prizes will most likely be a high variance game because they certainly won't award that amount every few spins. 

Regardless of slot volatility or slot variance, choosing a slot game still depends on a player's personal choice and the amount of money he can spend.

Volatility vs Variance

Volatility and variance are synonymous terms used by seasoned casino players but have different meanings in the outside world. Volatility is often used in finance when discussing stock risks and options, while variance is a term used by poker players and, very recently, slot games.

Both technical terms refer to the risk factor in slot games and give players an idea of what to expect in terms of prize money and winning combinations while playing. It is the frequency and amount of winnings and the risks involved when playing this game.

The only slight difference between volatility and variance is that variance refers to the game distribution of winning combinations in the long term. In contrast, volatility is the risks involved while playing in a short time. High volatility games can mean winning a jackpot in the long term or risking your entire capital in the short term.

Volatility vs RTP

Volatility and return-to-player (RTP) are two very different metrics, but both affect the game's quality and the player experience. Volatility refers to the risk factors involved in the game and the number of winnings that a player can get in the short term, while RPT is a percentage value that refers to the total amount of bets that are returned to players in the form of winnings over a long term period.

While volatility describes the risks of losing your money, it also determines the amount of money you can eventually win. It can be frequent small wins or a "once-in-a-hundred-spins" big money.

On the other hand, RTP is a predetermined value set by the gaming operators guaranteeing a percentage of all bets to be awarded back to the players. Regardless if a slot game is programmed to give frequent small wins, or few large combinations, in the end, it will still return 93-98% of the total bets to the player.

how to calculate RTP in slots
Wondering how to calculate RTP in slots? Just subtract the house edge!

Volatility vs Risk

Volatility determines the risk, or in other words, how much money you win and how often you win it. For you to know a game's volatility, try to play a few times. You can also check other game features to assess risk factors. Games with more bonus features tend to have high volatility.

Consider this:

A bonus feature that shows up once in every 500,000 spins would most likely be awarded a more substantial amount compared to a winning line that comes up once in every 50 spins. The same way that a scatter or free spin can show up only once every 1,000 spins, but one hit can get you back almost half of your initial investment.

What Slot Volatility Level Is Right for Me?

Depending on the kind of player that you are, you can choose which level of excitement you want in the games you play. If you have a larger bankroll, a high volatility game will give you better odds even though it only shows up once in a hundred spins.

However, if you have a lower bankroll and too much time to spare, a low volatility game is best. You can use the small wins to continue playing for a few hours.

While many prefer high-volatility games because it pretty much guarantees a big cashout in the long term, there is also the risk of going home with nothing at the end of the day.

With low-volatility slots, you can spin more with the limited amount of cash you have on hand. It is always best to play a few spins, mix and match between low to high volatility slots, and try to figure out which one is best for you.

There are also the mid-volatility slots that offer a decent risk-vs-reward ratio. You can win big at online slots with these variance rates than in games with low volatility.

Volatility LevelOnly Play If Are
High- A High-Roller
- Have a big capital to spend
- Not averse to risks
- Patient enough to wait for the jackpot
Medium-High- A High roller that enjoys frequent small wins
- The type of player that wants to alternate between big and small bets while playing
- Willing to take a risk for a chance to win the jackpot
Medium- Willing to take small risks
- Have a small to substantial capital to use
- Enjoy winning smaller amounts
- Want to take a shot at the jackpot
Medium-Low- A slightly conservative player
- Have a limited amount of capital
- Likes small easy wins
Low- A conservative gambler
- Enjoy the game more than the prizes at stake
- Have a limited bankroll to use and more time to play
- A fan of quick and easy wins.
Guidelines on what volatility levels are right for you, as a slot player.

Levels of Slot Variance

There are three primary slot variance levels: high variance, medium variance, and low variance. The same risks apply for both land-based and online casino games. Most players stick to a particular slot game that they are fond of, and the volatility of the games you play describes what you are - either a risk-taker or a slowly-but-surely type of player.

For seasoned casino players, slot variance comes in five levels. Read each one to find out which level is right for you.

High-Variance Slots

High-variance slot games are the riskiest but promise the biggest payouts. This type of variance is not fit for players with low capital or those that are not inherent risk-takers. Slot games programmed with high variance levels don't show winning combinations regularly, but it is usually huge like lottery games when they do. You need to have a significant capital for these types of games and expect to spin many times before eventually hitting a winning combination.

High-variance slots are perfect for players with a bigger bankroll and those who are not afraid of risks. These players tend to bet large amounts per spin and wait patiently for the infrequent big wins.

Here are some high-variance games to look out for:

  • Bonanza (Big Time Gaming)  - This game is top-rated, specifically the bonus round where you need to get G O L D's letters to trigger. The bonus game showcases 117,649 winning combinations and features free spins, re-spins, and bonus rounds. The multiplier value increases by one after every consecutive win. There is no limit to the multipliers, which means a massive payout when the bonus round is triggered.
  • 300 Shields (NextGen)  - 300 shields come with 300x multipliers in the free spins bonus and add up to the 1000x mark. For the multipliers to be active, you need to get a wild card in the pay line. Once you get that wild card, any five symbols plus the wild card can get you a huge win.
  • Book of Dead (Play'n GO)  - this game comes with a free spin bonus, scatters, wilds, and expanding symbols. The maximum payout for the bonus round in this game can go up to 50,000x your bet.

Medium-High Variance Slots

Slot machines with medium-high variance are closer to the high volatility group regarding the frequency of winning combinations and the payout value. Like high variance slot volatility, this level targets high rollers who have more money to risk and enjoy some small wins.

Some examples of medium-high variance games like the examples below offer significant bonus features once triggered:

  • Jack's and the Beanstalk (NetEnt)  - This game features five reels, three rows, and 20 pay lines. It allows players to choose how many coins they can bet on every pay line on each spin and have a chance to grab the elusive 60,000 coin jackpot.
  • The Wish Master (NetEnt)  - The wish master slot has three lines, five reels, and 20 pay lines. It is considered medium-high because the bet amount can be changed from 0.01 to 0.50 per pay line, thus allowing serious gamers to win an amount that corresponds to their bet value. This game does not have a progressive jackpot but showcases free spin features, auto-play, scatter, wild symbols, and a bonus game.

Medium-Variance Slots

Medium variance slots are the sweet spot in between high variance and low variance slot games. Players who enjoy this type of slot volatility are not averse to small risks but are unwilling to waste away a huge bankroll too fast.

Games in this category are characterized by frequent small wins and some mid-sized winning combinations throughout the game. Some examples of medium variance games are listed below:

  • Untamed Giant Panda (Microgaming)  - The lovable giant panda in this game features 243 ways to win and includes exceptional features like free spins, collect-a-wild, and lucky nudges. Players can also multiply their winnings by up to twenty-fold in the gamble game.
  • Flame Busters (Thunderkick)  - Fight the flames in this game to win the jackpot prize. Three or more scatters trigger the alarm bell. Once activated, you can get 10, 15, or 20 free spins. If you get the scatter symbol on the free spin, you'll get a chance to fight the flame and win big. 
  • Koi Princess (NetEnt)  - This game has four random and four bonus features and allows you to win up to 1,000x the value of your bet. It pays out many small winning combinations that you can use to pad your bankroll while waiting to hit the bonus features.

Medium-Low Variance Slots

Medium-low variance slots have more frequent payouts than regular medium variance slots, but the big winning combinations are less often. They have a higher hit frequency that equates to lesser risk than those in the medium variance level.

A medium-low volatility slot displays more frequent payouts than a classic medium volatility slot game, but winnings pay lines are a little further in between. Medium-low slots are programmed to pay more small wins and equate to lower risk. Below are some examples of medium-low variance slot games.

  • Thunderstruck II (Microgaming)  - Features 243 pay lines with a maximum win of 6,000 coins awarded in the game's free spins, bonus games, and win multipliers. This game is considered low to medium volatility because getting three or more hammers to trigger the Great Hall of spins bonus. Once activated, players can choose between one of these four bonus features - 10 spins with 5x multipliers, 15 wins with the wild magic feature, 20 spins with the wild raven feature, or 25 spins with the rolling reels feature.
  • Incinerator (Yggdrasil)  - Considered a medium-low volatility game, Incinerator allows you to get frequent small wins that can potentially grow big with a chain of winning combinations. It doesn't have a bonus game but features a lot of wild reels.
  • BerryBurst (NetEnt)  - Berryburst is a 5-reel, 3-row slot game that features wild substitution, expanding wilds, bonus games, and respins. This game does not come with a pay line. Instead, players need to land five or more symbols together in a cluster. The raspberry has a payout of 500x the value of your chosen bet.

Low-Variance Slots

Low variance slots award smaller but more frequent payouts. Winning combinations can show up after every few spins, and it can give you a small amount to add to your bankroll. Typical players of these types of slot games are newbie casino players who enjoy the game more than the risks involved. A few dollars of capital can let you play for a few hours at a time.

Popular low variance games are available in almost any land-based or online casinos. Among them are the games below:

  • Sunny Shores (Yggdrasil)  - The main symbol to look out for in this game is the Sunny Wild symbol. It awards frequent small wins but also features a larger bonus prize. This 5-reel game boasts 27 pay lines with quite a few win multipliers, expanding wilds, wild respins, and sticky wild respins.
  • Hit in Vegas (Microgaming)  - This game set takes you to a Vegas setting with its five reels and 40 pay lines. It gives out generous bonuses and frequent free spins.
  • Starburst (NetEnt)  - Starburst features a simple display of reels and symbols that often pay out small amounts. Although it doesn't have a jackpot feature, it has a respin function when you get a few wilds. It is one of the most popular low volatility slot games available in the market today.
slot variance
Slot volatility (also called variance) is a measure of how often a slot is likely to hit a winning combination and consequently, its average payout size.

How Is Slot Volatility Calculated?

There is no clear cut way to determine slot volatility because it differs depending on the paytable compounded by the number of pay lines. To give you an example, let's try to calculate slot volatility for a single line. To simulate one credit per line, you will need the following information:

CI = bet per line (games x lines)
CO = total win per spin
SW = Squared total of each game. For every spin, calculate the total win and then multiply it by four.

And the slot variance formula is:

Variance = (SW - CO^2/CI)/CI
Standard Deviation = (Variance)^.5


Supposing that your bet per line is 20 coins played in 4 games, the total win is 160 coins. We can then calculate it as:

CI = (20 x 4) = 80
CO = 160
SW = 20^2 + 100^2 + 0^2 + 40^2 = 14,000
Slot Volatility = (14000-160^2/80) / 80
Standard Deviation = Variance^0.5

In simpler terms, slots are classified as:

  • high-variance if the payout ratio is higher than x10,000 of your bet value
  • medium-variance if the payout ratio is between x5,000 and x10,000 your bet value, and
  • low-variance if the payout ratio is lower than x5,000 the amount of your bet per spin.

Gosh, that was a mathematical mouthful!

What Affects Variance in Online Slots

A slot machine has many exciting features. Depending on the games you play, a device has features like scatter or free spins. There are also progressive and fixed jackpots, as well as bonuses for specific pay lines. These additional features give a certain amount of risk in how you play the game.

Bonus features give more fun and excitement to slot games. However, they also add volatility to the game and higher risk to the players. Low variance games can provide a player with the impression that he is winning a lot, but in reality, his starting capital is still the same after many hours of play.

On the other hand, high variance games require patience and higher capital, but one jackpot is all you need. Many factors affect slot variance. We'll take a look at each one.

Pay Tables

The first thing you need to do when checking a game's volatility is to inspect the paytable. Each winning combination corresponds to a specific winning value, which may or may not be dynamic depending on your bets' value. Usually, slots with lesser payout value have a higher frequency of winning combinations, while higher payouts would mean very few and far between winning combinations.

Bonuses and Extras

Players love bonus games, and this feature adds excitement and thrill to the game because of its randomness. Bonus games, free spins, respins, scatter, and wildcards are some of the bonus features you can expect in slot games. Bonuses are featured in varying frequencies, and the more bonus features included, the lower hit frequency you can expect.

The amount of prizes in the bonus games also determines how often it gets triggered. If the free spin feature comes up once every three spins, expect the winning value to be less than activated once every 20 spins.

Bet Size

Bet size is an essential factor in any game. The amount of the winnings in any combination and the bonus game prizes depends on the initial value of the bet you placed in every spin. High variance games will have a higher bet minimum that low variance games.

Slot Variance - FAQ

Slot Variance, also known as slot volatility, is a technical term that can be a little confusing for non-professional casino players. Some players look at RTP to wisely determine how much value they can expect to win in slot games. However, slot volatility is also something to consider as it affects the player experience in the short term.

To understand slot volatility better, let's try to answer some of your frequently asked questions.

What is volatility in online slots?

Slot volatility refers to the frequency of wins and the winning value per spin over a short period. If a slot pays frequent small wins, it is called low volatility. If a slot pays large, infrequent wins, it is called high volatility. Slots that have regular small wins with the occasional big wins are in the medium volatility category.
For seasoned players, volatility is broken down into five levels, namely: High Variance, Medium-High variance, Medium Variance, Medium-Low Variance, and Low variance. Each level is fit for specific players, depending on the amount of risk they are willing to take during their game playing.

Do high-volatility slots pay more?

At identical RTP, the high-volatility slot will pay bigger payouts but much less often. Although a low volatility game will give the impression that a player wins more, it will average out in the long term because a high volatility slot will pay more once the bonus feature is triggered.
High Volatility slot games tend to have bonus games, x2 gamble features, free spins, respins, and scatter games. Although the extra features are triggered in lesser frequency, the win's value will always be more significant than the bet amount.

Do low-volatility slots payout less?

At identical RTP, a low-volatility slot will pay small payouts but way more frequently. Because a low volatility slot game may lack bonus features, it will make up the RTP with small, frequent wins.
Low Volatility games will award small winning amounts in higher frequency. Although the prize amount will not be substantial, it can still pad your bankroll and allow you to play over a more extended period.

How to find the volatility of a slot game?

To determine a game's volatility, a player needs to take a closer look at the paytable, bonus features, and minimum bet value. High volatility games will have a higher minimum bet amount and a higher paytable in most cases. It will also have bonus features like free spins, bonus games, scatter, or x2 gamble games. In contrast, a low volatility game will lack some extra features and lower minimum bet value.

What slots have the most balanced risk-to-payout ratio?

Medium-volatility slots are the sweet spot between high volatility and low volatility games. These games will allow you frequent small wins, but you will also get the chance to trigger the occasional bonus rounds to win combinations without putting in a bet value. 
Slot games classified with medium volatility have lesser minimum bet value than high volatility games and have bonus games and additional features like free spins. In this category, winnings can be multiplied from x5,000 to x10,000 of the original bet value.

How much money can you win by playing on high variance slots?

High Variance slots allow you to win as much as x10,000, the amount of your initial bet. Depending on your bet value, the bonus rounds can multiply your money until you hit the predetermined marker. Multipliers are scattered throughout the game in bonus games, x2 gamble games, free spins, re-spins, scatters, and wild cards.

Is a slot's RTP more important than its variance?

RTP and variance are two interlinked but highly differing metrics when it comes to slot games. Return-to-Player or RTP determines how much of the total player bets are returned to the player in the long term, while slot variance looks at the frequency and value with which winning combinations are awarded.
To put it simply, low variance and a high variance game can have an identical 97% RTP percentage. The difference will be how often and how much the RTP value comes up or is divided into the spins in the long term.

Understanding slot volatility, like Return-to-Player or RTP, gives players an edge when it comes to playing their favorite slot games and getting the best value for the money that they play. Your favorite slot games will help you determine what kind of slot player you are, in the sense that you would realize if you are a risk-taker or a conservative gambler.

The volatility level you prefer depends on your style and gaming preference. Ultimately, it depends on the amount of risk that you can handle. With high volatility games, greater risk comes with the possibility of a more significant win. However, if you are playing for fun or spare time, then a low volatility game will be perfect for you.