Slots Online Canada Home PageUnderstand Slots Variance

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Author Gayle Mitchell

Volatility & Variance in Online Slots

Published Date Updated

Author Gayle Mitchell

What you fill find on this page

What you will find on this page

When you play slots at online casinos, you will often choose between slots that offer low, medium and high variance. Simply put, the slot's variance relates to whether there is a high or low risk associated with it.

To give yourself the best chance of walking away from an online slots machine as a winner, it makes a lot of sense to try and figure out the variance of the slot machine you are playing. But it's only the first step in understanding how slot games work. In this guide, we'll try to explain the difference between low-variance and high-variance slots so that you can enjoy an improved gaming experience.

Casinos offering a good choice of High and Low Variance Slots

Online Slots with great Variances

Slot Volatility and Variance

Volatility and variance are two terms used synonymously in the gambling industry. Both provide players with information regarding the risk factor in slots, giving them a general idea of what they should expect when it comes to winning combinations and potential winnings.

However, there are tiny differences between the two that require clarifying before we get to the bottom of the 'low volatility vs. high volatility' dispute:

  • Variance: - Term refers to how the slot game distributes winning combinations in the long term. In other words, it explains how much money you can win in the long run.
  • Volatility: - Refers more to the gameplay and can be described as the risk involved in the short term. Volatility tells casino players how frequent and how big the winnings are.

Generally speaking, high-variance games have higher jackpots but are also much riskier. Low-variance games offer lower payouts, but you are more likely to win more money in the long run. This ties variance with RTP, which we'll explain in a minute.

Now, if we used the term volatility instead of variance, you could read it as such. High volatility slots mean less frequent wins but higher jackpots, whereas low volatility games refer to more frequent winnings with lower payouts.

The principle remains the same - high volatility/variance games involve more risk but offer higher payouts. Low volatility/variance slots mean something opposite.

Return to Player (RTP)

Even if you're new to gambling, you must've heard about the famous RTP (return to player). The only question is: do you understand what it means? In short, RTP is a percentage value that shows you how much you can expect to get back from the total number of your bets in the long run (that's what connects it with variance).

Regarding volatility and RTP, you should know that these are two completely different metrics. Volatility can tell you the risk involved and how much you can win in a short period. On the other hand, as we've already explained, RTP refers to the amount you get back from your total bet size in the long term. And by a long run, we mean more than a few hundred spins.

As for calculating Return to Player, there's no higher mathematics involved in the process. Let's say you bet $1,000 on the slot game with an RTP of 96%. In the long run, you can expect $960 to return to your pocket. The remaining $40 is the casino's share.

RTP will help you decide which slot game to play, while volatility will aid you in managing your bankroll for each session. In general, if you don't want to risk too much and guarantee yourself frequent payouts, playing slot machines with higher RTP and low variance is your best call.

Low Variance Slots

Statistically, if you're playing a low-variance slot with a $100 bankroll over 240 minutes, you will have a smooth ride. Every once in a while you will win some money, but your bankroll will decrease very slowly. Big wins aren't impossible, but it is a statistical outlier. On average, these types of games can be played for a more extended period, but your chances of winning are lower as well. Hence why low-variance slots are preferred for wagering casino bonuses. See our list of best low to medium-variance slots.

Medium Variance Slots

Medium variance slot machines are the most balanced, and therefore most popular among both players and online casino sites. They don't involve as much risk as high volatility slots, and you can expect relatively frequent smaller payouts, and if you're willing to take more risk, have a shot at winning the jackpot. In other words, medium volatility slot games pay well while still giving a casino a more significant edge over a player.

High Variance Slots

The fluctuations on a $100 bankroll over 60 minutes on a high-variance game on the other hand are more volatile and unpredictable. You may initially start with a series of losses followed by big wins. Over a longer period, the casino will always have the edge, but you have a more substantial chance for a high win if you are seeking to maximize a shorter playing time. See our list of best high-variance slots.

Can you determine the Variance of a Slot Machine?

Online Slot Paytable
Typical Online Slots Paytable

In the majority of cases, most casinos don't promote the varying levels of their machines openly, and to determine the variance of a specific slot, the player should take a look at the slots paytable.

Here is how:

  • Ratio of wins - when looking at the paytable, it is important to note the ratio of wins to the various combinations.
  • Level of payouts - Try to determine the payouts for getting 3 or 4 of the same icon in a winning combination, and then compare this to the amount you would receive for getting a 5 icon combination.
  • Larger difference - if the amount you would receive for a 5 icon combination is around 10 times more than you would expect for a 3 or 4 icon combination, chances are you are playing a slot with a high variance.
  • Smaller difference - for low variance slot machines, there is usually a smaller difference between 3 and 4 icon wins, and 5 icon wins.

Factors That Affect Slot Variance

Gone are the days when all you had to do to play a slot machine was spin the reels and wait for the same symbols to align in the winning combination. Nowadays, slots, especially online slots, come with many features that impact not only the overall gaming experience but also variance.

Most slot machines out there utilize things like bonus rounds, free spins, or scatter and wild symbols. There are also progressive jackpots and fixed jackpots. And let's not forget that every slot game has a different number of reels and paylines. All of these features have a massive impact on the risk involved, affecting how you play the game.

Let's cover how exactly each additional feature affect variance in slot games:

Pay Tables

Each slot game comes with a different paytable. Pay tables show players how many winning combinations are in the game and how much they can win for each. Now, when it comes to determining variance, if high-paying spins are rare, it means you are dealing with a high-variance game. On the other hand, if payouts are spread more evenly, the slot has low variance.

Bonus Features

Many players believe that the more bonuses the game has to offer, the better. That's not necessarily the truth. While things like free spins, multipliers, bonus rounds do boost your payback, allowing you to mean astronomical sums, it also means the variance is higher as you're less likely to win more without triggering those bonus features. You should prepare yourself for longer pauses between higher wins, which can drain your bankroll.

Bet Size

By adjusting your wager size, you can lower or increase the variance of online slots. If you put your bankroll at risk by betting higher, you're automatically raising the variance, as you're increasing not only the potential jackpot but also the sum you can lose. Also, pay attention to wagering requirements. High-volatility slot games have higher minimum wagers than low-volatility slots.

Does playing a Demo Version help to Determine Slot Variance?

Most online casinos give you the chance to play their slots for free. Of course, it means you won't be able to win anything, but this is a great way of getting a 'feel' of how the slot machine works. You'll be able to understand the rules, determine variance, or study the paytable more thoroughly before playing for real money.

Generally speaking, playing slots for free is a great idea for any beginner. Here is why:

  • It is also a good way of determining if the slot machine you are playing has a high or low variance, without the risk of losing any real money.
  • The great thing about using this method is that the slots play in the same way in demo mode as in the paid versions of the game.
  • After playing a slot in demo mode for a little while, you should take note of your virtual funds. If you used up all of your funds in a short time, or you hit a big win but lost on nearly every other spin, chances are, it is a slot with a high variance.
  • If, however, you have kept most of your money, and you have won smaller amounts on several occasions, you are probably playing a slot with low variance.

Which variance of slots should you play? Are you more suited to Low or High Variance Slots?

Many players new to casino games don't care whether they play high or low-variance games. They're too excited to check such things. This, though, can lead to a massive disappointment. As a rule of thumb, it's always a good idea to check slot volatility and variance. It will help you decide which slots to play and what to expect. Let's take a look at factors to consider when deciding between high variance, medium variance, and low variance slots:

  • The amount of money you have at your disposal will determine whether you should play high or low-variance slots as explained below.
  • The time you have to play each slot machine will go a long way to determining whether you should opt for a low or high-variance slot machine.
  • If you have enough funds to cover lots of losses, then a high-variance machine is more suitable for you.
  • If you have the money to wait for the machine to pay out a big jackpot, it could very well be worth the wait in the long run.
  • If you have a smaller budget and plenty of time to spend on playing slots, a slot machine with a low variance will be better for you.

Key Takeaways

Understanding slot variance is key to understanding what to expect from the slot game you want to play. It tells players the fluctuations between wins and losses in the long run, allowing them to calculate the risk involved and create the right bankroll and gameplay strategy.

In general, high-variance slots come with higher jackpots, less frequent payouts, and more bonus features. Wagering requirements are also usually higher. The same goes for risk. In other words, high-variance slot games are perfect for high rollers who have a lot of money to play with.

In contrast, a low variance slot pays more frequently, but the prizes aren't as significant. They are also less risky, with the minimum bet size being relatively low as well. That's why low variance slots are usually played by players with a smaller bankroll.

And which slot machine is the best choice for you? That you must decide on yourself. Hopefully, this guide has at least allayed all your doubts concerning low variance and high variance slot machines. And if you still have any doubts regarding online casino slot games, be sure to read more guides you can find on our site.

Senior Editor Gayle Mitchell

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Gayle Mitchell is the leading female expert on casino gambling and has written extensively, presented seminars and was editor of four gaming newsletters. She is the author of seven books, 12 Ebooks, and five Tips booklets. Online since 1999, Mitchell has owned and operated 4 gaming websites. Her writing and teaching style is targeted at educating novice and passionate casino players.

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