My Guide on Variance in Slot Machines

If you’re unsure about what variance in slot machines is all about, this short guide will give you the information you need! (Image by Ays Be at unsplash.com)

Ever spun a slot machine for hundreds of spins but not triggered the main bonus feature? Maybe you burned through your bankroll so quickly at a reputable online casino that it didn’t feel normal? Or perhaps you keep collecting wins on every spin, but they are so minute that you’re wondering why you’re bothering? If you have experienced any of the above, you’re likely just on the receiving end of the variance in slot machines.

Variance (otherwise known as volatility) is one of the most important things a slots player should have an understanding of if they want to have a good time when playing. However, despite its importance, it’s surprising how many players have little idea of variance and how it can affect slot gameplay.

If you fall into that category, by reading this guide you will learn all you need to know while hopefully saving you some money the next time you play. Instead of choosing your slots based on how they look or the bonus features they have, you will start to factor in the variance a whole lot more. You will understand what variance is, how it can impact the gameplay you receive, and thus find the video slots that offer the sort of variance that you prefer.

The first thing to realise is that you should not confuse variance with the expected payout of a slot. While slot variance is heavily related to the ‘Risk’ taken per spin, it will not affect how much a slot is programmed to pay out over an extended period. We have reviewed a ton of video slots and if you have read them, you will see that most slots will have an RTP (return to player) percentage of between 93% and 98%. The variance of a slot does not impact that RTP a single iota.

What variance does do, is determine how that slot pays out. With this knowledge in hand, it can help you to establish your ideal bet per spin, the size of bankroll needed for a particular video slot, and how long it is likely to take before you have burned through that bankroll.

A Brief Explanation of Variance in Slot Machines

If you’ve played slots long enough, you have likely heard terms such as ‘low variance’ or high volatility’ whether from other players or in slot reviews. Essentially, variance is the average size and frequency of the payouts of a slot. A slot that is classed as low variance will pay out often but in smaller sums. Conversely, a highly volatile slot will rarely payout, but when it does, will pay out bigger sums. As you’re probably guessing, a medium slot is somewhere in the middle of the two.

  • Low Variance/Volatility: You win all the time but usually with small rewards.
  • Medium Variance/Volatility: You win a little less frequently but with bigger rewards.
  • High Variance/Volatility: It takes longer to record wins but there is a chance at landing monster wins.

This, of course, leads us to further questions. For one, you’re probably wondering which variance is best? Secondly, how to learn the variance of a slot in the first place? To answer the first question, it depends on the size of your bankroll and how brave you’re feeling. High rollers with deep pockets always go for high variance slots. If you’re trying to wager a small no deposit bonus, however, low variance slots usually work the best. As for the latter, you can often get a feel for the variance of a slot by having a quick look at the slots paytable. Plus, while not always the case, some iGaming developers make the variance of their slots known.

Determining the Variance of a Video Slot

Other than playing the slot and getting a feel for the variance, you can pick up telltale signs when looking at the paytable. If you notice that 5-symbol wins are as much as 10 times the size of 4-symbol wins, you’re most likely playing a high variance slot. If the gap is close to 3 times, you’re playing a slot closer to the low end of variance. 5 to 7 times would indicate a medium variance slot. While the paytable is sometimes a good indicator, you shouldn’t rely on it all the time. This is because there are other factors too. The number of symbols, paylines, and whether the slot has a jackpot also need consideration.

Your best bet is to read reviews (especially ours) written by experts that have played the slots and formed an opinion of the variance. Our reviewers always play each slot extensively before giving their views. To give you a head start, we have listed a few slots in each of the high, medium, and low variance categories!

What about variance on jackpot slots? See our guide to progressive jackpot slot variance here. It explains why it so difficult to run through your variance and land a life-changing win. I mean, if it was that easy to win 4-, 5-, 6- or 7-figure wins, then we’d all be playing jackpot slots instead of working!

High Variance Slots

In my opinion, the three slots below are among the best high variance slots at the casinos right now. Sure, you’ll find tons of other top slots, but start with these and you’ll have no complaints. Just start with low wagers at first until you get a feel for the slot. As you understand the slot and its features more, you can slowly increase your stakes. However, the idea with high variance slots is to have a long session as the big payouts are few and far between.

Money Train 2 (Relax Gaming)

Money Train 2 (Relax Gaming)

This is a relatively new title, but one of the best to play right now. The Relax Gaming title took down the Slot of the Year Award at the 2021 CasinoBeats Game Developer Awards and could land you a top 50,000x payout! A sequel to the firm’s flagship title, Money Train, this slot offers high variance action across 5-reels, 4-rows and 40 paylines. The entertaining respins feature will keep your balance ticking over, but it is the main Money Cart free spins feature, where every symbol has a special function, that will unlock the bigger prizes. This slot has an RTP of 96.4%.

Immortal Romance (Microgaming)

Immortal Romance (Microgaming)

An older slot, but a classic in the eyes of most high variance lovers! Launched in 2011, it still attracts a ton of players looking to get some volatile luck. This has a 96.86% RTP and a top prize of 12,150x your stake. Immortal Romance is one of the earliest slots to use the exciting 243 ways-to-win game mechanic. It comes packed with lucrative features, but to get the best payout, you will need to trigger the Troy feature that offers multipliers of up to 6x. other features include Rolling Reels, the Wild Devine feature, multipliers, Wild Vines, and the Chamber of Spins.

Book of Dead (Play’n GO)

Book of Dead (Play'n GO)

One of the most popular slots of all time, Book of Dead is guaranteed to give you a highly volatile experience. It carries a 96.21% RTP and could land you a payout worth 250,000 coins! As with most high variance slots, it is the bonus feature you need to trigger. This happens rarely, but when it does, you’ll fill your pockets. This slot is so popular that online casinos that it is often used as part of welcome bonuses or no deposit bonuses to attract players. So many casinos hand out no deposit free spins on this slot, as they know people will snap them up!

Medium Variance Slots

If you wanted something that offers a good balance of payout sizes and the rate at which these payouts come, medium slots is the way to go. These can offer some good single payout returns, just not on the same scale as high variance slots. You can start to bet a bit more per spin, depending on the size of your bank, of course.

Gonzo’s Quest (NetEnt)

Gonzo's Quest (NetEnt)

NetEnt features a lot on this list, and that just goes to show how good this developer is at creating enjoyable slots across a wide range of variances. Gonzo’s Quest is another legendary slot, one that has spawned two sequels in Gonzo’s Quest Megaways and Gonzo’s Gold, and even the live game show Gonzo’s Treasure Hunt. This is a 20-payline slot that carries a 95.79% RTP and a top prize of 2,500x your stake.

Wolf Gold (Pragmatic Play)

Wolf Gold (Pragmatic Play)

Another slot considered middle of the road in terms of volatility is Pragmatic Play’s Wolf Gold. Offering a 96.01% RTP, this is a 25 payline slot that could land a top payout of 5000 coins. Along the way, you will benefit from features including stacked wilds, money respins, and blazing reels. Plus, the game has 3 local jackpots that you stand a chance of scooping!

The Goonies Return (Blueprint Gaming)

The Goonies Return (Blueprint)

Hey you guys! It is not often that an epic movie is rewarded with an equally epic video slot. In fact, there are now two fantastic The Goonies slots after Blueprint brought out a sequel to its flagship original. This is a new title that launched in 2021, and it keeps much of what made the original so popular. That means a whole host of bonus features themed on the movies main characters!

Low Variance Slots

If you have a smaller bankroll, you’re probably better off playing low variance slots. That is if you want your bankroll to last longer than five minutes! With these slots, you’ll land a ton of smaller wins, but it’s unlikely you’ll find anything bigger than a 100/200x your stake at the top end of the scale. The good thing about low variance is that you can enjoy long sessions and perhaps earn yourself a 20/30% profit for your bankroll.

Starburst (NetEnt)

Starburst (NetEnt)

The undisputed king of low variance slots, Starburst has been a big favourite at online casinos for many years now. It is nearly ten years old yet it is still found in the ‘Hot’, or ‘Popular’ slots categories at casinos. It is a simple 5-reel, 10-payline slot but provides a ton of entertainment due to expanding wilds that also award respins when they land. it carries an RTP of 96.09% and lets you spin from 0.01 up to 100.00.

Serendipity (Gluck Games/Yggdrasil)

Serendipity (Gluck Games - Yggdrasil)

Serendipity is a recent slot but one that I think will appeal to fans of low variance titles. Like Starburst, it operates via 5-reels and 10-pay lines which is ideal for those looking for simple video slot action. However, with a 5,200x top payout, wild multipliers, free spins, and a bonus wheel, you always have the chance of scooping some decent wins. This title has a theoretical RTP of 95.23%.

Aloha Cluster Pays (NetEnt)

Aloha Cluster Pays (NetEnt)

One of the first slots to use NetEnt’s cluster pays mechanic, Aloha Cluster Pays will give you tons of exciting gameplay. Rather than trying to form winning combinations across paylines, you form clusters of symbols like in mobile puzzle games such as Candy Crush. That mechanic is supplemented by lucrative features including free spins and respins. The payout rate is 96.42%.

Questions and Answers About Variance in Slot Machines

What is variance in slot machines?

Simply put, variance (volatility) is a measurement that determines how often and how big (or small) a video slot will payout. A low variance slot will pay frequently but in smaller amounts, while a high variance slot will have bigger rewards on average, but pay out a lot less. We always give our opinion on the variance of slots when we review them in our daily news section. You can use that information to determine if that slot is one you’d like to play.

What variance is best? 

There is no best as it comes down to personal preference and the size of your bankroll. Ideally, if you have a small bankroll, you should play low variance slots. That is not to say that you won’t get lucky on a high variance slot, of course. High rollers usually prefer high variance video slots as they have larger bankrolls that allow them to continue spinning until the big payouts come their way.

How do I know the variance of a video slot?

Often this comes from just playing the slot for a while. If you’re fairly experienced, you can quickly tell whether a slot is a low, medium or high variance. Also, some slot developers make the variance of their slots public. Red Tiger Gaming is one such iGaming giant that lists the variance of its slots on its website.

Does Variance Affect the Payout Ratio of a video slot?

No, never confuse variance with the payout ratio of a casino game. the RTP (return-to-player) percentage remains the same. The variance just determines how the slot payouts out within that payout ratio.