What Does Volatility in Slots Mean?

It seems like slots are completely random but you might be surprised to learn that slots’ volatility is set at different levels for different games. Some games offer less frequent payouts but bigger single payoffs.
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Slot machine volatility refers to how frequently a game pays and the gross payout amount of each winning spin. Every slot exists somewhere on what’s called the volatility index. Games can land in one of five distinct categories on the index:

  • Low volatility – frequent wins, low payouts.
  • Medium-low volatility – moderate win frequency, moderately lower payouts.
  • Medium volatility – balanced win frequency, balanced payouts.
  • Medium-high volatility – moderately low win frequency, moderately higher payouts.
  • High volatility – few wins, high payouts.

Unlike more objective information available to slots players, like pay table or return-to-player percentage, the slots volatility index is less about advantage and more about personal player preference and expectation. Knowing what volatility means, both online and in the casino, can help players choose games that fit their preferred playing style.

What Does Low Volatility Mean?

On the spectrum of low to high volatility, games on the low volatility end will theoretically have more winning spins, but the wins are relatively small. Chances are, you’re not going to retire off your winnings on a low volatility slot, even if you hit a jackpot. 

If how much you stand to win is less important to you and you prefer to maximize the total number of spins you could potentially take with your allotted bankroll, low volatility slots are for you.

What Does High Volatility Mean?

High volatility slots, as you might imagine being on the opposite side of the index, are in direct contrast to low volatility slots. Playing high volatility slots will offer fewer winning spins, but larger potential payouts when you do find winning spins. If you’re looking to hit it big, you’ll want to play slots on the higher end of the volatility spectrum.

Be advised that you might go through your bankroll pretty quickly on high volatility slots, but you also might hit the jackpot of a lifetime. It all depends on your comfort with the risk of these games.

How Can You Find a Slot’s Volatility?

Finding out where a game lands on the volatility index is unfortunately not always straightforward. Some games will provide the slot’s volatility in the help section, but it’s rare.

For the many games that don’t volunteer their volatility rating, there are a few ways to make educated guesses about any game’s volatility. The first way to assess a slot’s volatility is to look at its jackpot. The more you stand to win, the more volatile a machine will be. Slots featuring progressive jackpots are often even more volatile than games with static jackpots, so having a sense of the max-win is a good indicator.

Take a peek at the pay table, too. If you see higher payouts for line hits with premium symbols, that’s indicative of a high volatility slot.

Check how many bonuses and features a game offers. More bonuses and features mean higher volatility as a trade-off. Game formats can also be telling. If you’re assessing a game with cascading reels, stacked wilds, or Megaways to win, you’re likely looking at a high volatility game due to the increased winning combinations.

Which Strategy is Best in Volatility?

Approaches to volatility are unique to the individual, so there is no right or wrong answer. There’s only your own playing preference to think about. Some people stick to one side or the other. Some change their playing style depending on their mood on a particular day. Others will bankroll high volatility slot play by building up reserves on low volatility slots first.

The “best” strategy for volatility is the one that works for you as a player and what you hope to get out of a slots session.

Choosing Slots With The Right Volatility

Some of you may know your preferred playing style without a thought, but if you’re not sure where on the volatility index you exist as a player, ask yourself the following:

Prefers High VolatilityPrefers Low Volatility
Are you a risk-taker or do you play it safe?Risk-takersPlay it safe
Do you want to hit it big or get a lot of wins?Hit it bigA lot of wins
How long do you intend to play?Doesn’t matterAs long as possible

RTP vs Volatility

RTP, or return-to-player percentage, indicates what percentage of money wagered will come back to the player over an infinite number of spins. For example, a game with an RTP of 98% would theoretically pay back $98 for every $100 wagered over the slot’s lifetime. It’s important to understand, however, that this doesn’t mean you’ll walk away from a machine with $98 when you start with $100.

Because RTP is calculated over very large sample sizes, it ensures one player will have a unique experience vs. another. The more spins a player takes, the closer to the RTP the game will play in theory, but the random nature of slot machines makes predicting the results of any game impossible.

In practice, players should use RTP to identify games with the best probability to win and volatility to determine how often and how much you could potentially win. When applying both, players can get a better sense of what their experience could be on a slot.

High Volatility & Low RTP = Be Patient

Games with high volatility and low RTP are attractive to some players because they offer some of the highest potential gross payouts of any slots. If this configuration is more your speed, you’ll want to have a healthy bankroll and a whole lot of patience.

Because these games are full of “dead spins,” your balance can go fast if you aren’t able to find many winning spins to keep you sustained. That said, if you feel good about your luck on a game, your patience can be rewarded handsomely. Of course, there are no guarantees and it’s far easier to lose your money than hit a big win — but, we’re saying there’s a chance…

Conclusion

Some of how the proverbial sausage is made when it comes to slots can seem complicated and overwhelming. Try not to stress it. If you got this far, there’s a very good chance at least one of the volatility categories resonates with you. Now, it’s just a matter of applying this new knowledge.

Keep in mind that volatility, just like RTP, is theoretical. If your timing is off on a low volatility game, it’ll take your balance the same way a high volatility slot will. There are no guarantees of any outcome or experience when you sit down at a game or choose one online.

If low volatility games are your speed, don’t get discouraged if it’s playing more like it belongs at the high end. The next time you play it, your experience might be the opposite. At least knowing how to identify games that fit your preference can put you in the best position for a fun day playing slots.

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Author: Jay Adams
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