Understanding slot volatility is essential if one wishes to evaluate the level of risk inherent to playing different online slots. Knowing how volatile a given slot release is can help you determine whether it is suitable for your budget and playing style.
As this information is not readily available at all online casinos, rookie spinners sometimes have no other option but to try and second-guess the risk involved in their slots of interest. Many players rely solely on intuition so their assessment is anything but accurate.
The good news is there are more reliable factors in determining slot volatility than following your gut feeling. Jackpot size, payout distribution, maximum bets, and the number of special features can be all used as indicators of a slot’s approximate volatility.
Keep on reading as we tackle these factors in further detail along with their impact on the winning chances of reel spinners.
Standard Deviation, Variance, and Volatility
Many gamblers use the terms standard deviation, variance, and volatility interchangeably when referring to the risk level involved in playing different slots. So let’s first have a look at what standard deviation is to see whether the term’s meaning overlaps with that of variance and volatility.
Volatility Levels in Online Slots
A slot’s volatility level gives you an idea of how often you can expect to win and how large or small your payouts would be. In other words, volatility levels indicate the degree of risk associated with playing online slots for real money.
It follows that knowing a slot’s volatility level gives players an approximate idea of what they can expect in terms of prize size and hit frequency.
This information helps them make better-informed decisions when selecting slot releases based on personal style and bankroll size. Online slots are normally grouped into the following three categories depending on their volatility level.
Low-volatility slots produce smaller but more frequent payouts. Matching combinations occur every five to ten spins on average so the risk of bankroll depletion is lower.
High-volatility slots involve a higher degree of risk of depleting your session bankroll. While payouts are significantly larger, winning spins are few and far between.
Such slots have the potential to yield massive prizes but you need a large enough bankroll to weather out the longer losing streaks and endure the greater variance.
Medium-volatility slots are a blend of the previous two types. Here the payouts are of average size and occur relatively frequently. Such slots are the perfect fit for spinners who want to incur lower risk while having a decent chance of landing relatively large payouts.
Factors That Can Help You Work Out Slot Volatility
Calculating a slot’s volatility by yourself is next to impossible as there are way too many variables you need to factor in. Most of these variables are known only to the software developers who design the games, not to mention the required computations are way beyond the mathematical capabilities of the average slot buff.
The examples we previously gave involved a very limited set of numbers so the standard deviation computations were rather simple. Unfortunately, this is not the case when it comes to slots, which also happen to be some of the most volatile games you can possibly play at an online casino.
Few software developers disclose the volatility of their slot releases to the public, with NetEnt being one example. With that said, players can determine the approximate volatility of slots by considering the factors listed below.
1Factor #1 - The Top Prizes in the Paytable
The high level of risk inherent to slots is partially due to the huge discrepancies between the minimum and maximum prizes they can produce. Greater payout discrepancies typically indicate higher volatility levels. We shall use the paytable below to demonstrate this point.
- 5 sheriff badges = payout of 10,000 credits
- 5 pistols = payout of 3,000 credits
- 5 cowboy hats = payout of 500 credits
- 5 pairs of cowboy boots = payout of 250 credits
- 5 liquor bottles = payout of 50 credits
- 5 dynamite sticks = payout of 25 credits
- 5 spurs = 10 credits
As you can see, the top payouts for five matches in this slot range from as little as 10 credits to a whopping 10,000 credits. The game must somehow compensate for the highest prize of 10,000 credits and this usually happens by awarding the smaller wins less frequently.
Also, a smaller difference between the prizes for four and five matches could be indicative of lower variance and lesser risk. The greater the gap, the higher the level of risk involved in playing a given slot.
The odds of winning the top prize are quite low, so players can often end up losing quite a bit within a given individual session. This translates into higher volatility and risk of losing your bankroll, especially if it is smaller.
2Factor #2 - The Lower Payouts in the Paytable
The prizes on the lower spectrum of the paytable are also worth checking out. Most online slots typically yield their smallest prizes for three-of-a-kind combinations, with payouts ranging from even money to five times the bet.
Although less thrilling, smaller payouts also have an impact on volatility. A slot with several low-paying combinations is likely to yield payouts more frequently. It follows that reel spinners can expect to get a greater percentage of their short-term wagers back.
3Factor #3 - Abundance of Special Features
The rule of thumb with online slots is that special features like free spins and bonus games tend to increase the volatility. Such features are undoubtedly very exciting, not to mention potentially lucrative. However, the trouble with them is that they can also drain a significant portion of a game’s theoretical return. At the same time, they could be difficult to trigger in some cases.
We recommend you check the info sections of the slots you are interested in or read our detailed slot reviews beforehand to see how many special features each game has. High-volatility slots are often very rich in features.
4Factor #4 - Look Up the Maximum Bet
Some slots allow players to risk as many as $150 per spin, while others restrict maximum bets to $10. Maximum bet size can also be indicative of a given game’s volatility. Highly volatile slots usually come with lower maximum bet limits precisely because they have the potential to yield mind-boggling prizes within a single spin.
Think of this as a form of damage control for casino operators. If you hit a top payout of 10,000x the bet with a $150 wager, you will essentially pocket a whopping $1.5 million in prize money from a single spin!