Slot Volatility: What It Is and Why It’s Important

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An illustration of a black and blue slot reel with various neon symbols on it, including red sevens, purple grapes, golden crowns, and blue stars.
BetMGM Oct 16, 2023, 5:01 AM

People say there’s no strategy when it comes to online slots, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, it doesn’t take any particular skill to play online slot machines. That’s part of their charm, after all anyone can set a bet and spin the reels. But there is one area where you can be strategic, and that’s where volatility comes in. By researching the volatility of a specific slot, you can get an idea of what your gaming experience is going to be like and the kind of bankroll you’ll need to fully enjoy the game. Keep on reading to find out all you need to know on this important topic.

Volatility 101

So, what is slot volatility? Volatility, also known as variance, is a term that applies to all gambling activities, from classic casino table games such as blackjack and roulette to video poker and online slot machines. A game’s volatility tells you the risk of losing a bet. In other words, it’s an indication of how frequently you can expect to win (also known as the hit frequency) and how big or small you can expect the prizes to be (also known as the payout ratio).

Take roulette, for example. There are multiple betting options with different payouts, ranging from even-money bets such as red or black to straight-up bets that pay 35:1. Even-money bets have low volatility: the odds of winning if you put your money on black are approximately 1:1, and the payouts are also 1:1. Straight-up bets have high volatility: The payouts are big, but the odds of winning are much lower.

Apply this thinking to online casino slots, and you have slot volatility in a nutshell.

Types of Slot Volatility

Drilling down into slot volatility in more detail, it’s evident that there are three main categories of slots: low, medium, high.

Low-Volatility Slots

Low-volatility slots are characterized by a high hit frequency (approximately 40 percent) and a low payout ratio. In other words, they are designed to keep gamers engaged with small but steady wins. The minimum bet is usually quite low, and the top payouts are modest. These slots are ideal if you’re a casual gamer or you’re looking to enjoy a stream of hits without putting too much pressure on your bankroll. Some of the most popular low-volatility games in this category are Starburst (NetEnt), Blood Suckers (NetEnt), and Thunderstruck II (Games Global).

Medium-Volatility Slots

Medium-volatility slots typically have a hit frequency in the region of 30 percent, offering a balance of regular, modest wins and the chance to win big occasionally. There’s more risk involved in playing them, but there’s also potentially more reward, which is why these games appeal to a broader range of players. Cleopatra (IGT), Guns ‘N Roses (NetEnt), and 9 Masks of Fire (Gameburger Studios) are three top-rated medium-volatility slots you can explore.

High-Volatility Slots

Big payouts are what it’s all about when it comes to high-volatility slots. With a typical hit rate in the region of 20 percent, they don’t pay out as often as less volatile games, but when they do pay out, the wins can be very big. A game like 12 Western Horseshoes (Games Global, formerly Micrograming), for instance, has the capacity to award up to 10,000x your stake.

High-volatility slots are often packed with special features, bonus games, and multipliers, all designed to boost your wins under the right circumstances.

A good example of this is Immortal Romance (Games Global), where the Chamber of Spins special feature has four different free spins bonus rounds that you can unlock, each one with a slightly different level of volatility. Another high-volatility fan favorite is Break Da Bank Again Respin (Games Global), which features super-charged free spins round with wild multipliers that boost your wins by 25x the stake.

The one thing you need to realize is that if you want to chase wins in these types of games, your bankroll needs to be able to weather the dry spells that you’re sure to experience. This is where casino bonuses can come in handy.

How Volatile Is My Slot?

To sum up: to get an idea of which category a specific game fits into, look closely at the paytable, bonus features, and minimum bet value. The bigger the minimum bet amount and the bigger the payouts, the higher the volatility in most cases. High-volatility slots also tend to have more special features, like free spins, bonus games, scatters, or gamble games.

Volatility vs. RTP

It’s important to understand that volatility is not the same thing as a game’s return to player (RTP) percentage. RTP is a term that refers to how much of a player’s initial stake the game returns to them on average. It’s measured over tens of thousands of plays, so if the game you’re playing has an RTP of, say, 96 percent, you shouldn’t expect to get 96 percent of your stake back every single time. You might get less, or you might get significantly more if the variance is with you.

There’s also no relationship between volatility and RTP. A high-volatility slot with a 95 percent RTP and a low-volatility slot with the same will return the same amount of money on average over time, just in completely different ways. Always remember that online casino games should be treated as pure fun, not a way to make money. Just play the game and enjoy the ride. Some superstitious players may try to influence the outcomes with lucky charms for gambling, but it’s all down to chance in the end.

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To explore a broad range of premium slots, simply register at BetMGM. Discover all the top slots mentioned in this article and many more. On top of slots, there’s a wealth of classic casino table gaming options, including engaging live dealer casino games. Players in search of less complicated online casino games can choose from a wide selection of variety titles. Play it your way at BetMGM.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.