Slot Variance: Understanding the risks and rewards

For most people, the word casino immediately evokes images of slot machines and the familiar ringing sound of winning. Indeed, slots are a central fixture in every casino, online or otherwise, and they come with a certain amount of risk. As a newbie, it is important to understand slot variance, the risk and rewards of different plays, low, medium and high variance slots, and how to choose the right variance. New slot players should also understand strategies for playing high-variance slots and what mistakes they should avoid to increase their odds of winning. 

What is slot variance and why is it important?

Simply defined, it is the risk or volatility associated with playing the slots. Think about it as the fluctuation in payouts for slot machines. 

Anyone who plans to play slots in the long term should understand variance and how it affects the game. It determines whether you win or lose, how you treat your bankroll, and whether you stand a chance to win big.

You may have heard people claim that slot machines are controlled by casinos and they only let you win when they want you to win. These are unfounded claims. Whether or not you win at slots is determined by your understanding of slot variance and slot strategy in general. 

Outcomes are random, but the house retains an edge, which is what the house keeps for itself. Slots have a generous return of between 96% and 97%. This means that the house edge is between 3% and 4% of the original bet that you placed. 

Understanding the edge of any casino game is also important; you know how much you could lose every time to lay bets. However, when it comes to slots, understanding the variance is just as important.

Understanding the different types of slot variance

Variance can be classified as low, medium or high. 

Before we look at each of these to understand what they mean and how they affect your game, let us talk about variance vs. volatility. In many cases, you’ll see the words used interchangeably. Technically, there isn’t much difference between the two.

Variance refers to the risk of playing in the long term while volatility refers to risk in the short term. If you are an infrequent gambler who doesn’t bet large sums, variance shouldn’t worry you very much. However, for those who enjoy slots and visit them frequently, it can make a big difference. 

You’ll sometimes see the term “volatility” used instead of “variance”. In most cases, both refer to the same thing. The important thing is to understand low, medium, and high risk in slots. 

Low variance slots

These offer smaller and more frequent payouts and they are recommended for beginners. Winning combinations will show up after a few spins, and for each win, you make a small amount of money. 

They are designed for the player who seeks the enjoyment of playing slots rather than the thrill of big wins. The frequent wins are likely to keep them betting longer, but they don’t have to play big stakes. 

With just a few dollars you can get to spin the machine many times, and you will likely leave with more money than you came in with so long as you don’t play for too long. 

You’ll find low-variance slots in many online and brick-and-mortar casinos, and below are some popular games in this category:

  • Slingo – Slingo has been around for nearly 30 years and in that time has become quite popular. It can be described as a combination of slot games and bingo. Players cross off numbers much like in bingo. However, rather than have the numbers called out, the player has to spin the wheel to get them. The minimum bet is $.05 and the maximum is $2.
  • Starburst – This is considered one of the best slot games for beginners. It is easy to understand and players can make money off small bets. It only has 10 paylines, but they pay both ways and players can bet anything from 1 cent to $1. The maximum payout is $50,000.
  • Foxin’ Twins – The game has 25 paylines and a minimum wager of $0.25 for each spin. You can bet up to $25 a spin to up the stakes. It pays between 92.25% and 96.75% for every dollar. This means that if you play $1 and win, you’ll take home between $92 and $96. 

Medium variance slots

As you’ve probably guessed, medium variance slots lie somewhere in the middle, where the winning frequency is a little higher than low variance slots and the payouts are also a little higher. 

They are regarded as the sweet spot for slot machines, and they are recommended for those who have some experience but aren’t willing to take big risks. 

If you want to play medium variance slots you should set aside a somewhat substantial bankroll. You may lose or you may win, and there is also a chance that you may hit the jackpot.

There are two types of medium variance slots that you can choose from:

  • Medium-high variance slots – these are close to high variance and they are for those who are willing to stake substantial amounts of money against small and frequent payouts. They are recommended for high rollers.
  • Medium-low variance slots – if you are willing to take some level of risk without spending too much money you should be looking at games in this category. Players get frequent payouts but big wins occur less often. However, the risk is lower than in medium-high variance slots, but a little higher than in low variance slots. 

Diamond Inferno is a good example of a game in this category. You can win up to 10x on a $20 bet. The respins and expanding reels can increase payouts higher. The Star is the highest-paying symbol and players can get payouts of up to 100x. The minimum bet for this game is $0.2 and the maximum is $20.

Hyper Strike is another medium variance game that gives players excellent payouts. They can bet on up to 20 paylines at a minimum of $.02 for every spin, which gives them a chance to win up to 2,000x their bet amount. You can bet as little as $.01 and as much as $3.

Noble Sky is an interesting blend of the Victorian era and sci-fi. Players can put down anything between $.25 and $25 per spin on the 25 available paylines. The maximum payout on original wagers is 100x, which places this game in the low to medium variance range. However, respins and bonus features earn up to 5,000x the original stake. 

High variance slots

These carry the biggest risk but also the biggest payouts. If you don’t have a lot of capital or don’t enjoy taking risks these slot machines are not a good idea. Players do not see winning combinations often, and they have to keep playing to eventually win. However, when they hit the jackpot it tends to be significant. 

Naturally, you need to have a significant bankroll to stand a chance of winning, and you also need to be patient. 

Stargate Megaways is a good example of a high variance slot game. There are more than 117,000 winning combinations. Players can place bets between 20 cents and $10 for each spin. The game has six reels with six symbols each, and if they align, players can multiply their bets by up to 96%. You can expect to win every 2.24 spins, but the hit frequency can go as high as 44.6%.

Starburst XXXtreme is another example of a high variance slot that allows players to win up to 200,000x their bet amount. Bets range from between $1 and $50, and it is the size of the prize that puts this game in the high variance category. This game is quite intense because of the number of respins it gives. 

Wild Plunder comes with 25 paylines and players can get returns of up to 96.76% on their bets. They can multiply their stakes 400x, but what makes this a high variance game is the size of the bets involved. Bets are between $.25 and $625, so it is a game for high rollers. 

Choosing the right slot variance for your playing style and bankroll

Experienced slot players will tell you that you ought to consider variance carefully as you choose a game to play. Newbies often choose a game because it is fun to play, ignoring the risk factor for a bit of a good time. This is alright so long as you are playing just for fun and don’t mind losing a few bucks. 

Serious slot players, however, need to choose games that match their bankroll and personal style. Personal style refers to how much risk you are willing to take and how patient you are. 

If you like to take big risks and are patient, high-variance games are perfect for you. It gets a little more complicated if you are the sort of person who is willing to take risks but aren’t patient. You have to carefully assess games to determine which one works best for you. 

Some players prefer to look at the RTP (return to player) and base their decisions on that. It refers to how much the house keeps compared to how much the player takes home. 

If, for example, a slot game has a 5% edge, it means that the RTP is 95%. If you place a bet of $100, the house keeps $5. 

It may all sound very confusing especially if you are a beginner, but there are certain things you can do to improve your odds of coming out on top:

  • Understand the levels of risk as explained above. You get some insight into how a game is likely to go, and you are better prepared for losses. 
  • Think about using progressive jackpots. These can result in massive payouts, but you have to understand them well before you use them. In a game with a progressive jackpot, the payout increases every time the game is played but the jackpot isn’t won. 
  • Be prepared for dry spins. A dry spin happens every time you spin and nothing happens. Your bet amount gets used up but you get nothing in return. This is typical of any slot game, so don’t be surprised or discouraged when it happens. Dry spins are determined by the variance of the game you choose. A high-variance game will have more dry spells than a low-variance game. 
  • Guard your bankroll carefully. A bankroll is the amount of money you are willing to spend on a full round of gambling. Successful gamblers never pass their set limits because it can cause all sorts of problems in other areas of their lives. Never bet money that you are not prepared to lose. On days when you don’t have a lot of money to spend, you are probably better off with low-variance games. If you have a little extra you can bet on middle or high-variance games. 

Strategies for playing high-variance slots

You can increase your chances of winning in high-variance slots using a few strategies. Placing modest bets is the smart way to go. 

You may be tempted to increase your bet size so that you can win more, but it can lead to disappointment. It doesn’t make sense to place large bets, especially when trying out a new game. 

Get a feel for the game by betting small amounts, and then as you get more familiar you can place larger bets. Remember, even though you are playing high-variance games you are allowed to place small bets.

Expert gamblers will tell you to walk away after you win. If you play a high-variance game and rake it in, you should leave. If you really must go back, set aside a portion of your winnings and make sure not to go above the pre-set limit. Smart gamblers know when it’s time to call it quits. 

Should you or shouldn’t you use the gamble feature? You can use it, although for most there is a temptation to spin again instead of doubling or quadrupling their winnings. You should not overuse this feature. Statistically speaking, the more you use it the more likely you are to lose. 

Don’t forget the advice about dry spins as it especially applies to high-risk slot games. The higher the risk the longer between wins, so be ready to go through dry spells. It is a game of patience, and placing smaller bets and extending your game time is more likely to result in a win eventually.

Mistakes to avoid when playing slots with high variance

Knowing what mistakes to avoid is also important. So long as you are playing for high stakes there are certain things you shouldn’t do. 

The first is to keep going even after it becomes obvious that you aren’t getting anywhere. High-stakes games typically have longer periods between wins, so some players keep playing, spending more than they can afford in the hope that they will win. 

When to leave is entirely a matter of judgment. When should you leave? When you exhaust your bankroll. 

The other common mistake that players make, especially if they are new to casino games, is to disregard the RTP. This is very important in every game. It determines how much you win and how much the house keeps. Games with a high RTP should typically be avoided unless you have a lot of experience. 

Sometimes players stick to one slot game because it is the one they are familiar with, and learning something new feels daunting. Don’t get caught in this trap. By repeatedly playing only one game you may be losing money that you could easily multiply if you played another game. 

We mentioned progressive jackpots. They have a gigantic prize at the end and the temptation is to give them a try anyway. 

Some people will try to convince you to look for a pattern where there is none. These are games of chance, so it is almost rare to come across repeating variables. Stick to ordinary games until you understand how progressive jackpots work. 


Slot variances matter. They determine the level of risk that a player is taking, and that in turn determines the size of their bankroll. Variance also tells a player how long they should keep playing. If you know the different types of variance and how they affect slots you are more likely to place wise bets. 

Remember your choice of online casino matters. Use a reputable website like It is secure and has a solid reputation. Players get healthy bonuses, and they have different options to withdraw their payouts.

Author: Tanya Fields

Campaign Acquisition Manager Length with RC: 1 year, 9 months Favorite Casino Game: Starburst Background in iGaming: Opened the iGaming Department at Hard Rock Atlantic City in 2018 in both Customer Service, and then CRM, prior to moving over to RC in January 2021 Location: Based in NJ at the RC HQ Content: Occasionally, but only as it pertains to RC