Understanding Slot Variance

Understanding Slot Variance

It's not surprising that most slot players select games indiscriminately without knowing how the games are programmed to perform. Predicting outcomes on a video slot game is impossible due to the random nature of the results. However, slots games are tested by independent testing labs to determine a pay-out rate.

The pay-out rate refers to the percentage of money that is returned to the players over the life of the game. For example, a slot game with a published Return to Player (RTP) of 97.6% will theoretically pay out that percentage of every dollar wagered on the game. In some cases, online casinos will post that rate on its site, especially if the rate is high.

What is a Slot Machine Variance?

Many times, the pay-out rate is confused with the game's variance. In fact, slot variance refers to the risk associated with playing the machine over a much shorter time period, usually one sitting. Slot machines and games come with one of three different variances:

  • Low Variance - Machine or game that provides a lot of playing time with a lot of token pay-outs designed to keep the player in action, but very limited access to any Big Wins.
  • Medium Variance - Machine or game that offers a nice balance of playing time with a combination of token pay-outs and small jackpots with infrequent, but big jackpot opportunities.
  • High Variance - Machine or game that offers limited playing time with only a few token pay-outs, but a better chance at hitting a big jackpot. More often than not these are usually the progressives.

Why Does This Matter?

For players, they could use this information to match their playing styles and expectations. Novice or recreational players will more likely enjoy machines or games with lower variances. The lower variance allows them to play smaller amounts over a longer period of time on a limited budget. They most likely won't hit any big jackpots, but they could scratch out a small profit during a sitting or two.

High rollers, who enjoy going after the massive progressive jackpots, are better suited for high variance machines or games. They are more apt to play maximum lines and coins expecting infrequent returns, but playing to hit the bigger prizes.

How Do Players Determine a Machine or Game's Variance?

Sometimes, players can find reviews or published information on a machine or game's variance. In lieu of that, they might have to determine the variance on their own. By using a sample size of, say, 100 spins, players should notice the frequency of small or token pay-outs. If token pay-outs come frequently with very small net losses, the machine or game is most likely set with a lower variance. On the other hand, when returns are infrequent, it is most likely set at a high variance.

When Practice Play is unavailable, players can look at the pay-table for possible hints. Using a 5-reel game as a baseline, small incremental increases between pay-outs for hitting three, four and five symbols is usually a sign of low variance. If there is a drastic increase in the possible returns on those same results, then the machine or game is probably set at a high variance.

When choosing a slot game, players should focus on both the RTP (return to player) rates and variance. They should usually avoid any machines or games with a pay-out rate lower that 95% (if published) and then pick a game variance that best suits their playing style.


Knowing what sort of RTP, bonuses, features and how many pay-lines a slot machine has doesn’t complete the picture. That’s because the games also vary in terms of variance. However, it’s very easy to find it out and when you do there won’t be a reason to be disappointed with your game choice anymore.

Posted by CCJ Team

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