What are the Differences Between Volatility and Variance When Playing Slots?

What are the Differences Between Volatility and Variance When Playing Slots?

I discovered quite early on that slot variance and volatility are important parts of playing online - and in a fascinating way they can help you understand how it all works. It’s good to be able to tie together all the various elements and ideas like Return to Player (RTP) and variance and volatility because they underpin payouts and the results you and I can expect.

Of course, luck is a huge part of the draw - as with everything - but here is my guide to understanding the differences between volatility and variance.

Variance and volatility explained

Let's define variance and volatility slots meaning because I’ve found over the years that they’re often used as synonyms - and it can sometimes be a bit confusing - not hard to get your head around, but just takes a bit of getting used to! The terms

Can sometimes be used in the same way - and an awful lot. So let’s take a careful look at defining them first.


This refers to the deviation of payouts that someone can expect to see - and it’s often calculated over a longer period of time. Often reels are termed as high, medium, or low variance.


This term refers to how often you’ll win and how much - but it’s always calculated over a short time frame. Again, we see that volatility exists in high, medium, or low stakes.

Return to Player (RTP)

I’d explain RTP as the percentage of how much money I could expect to see returned from any bets I place in the longer term. RTP usually lies in the 90%-96% range.

I’ll show you an example. Say, I’m betting $100 on each machine I play. So, the first machine has an RTP of 90%, and the second has an RTP of 96%.

Once I’ve finished - the amount of money I’ll likely get back from the first is in the region of $90. The return I’ll get back from the second machine is likely to be around $96.

I’ve found that luck is the key factor though. Machines can hit the jackpot and give me a huge win, but also there can be times when I won’t have any luck at all - and the RTP I get is low. There’s sometimes no rhyme or reason to it - but you just have to go with the flow and sometimes quit while you’re ahead.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that even though RTP volatility and variance are tied to payouts, there’s no real connection or relationship between RTP and the other concepts I’ve talked about, which might seem odd. For instance, a low RTP can offer high or low volatility, and a high RTP can also have high or low volatility. The difference occurs in the average payouts.

Variance and volatility in depth

Let’s now take a look at defining both terms more closely in terms of their low, medium and high statuses. Firstly, variance.

Low variance: Here, I’ve found that the expectation is I’ll win more over a longer period. Thus payouts can seem smaller, but they’re more consistent and the volume of cash all adds up. They’re the best low-risk option.

Medium variance: These, as you might expect are fairly middle of the road in terms of your risk, and the amount you’ll win. I’ve discovered you’re more at risk than with low variance odds but there’s a slightly increased potential for larger one-off wins.

High variance: I’m not averse to risk-taking occasionally so these are a good option for those times. High variance pokies exist for participants who don’t mind a little risk. Each win you have will offer higher rewards, but the risks of winning fewer spins are also higher.

Now I’ll examine volatility a little more:

Low volatility: This is the sort of thing that is most likely to offer a high frequency of wins in the short term in my humble opinion. I also think there is less risk to my bank - even though I’ll only get smaller individual wins. I like risk, but not too often so this means I can get more from the money I bank and play little and often.

Medium volatility: Here I’ve found you’ll get a balance between risk and the individual amount you’ll win - plus the frequency of any short-term wins. I think it’s a fairly comfy middle ground without any need for higher risk-taking - but still offering good rewards.

High volatility: I’ll be honest, these don’t often pay out - so they are a considered risk if you’re only playing for a short while. However, they do offer the most in terms of financial reward which tends to attract people. If you want an adrenaline rush, this might be the one for you.

There you have it - the differences between volatility and variance explained - I hope you’ve found it helpful. Remember to play wisely and stay within your means!

🔙 Back to Articles list.