Understanding slot variance and RTP

Let’s get started with the basics, what exaactly is RTP in slots? Since the beginnings of the online casino industry, there have been several rumors and concerns regarding the payout of the slots. Some people still believe the online slots outcome can be manipulated and controlled with exactitude by operators. In reality, these are nothing but unfounded claims, that pretty much ignore the games’ configuration and mechanics. With each outcome being purely random, the casino will obtain margin, also known as the ‘house edge’ courtesy to the Return to Player, more commonly known in the industry as RTP, set for each game in part. This is a percentage pre-setting in an online casino video slot configuration, usually averaging between 93% and 99%.

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What is the Average RTP in Slots?

While the average RTP used to be much lower in the past, circling 93% and 95%, game providers nowadays strive to deliver a more fulfilling gaming experience. And what can be more meaningful and satisfying than registering nice wins frequently?

As such, the average slot RTP these days varies between 96% and 97%, already ensuring a more generous payout percentage, in favor of the player. But does this mean that you will win back $96 pr $97 after each $100 played? Unfortunately, this is not precisely how the RTP works. In reality, the Return to Player percentage is the same for all of the players that have played one particular game in the same online casino, across a vast number of spins, like 5 million, for example, or even more. Thus, at the end of this 5 million spins cycle, some of the players that have been consistent on that game will have an RTP of approximately 96% or more, while others might have only 30%, 40%, etc. 

But how is that fair, one might ask? The one thing that you can be sure of, is that by the end of the cycle the overall RTP for absolutely all of the spins played on that game will be of 96%. The payout is not guaranteed to each player in part, so we are dealing with pure luck and randomness once again.

As an online casino player you should always look out for those slot machines that have a higher RTP, starting with 97% and going up. While this will not guarantee big wins on those particular games, it will certainly increase your chances of registering some.

Quick tips:

  •         The RTP of the slots is usually made public by the software developers, and you can find it either online or directly in the in-game info menu.
  •         Make sure to check the casino’s Terms & Conditions section, as some games with high RTP are usually restricted from bonus play.
  •         Never switch from a game with a low RTP to one with a high RTP after registering a big win with an active bonus – trust us on this one!

And now that we’ve determined the meaning and function of the RTP, let’s see what exactly determines the frequency and volume of the casino slots payouts!

What is Variance in Video Slots?

Besides the RTP, the second most important feature of online casino slots is the variance. Also known as volatility, this is not one of those characteristics that can be expressed through a single number, from 1 to 10. This is why game providers use to classify a slot machine as being ‘Low’, ‘Medium’, or ‘High’ Variance/Volatility. This is the setting that determines the frequency with which a video slot will release wins, and also their size.

To give you a concrete example of how variance works and how it really works, let’s consider the slot Starburst from NetEnt – this is a pretty popular low variance game, while Microgaming’s Break Da Bank Again, a well-known high variance one.

Now, let’s say you are going to play 100 rounds at $1 per spin on both these games. You will most likely register constant wins of low to medium values on Starburst. At some point, during the 100 spins iteration, you will likely register a larger win as well, but nothing outstanding, like, for instance, $30 – $60.

But, if you would play 100 spins at $1 per bet on Break Da Bank Again, you are going to experience a constant number of losses, with only a few small win results. However, the game’s high variance, you stand all the chances to land a huge result somewhere along the lines of betting $1 and winning $1000 or higher.

To summarize, we have three primary levels of variance, and here are some very popular examples for each:

  •         Low Variance Slots: Thunderstruck II (Microgaming), Blood Suckers II (NetEnt), Holy Diver (Big Time Gaming).
  •         Medium Variance Slots: Wolf Gold (Pragmatic Play), Game of Thrones (Microgaming), Koi Princess (NetEnt).
  •         High Variance Slots: Bonanza Megaways (Big Time Gaming), The Wish Master (NetEnt), Mega Moolah (Microgaming).

Some online casino players out there, particularly newbies, might feel inclined to jump straight to high variance games, thinking that the wait will be worth the reward. But things are not that simple, and nothing set in stone! The Random Number Generators behind casino slots have ‘a mind’ and a rhythm of their own, so let’s see what type of variance suits you better!

That’s not to say that we can’t figure it out, or, at least form a pretty good idea on where a slot really stands in terms of volatility…

Determining how volatile a slot is can be either easy or hard. It’s easy when a developer lists a volatility rating in the Help screen, or the Info menu. Pragmatic Play, for example, attributes to all of its games a rating, ranging from one to five lightning bolts. One bolt means that the game has low volatility and will offer frequent payouts.

Unfortunately, most slot machines don’t give any indication on this factor, so you need an alternative method to figure it out. No foolproof way exists for determining the exact volatility of a slot when the developer doesn’t offer such a rating. However, you can make a pretty accurate estimation based on the paytable. Here’s what you keep an eye out for when trying to find a High Volatility game:

  •         Jackpot size – You want a bigger Jackpot
  •         Number of large payouts – Look for lots big prizes (e.g. 5000+ coins)
  •         Number of small payouts – You want fewer small prizes (e.g. 100 coins or less)
  •         Bonus features – The more, the better
  •         Number of lines – More paylines give you more chances at an extravagant win (e.g. 40, 50, 100 etc.) 

Why Should You Play Low Variance Slots?

If you are relatively new to the online casino experience, and more importantly, if you are running on a fixed budget, then low variance slots are what you should be looking for! Due to their high-frequency payouts, they will allow you to build a solid balance quickly and explore several bet and coin sizes, keeping you afloat, and enabling you to score moderate but pretty decent profits.

Why Should You Play High Variance Slots?

On the other hand, if you are by now familiar with online casino games and you are willing to play ‘the long game’, you should go for high variance. These games offer the classic high risk – high reward returns, and while you will go through the pain of numerous consecutive deposits with almost no results, when you will hit the big one, it will indeed be a massive win, starting from 500x your initial stake.

How is Slot Volatility Calculated

Remember when we gave that 100 spins iteration example earlier on? This is how you can estimate the variance of a casino slot. Play 100 spins on that game and if you’re your win or hit rate is higher than 30%, you are dealing with a low variance game; if you register a hit rate between 20-24.99%, the slot is a medium variance one; lastly, if the hit rate is less than 15%, the variance is high.

But regardless of the RTP or variance of a slot machine, the most important thing is not to give up after the first try… Good timing and perseverance are key ingredients for great results, and there is no better place to put this to the test than in an online casino!

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