Many slots players choose their favorite games based on the theme, bonuses, jackpot size, and return to player. These are all perfectly valid ways to pick entertaining slot machines.
The only problem is that volatility is often left out of the equation. Many players don’t account for this concept, or may even be unclear on why it matters.
Volatility actually plays a big role in how much you can expect to win in any given slots session. You can especially look forward to lots of wins with less-volatile slots.
Keep reading as I cover more on why lower volatility leads to more wins. I’ll also discuss the pros and cons of choosing frequent-paying games.
What Is Slots Volatility?
Volatility is a statistical measure of the dispersion of results. Simply put, this term refers to how explosive outcomes can be when compared to the statistical mean.
High volatility means that results vary greatly from the average. Low volatility, in contrast, offers outcomes that are closer to the mean.
Slot machines are some of the most-volatile casino games. They feature a wide variety of prizes, ranging from a few credits to thousands or even millions of credits.
Here’s an example of a simple three-reel slots pay table:
- 3 diamonds = 10,000 coins
- 3 gold coins = 1,000 coins
- 3 sapphires = 500 coins
- 3 rubies = 100 coins
- 3 emeralds = 50 coins
- 3 silver coins = 10 coins
- 3 copper coins = 5 coins
Casinos would lose serious money if they let you win too often with slot machines. After all, some prizes are worth hundreds, thousands, or millions of coins.
The vast majority of your wins will consist of smaller prizes. But even earning 5, 10, or 50 coins when you’re only risking one credit is big.
Slot machines must therefore account for this by offering you less-frequent prizes than other casino games. You won’t win nearly as much with slots as with, say, blackjack or baccarat. They both offer even-money payouts, which is why they give you more-consistent wins.
Of course, there’s division among slots regarding their volatility. Some are less explosive than others, which I’m going to cover below.
Why Does Volatility Matter with Slot Machines?
Return to player (RTP) is one of the first things that many slots players focus on. RTP is important, because it determines how much a slot machine will pay in the long run.
Here’s an example:
- You’re playing a slot with 95% RTP.
- You bet $1,000.
- 1,000 x 0.95 = $950
- You’ll theoretically win back $950.
Slots with high payback give you a stronger long-term chance of winning. But what about the immediate future?
Remember that slot machines are very volatile when compared to other casino games. RTP might explain your long-term odds, but it doesn’t account for the volatility along the way.
A slot with 90% RTP could potentially see you win more in a single session than a game with 95% payback. This scenario is especially true if a slot has reduced volatility, which increases the payouts that it’ll deliver in a short timeframe.
I’m focusing on low-volatility slots in this post, because I like winning more frequently – even in instances when the RTP is a little worse.
How Do You Figure Out Slots Volatility?
Determining how volatile a slot machine is can be easy or hard. It’s easy when a developer lists a volatility rating in the help screen.
Pragmatic Play, for example, gives 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. You’re therefore left using 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 a rating. However, you can make a good estimation based on the pay table.
Here’s what you want to focus on when finding a low-volatility game:
- Jackpot size – You want a smaller jackpot.
- Number of large payouts – Look for fewer big prizes (e.g. 500+ coins).
- Number of small payouts – You want more small prizes (e.g. 10 coins or less).
- Bonus features – Fewer bonuses are better.
- Number of lines – More lines gives you more chances to win on per spin.
Playing slots with small jackpots and fewer bonuses may not be as exciting. However, games like these at least distribute payouts more evenly. They don’t have to account for all of the big prizes and bonuses you can pick up.
Contrast this to a slot machine with a $100,000 jackpot, free spins, second-screen bonus, and scatter payouts. It has so much RTP wrapped up in the jackpot and bonuses that it can’t pay as frequently.
Also note that it’s important to know the difference between a progressive jackpot’s starting and current value. A developer/casino seeds a progressive prize at a certain amount. The payout then grows as players make bets.
Relating this to volatility, you want to pay attention to the seed value rather than the current amount. The seed value is how much the developer and/or casino initially funds a jackpot with.
They base a game’s volatility on their investment – not what the prize has grown to. Therefore, you want to look for slots with jackpots that are seeded low to find less volatility.
Here’s a comparison to explain:
- Two slot machines offer a $1 million progressive jackpot.
- Slot Machine #1 is seeded at $500,000.
- Slot Machine #2 is seeded at $50,000.
- All other things being equal, the second slot has lower volatility.
Pros of Low Volatility Slots
Slot machines with lower volatility offer several advantages in comparison to more-explosive games. Everything begins with the fact that they deliver steadier payouts.
But there are other benefits to these slots that aren’t so apparent. Here are all of the advantages that come with less volatility.
Win More Frequently
Nobody likes spinning the reels 10 times and coming up empty. Unfortunately, this is a problem when playing slots that feature huge jackpots and several bonuses.
You can remedy this problem by choosing slot machines with smoother payout structures. Games with plenty of lines and more small payouts give you stronger odds of winning with each spin.
Of course, this isn’t to say that low-volatility slots are akin to baccarat regarding their payout frequency. You’re still going to experience dry spells and big wins. But you can at least expect payouts more often when compared to the average slot.
Easier Bankroll Management
Bankroll management is difficult with slot machines due to their uncertainty. However, slots with reduced volatility make the process somewhat easier.
Most slots sessions see you lose anywhere from 200 to 300 betting units per hour. You definitely want the lower range of this when trying to manage your bankroll.
Only losing 200 units on average, as opposed to 300, allows you to come up with a more-certain plan. Here’s an example:
- You have a $250 bankroll.
- You want to play at least two sessions that last 4 hours.
- 250 / 2 = $125 per session
- 125 / 4 = $31.25 per hour
- You’re playing low-volatility slots (200 lost units per hour).
- 25 / 200 = 0.156
- You should play a game that lets you bet $0.15 or less per spin.
Nothing guarantees that reality will play out anything like the math suggests. But you still stand a better chance of lasting with a good bankroll plan.
Of course, you can always go on a hot streak and be wildly successful with slots. However, it’s better to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Fewer Emotional Swings
Losing lots of money in a slots session is nerve-wracking. I know from experience how sickening it is to watch $500 disappear in a couple of hours.
The reverse is that slot machines can also pay wins worth thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as much as rapid losing sessions.
Games with more-stable payout structures are a good way to combat wild results and emotional swings. You may not have a chance at winning life-changing payouts, but at least your losing sessions won’t be as devastating.
Results Are Closer to RTP
Earlier I explained how volatility usually prevents your short-term results from lining up with the RTP. This is good in some ways, because it means that you actually have a chance to win – despite the house edge.
But the downside is that games with high RTP mean less. You can combat this problem by picking slots with lower volatility.
The evener payouts mean that your results will be more in line with the payout percentage. Furthermore, looking for slots with good payback will have more short-term impact.
You’ll Last Longer in the Casino
The problem with high-volatility slots is that they see you lose more per hour than the average game. You’re left hoping to get lucky and hit a significant payout that’ll recoup your losses and then some.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for a major windfall. Your bankroll will run out before you collect a six or seven-figure prize.
Less-volatile games are the best way to make your funds last with slot machines. You’ll earn a steady stream of payouts that’ll help sustain your bankroll longer.
Cons of Low Volatility Slots
You can see that frequent-paying slots have many good qualities. They deliver prizes more often, make bankroll management easier, and help you play longer.
But not everything is perfect with these types of slot machines. You should also account for the following downsides.
Playing for a life-changing payout injects plenty of fun into slots. This is the reason why games with multimillion-dollar jackpots are so popular.
Low-volatility slot machines are missing this element. They pay more regularly, so they can’t include a big jackpot on top of everything.
You may still have an opportunity to spin for a prize worth anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 credits. But you won’t get rich playing these types of games.
Fewer Bonus Features – If Any
Bonuses are one of the biggest developments in slots history. These extras offer unique ways to reward payouts beyond just spinning the reels.
Free spins are the most-common bonus. They give you the chance to win “free” credits and may include other perks like additional wild symbols and stacked wilds.
Second-screen bonuses give you the opportunity to play a unique mini game. For example, you might need to pick three out of 10 treasure chests to reveal your prizes.
Bonuses add lots of additional entertainment to slot machines. Unfortunately, lower-volatility games don’t offer many of these features (if any).
Most bonuses can deliver large prizes. A frequent-paying slot has limited bonus opportunities, because it can’t offer massive payouts.
Smaller Regular Wins
Jackpots and bonuses aren’t the only ways to collect big prizes through slots. You can also earn large wins on the reels.
A less-volatile slot, though, won’t offer many of these payouts. The largest non-jackpot wins in these games usually range from 100 to 1,000 credits.
These are certainly nice payouts, especially when they happen multiple times in a session. However, they’re not going to launch you into a big celebration.
More Susceptible to Losses Disguised as Wins
Almost every slot machine today has multiple paylines. But low-volatility games tend to have more lines than the average slot.
These additional lines give you more chances to win and recoup your money. However, they also increase the effect of losses disguised as wins (LDWs).
This term refers to when you win a small prize that doesn’t equal your spin cost. Here’s an example:
- You’re playing a 50-line slot.
- You betting one penny per line, or $0.50 overall.
- You win a prize worth $0.20.
- However, you’ve lost $0.30 overall.
The problem with LDWs is that they’re reinforced with flashing lights and winning sound effects. Given the speed of slots, you may be subconsciously tricked into thinking you’re winning money.
I’m not saying that LDWs are exclusive to less-volatile slots. But the effect can be more pronounced when you keep picking up small prizes that aren’t really wins at all.
Should You Play Slot Machines with Low Volatility?
Whether or not you choose to play low-volatility slot machines will be based on what you value most.
Are you solely focused on hitting a big jackpot? Do you want access to the latest bonus features? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, then high-volatility slots are the best choice.
Maybe you don’t value multimillion-dollar jackpots and multiple bonuses too highly. Perhaps you’d rather play an entertaining, low-cost game that awards more prizes.
Less-volatile slots are perfect in this case. They give out more prizes per spin and allow you to stretch your bankroll.
The last part is key if you’re playing on a budget and want your money to last. $50 won’t go very far on a game with a $1 million jackpot and multiple bonus rounds. It will, however, last on a slot with a $5,000 jackpot and just one bonus feature.
You can especially play for hours if you combine low bets with reduced volatility. Smaller wagers expose you less to the house edge and minimize losses.
Online slots are especially good when you’re a low roller. These games often let you adjust lines and coin size. If you play a $0.01 coin on 10 lines, for example, then you’re only wagering a dime per spin.
Again, everything depends on what you’re looking for in a slot machine. The last thing you want to do as a low roller is insert money without considering the betting options and volatility.
Slot machines are very random games. Sometimes they award you multiple big payouts in a session, while other times they quickly drain your bankroll.
The latter scenario is the last thing you want to happen. Luckily, you can reduce the odds of your funds vanishing by choosing less-volatile games.
These types of slots pay more often and help you better sustain your bankroll. Slot machines with reduced volatility also pay truer to the RTP, involve less emotions, and help you play longer.
Low-volatility slots are prefect if you value getting more gambling entertainment. I personally enjoy these types of games, because they allow me to play for cheaper.
However, you should also consider the downsides too. Less-volatile slot machines don’t have big jackpots, other large wins, and several bonuses.
I can easily live without the huge jackpots and regular wins. But the lack of bonuses really bothers me.
You may be concerned with the absence of a big jackpot too. Whatever the case may be, low-volatility slots aren’t perfect.
They do have enough positive points, though, to make them worth playing. In fact, I suggest that you spend the bulk of your time with reduced-volatility games in order to get more play.