online casino slot variance guide

Understanding Slot Variance – How and Why it Matters

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Many slot players tend to focus on slots that they find appealing based on their appearance, theme and per spin cost. This is, of course, a perfectly enjoyable and normal way to select a game to play as one of the aspects to playing slots is the “enjoyability” factor. It is what brings slot players the enjoyment they crave, yet it is not the ideal way to choose a game, not when considering one’s ability to be profitable when playing games of chance, which is what a slot is.

For most, the idea of a slots variance never comes to mind, but it should, as it is the variance that dictates how often a winning combination will appear on the reels, but more importantly, it dictates the value of those wins.

There are three types of slot variances; low variance, medium variance and high variance. Each is different, and each has its unique structure relating to payouts, and the frequency of those payouts. As you read on, you will see that this is where understanding slot variance matters, and will be better equipped to better select slots that fit your budget and style of play.

Table of Contents

  1. Low Variance Slots
  2. Medium Variance Slots
  3. High Variance Slots
  4. Summary

Low Variance:

This is the first of the three we will look at, as it is, next to medium variance slots, the most commonly found slot in a casino. This style of slot is appealing to those who are playing more for the entertainment side of things versus those looking for a big payday.

While low variance slot players hope to win, this is obvious, what needs to be understood is that a low variance slot is one that will have a larger number of winning combinations, but those that do appear are smaller and will appear frequently. The largest winning combinations are few and far between with a low variance slot, and therefore are most suited to bankroll friendly players who are hoping for extended gaming sessions.

The question becomes, how to identify a low variance slot. Clearly, this cannot be done by simply looking at a game’s appearance, identifying it relates to its paytable. A low variance slot will have a larger number of symbols that can generate a winning combination on the reels. It will include payouts for three or more symbols, which is standard, but the amounts that are paid will be low. It will also often offer a larger number of bonus features, but again, the amount that can be won will be on the low scale compared to some slots. This is a key aspect of helping you to identify a low variance slot, but if you are still unsure, you can look at the payouts for four and five symbol combinations. If it is a low variance slot, you will find the amounts will not increase substantially for wins with four or five symbols.

A few low variance slot examples include:

Medium Variance Slots:

Medium variance slots are the most common slot you will find at a casino, whether with an online or land-based casino. The reasoning is rather simple as the overwhelming majority of players want to have a slotting experience that allows them to win often and win amounts that range in size. This style of slot involves a little more risk but as a rule, will not see your bankroll being depleted quickly and can afford you the luxury of sizeable wins.

The nice side to medium slots is that it combines both elements of a low variance and high variance slot and packages into one that will see a reasonable frequency of wins that will range from low, medium and high in size. This is ideal for the slot player that is willing to accept the higher factor of risk while being somewhat conservative.

To identify a medium variance slot is essentially the same as identifying one that is low variance. The paytable is the first step to making that identification as it will show the number of symbols that can award-winning combinations and will show the amounts that can be won for combinations of three, four or five symbols. One identifying factor will be the number of coins that are paid for those combinations; medium variance slots will see the amounts increase at a larger rate than low variance slot and will usually have fewer bonus features and limit those to a wild symbol, scatter and one bonus game.

A few medium variance slot examples include:

High Variance slots:

High variance slots are not for the faint at heart, nor are they ideal for those with limited budgets. A high variance slot is designed in a way that its paytable will list a reduced number of premium paying symbols, and the amounts that are winnable are substantial so as to allow for huge wins to fall in place.

While every slot player dream of those big wins, it is important to understand that a high variance slot does not offer a large number of small or medium size wins, and unless you have a bankroll that allows for high-risk playing, these are not ideal. It should also be understood that the big wins do not often come and require extended time and dedication if you are to hit the larger winning combinations, and of course, there is no guarantee that you will. Yet, the amount you win will have you jumping for joy.

To identify a high variance slot look towards its paytable. There will be a reduced number of winning pay symbols. Usually, this will be around nine. The payout amounts will be higher than those you will see in a low or medium variance slot, and bonus features will be limited to wild symbols, scatters and one bonus game such as free spins.

A few high variance slot examples include:


Whichever variance slot you decide to play, being informed is imperative in having a positive experience that will not leave you feeling as if you were not given a fair gaming experience. This often is the case when laying “blind”, but by employing the tools including within this article will allow you to be in position to select slots that fit your preference and bankroll.

If you fall into the lower or medium variance category, it does not mean that you should not play medium or high variance slots as part of the experience is taking some risk with the hopes of a big payday. Just make sure that if you decide to venture into the higher variance slot category that you recognise the increased risk and if possible, have a larger bankroll to allow for an increased chance of hitting the bigger wins.


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