Slot variance & volatility explained

There are a few variables that are good to have an understanding of when playing slots.

The first one is how a slot’s Return to Player (RTP) is calculated.

The second major factor is hit frequency.

The third important factor is to understand the slots’ variance and volatility.

In this article, we will explain how the slot variance and volatility work and look into some examples.

slots variance and volatility explained

What are slot variance and volatility?

A slot’s variance and volatility refer to how risky a slot is.

Low variance slots pay out more frequent minor to medium-sized wins but offer lower max win potential.

When playing low volatile slots, your money lasts longer on average, giving you more entertainment time, but you won’t be able to land any massive wins.

High volatile slots, on the other hand, pay out fewer small to medium-sized wins but can instead pay out huge wins, including max wins.

These slots are risky as most players will lose their balances while a lucky few can walk away with big wins.

Since highly volatile slots can also burn through your deposit faster, the wins can be far and far between.

Why is this important?

Your choice of slot and its variance and volatility should reflect what you are looking for when playing slot games.

Are you prepared to take bigger risks in return for the possibility of landing some massive wins, or do you prefer to maximise your entertainment time while still being able to win something, just not crazy amounts?

Highly volatile slots often have a max win cap of 5,000x up to 300,000x the bet size used, while low to medium volatile slots often offer a max win cap of around 1,000x – 3,000x.

Popular slots and their volatility settings

Let’s go through some of the most popular slots and check their variance and volatility settings to get an idea of how this works.

Starburst by NetEnt – Low volatility

Starburst was released back in 2012 but can still be found in most online casinos’ popular slots lists.

The game is also often used with welcome offers and especially free spins bonuses as Starburst provides players with lengthier sessions while being a low-risk slot for casinos as the max win is 500x the bet size used.

The mix of the slot’s simple and easy-to-understand features and the low variance have made Starburst a hit slot among casual players and beginners.


Tombstone RIP by Nolimit City – Very highly volatile

On the other side of the spectrum, we find Tombstone RIP, which tops the highest max win slots list as it can pay out wins of up to 300,000x the bet.

This slot is not part of the most played slots as it is too risky for most players, but we wanted to include it to prove a point of how the extreme looks like.


Book of Dead by Play’n GO – Highly volatile

The most popular slot in recent years worldwide is Book of Dead, with a max win cap of 5,000x.

However, many players might not know that the slot is highly volatile, a.k.a risky.

Book of Dead’s simple features, combined with being influenced (copied?) by Book of Ra, a land-based casino hit, have made this game unreasonably popular.

There are many other “Book of” slots out there with various quality, but BOD is the one that top the lists year in and out.

Rich Wilde and the Book of Dead high variance

Sweet Bonanza by Pragmatic Play – Highly volatile

Another popular theme found in many slots is sweets and candy.

Sweet Bonanza is the slot topping this category, with a max win potential of 21,100x the bet.

Inexperienced players might get fooled by the unharmful-looking theme, but inside the hood, you find an absolute, highly volatile beast.

Sweet Bonanza pragmatic play high volatility

Bonanza by Big Time Gaming – Highly volatile

Another popular, highly volatile slot is Bonanza Megaways by Big Time Gaming.

The game studio is the inventor of the Megaways mechanic, and these slots are usually released with a high variance setting.

Bonanza Megaways, with its max win potential of up to 12,000x the bet, was the slot that skyrocketed Big Time Gaming and Megaways slots to fame when it was released in 2016.

The slot might be less popular nowadays due to increased competition from other slot developers and the number of new slots being released weekly. However, it’s still a favourite among many players.

Bonanza-Big-Time-Gaming-best rtp

Gonzo’s Quest by NetEnt – Medium volatile

Gonzo’s Quest is the other classic and megahit from game studio NetEnt.

It was released in 2010, and although several sequels have been released since then, it remains a fan favorite to this day.

The slot was released during a time when game studios, casinos, and players preferred low to medium-volatile slots.

Or actually, how it probably went down was that game studios released low to medium-variance slots during this period; online casinos were happy as these slots provided them with lower risks, while players had no clue what was going on and played what was served.

With time, new game studios started experimenting with riskier slots and noticed a big demand for those types of games.

Finding older slots in top lists is rare, but Gonzo’s Quest still manages to squeeze in, making this slot a unique and iconic game.

Gonzo's Quest ´slot medium variance

Where do I find the slot volatility information?

Game studios are nowadays good at promoting the slots max wins, so that information is usually easy to find.

How to find a slot’s RTP can be more tricky, though, and the volatility information is even harder.

If the specific slot’s variance setting isn’t stated in the game rules, then you can rank the slot’s volatility based on the max win offered.

It’s not an exact science, but the higher the max win offered, the riskier the slot.

An even better method is to check our slot reviews here on, where we list the game’s volatility together with other fast facts and info on where to play on the best RTP version.

We have more than +1,000 slots in our portfolio of games.

Is it better to play low or highly volatile slots?

There is no correct answer to whether low or highly volatile slots are a better choice as it comes down to what you are after.

If you prefer to play risky slots with huge max win potential, choose a highly volatile slot.

On the other hand, if you prefer to try to extend your entertainment time while being offered lower max win caps, then choose a low to medium variance slot.

Note that although low to medium-volatile slots are less risky, you are never guaranteed to end up as a winner as the RTP is still in the online casinos’ favour.

Online casinos are the only long-term winners, no matter if you play low or highly volatile slots.

Characteristics Low VarianceHigh Variance
Playing TimeLongShort
Win FrequencyHighLow
Big WinsVery rareMore often
Max WinsUp to 1,000x5,000x – 300,000x
Bonus Buy OptionAlmost neverOften
Bet SizeHighLow (often restricted)

Recent trends

As mentioned earlier in this article, lower to medium-sized wins were the preferred option by game studios and the casino industry until around 2015, when the trend started shifting toward riskier types of slots.

Nowadays, most new slots are being released with a highly volatile setting, often offering max wins from 5,000x to +50,000x.

There has been some scrutiny from outsiders, though, that the industry needs to offer players a wider variety of slots to prevent all online slots from being very risky.

New to casual players have fewer options and are being guided towards riskier slots many times without knowing what they are getting into.

Hopefully, the online casino industry will listen to this feedback and take action to offer more options shortly.

A few good titles that offer players a low variance (but aren’t ancient) include Taco Fury XXXtreme and Dog Town Deal.  

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