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Volatility: Clearly Explained

oliver jackson
Written By Oliver Jackson 5 min read

In this guide, we'll break down what volatility means, how it affects your gameplay experience, and how you can recognize different levels of volatility in casino games.

What is Volatility?

Volatility refers to the level of risk and reward in casino games like slots. It determines the frequency and size of wins.

If a slot or casino game has high volatility, it means wins happen less frequently, but when they do happen, they're typically bigger.

On the other hand, low volatility slots often result in smaller, more frequent wins.

Volatility impacts how exciting and unpredictable your gaming session will be.

Volatility vs Variance

The terms “volatility” and “variance” are often used interchangeably in the context of casino games. Both indicators can give players an idea of what to expect in terms of the size and frequency of wins and the amount of risk involved while playing a game. However, volatility and variance have distinct nuances.

  • Volatility: the risk and potential reward.
  • Variance: the distribution of wins in the long term.

A game with high variance might offer infrequent large payouts, which, in essence, resembles high volatility.

Volatility and RTP

Just like volatility, players often look at the RTP (Return to Player) of a slot or casino game to get an idea about their chances of winning. However, these are very different benchmarks.

Volatility defines the risk and size of potential wins, while RTP (Return to Player) indicates the percentage of bets a slot will pay back over time.

A high RTP means a slot is more likely to give back, but not necessarily in big amounts or frequently.

By considering both the RTP and volatility, players gain a comprehensive understanding of their chances of winning.

Volatility Levels

Volatility can be categorized into three distinct levels: high, medium, and low. Let's take a closer look:

High Volatility

High volatility online slots can offer substantial payouts, but they might come infrequently. They're ideally suited for players with a considerable bankroll who are willing to take risks.

Many high-volatility games boast features, such as scatters, wilds and free spins, or have jackpots. These features can lead to larger payouts and introduce an element of uncertainty that keeps players on the edge of their seats.

Some popular slots with high volatility are:

  • Bonanza (Big Time Gaming): A highly popular Megaways slot with up to 117,649 paylines and increasing win multipliers. As the multipliers have no limits, huge payouts are possible, especially during bonus rounds.
  • Book of Dead (Play‘n Go): This classic Egyptian-themed slot game features a Free Spins bonus round, wild symbols, scatter symbols, and expanding symbols. It has the potential to win up to 50,000 times your bet in the bonus rounds.

Medium Volatility

Medium volatility games strike a balance between frequent small wins and occasional larger payouts, catering to players with average bankrolls.

Some popular medium volatility games include:

  • Hell’s Kitchen (NetEnt): This well-designed Gordon Ramsey-themed slot offers a balance of small and medium-sized wins, creating an engaging experience.
  • Guns N’ Roses (NetEnt): Combines frequent wins with occasional mid-sized payouts. Boasting a 28.49% hit frequency rate, you'll find that over a quarter of your spins could lead to a winning combination.

Low Volatility

Low volatility slots are characterized by fewer or no special features and more regular payouts, albeit smaller ones. The primary appeal of low-volatility slots lies in the simplicity and sense of regularity they provide.

They are perfect for newcomers or players who prefer a more steady and less risky gameplay experience.

Examples of low volatility slots are:

  • Starburst (NetEnt): An iconic online slot and player’s favourite with a simple 5 reel 3-row grid and 10 paylines. The low volatility is one of its main attractions with frequent wins and low risk.
  • Blood Suckers (NetEnt): One of the most popular vampire-themed slots loaded with features such as scatters, wilds and bonus symbols. It’s a low-volatility slot with frequent wins but has a slightly higher-than-average minimum bet value of $0.25. This means that payouts will be slightly higher.

What Factors Determine the Volatility of Slots or Casino Games?

Several elements can contribute to the volatility of a slot or casino game by shaping the frequency and magnitude of wins and losses. Let’s have a look at some of these below.

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    RTP: A higher RTP might suggest an increased likelihood of winning or reduced risk, ultimately leading to lower volatility. However, the RTP doesn’t measure the frequency or size of wins and there are other factors that influence volatility like payout distribution and game mechanics.

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    Size of the Bet Range: With higher bets, your money “swings” up and down more quickly, which can indicate higher volatility. Lower bets provide more steady gameplay with lower potential wins, typical of lower volatility.

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    Hit Frequency: Percentage of how often a winning combination lands in a specific game. Higher hit frequencies typically point towards lower volatility.

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    Special features and multipliers: They can amplify wins and increase risk during gameplay, impacting the game's volatility.

Volatility in Live Casino Games

Volatility is not exclusive to slots; it extends to all casino games, including live dealer ones.

Live casino games boasting special features and multipliers often have high volatility. Lightning Baccarat or most TV game shows like Crazy Time or Monopoly Live are good examples. These games can deliver substantial payouts but with heightened risk.

On the other end of the spectrum, the lowest volatility live dealer games involve bets with around a 50% chance of winning. These games, typically roulette, blackjack, baccarat, and sic bo, offer a more predictable and balanced win-loss pattern.

Despite offering smaller payouts, they provide a steadier and less risky gaming experience compared to games with more complex mechanics or higher multiplier potential.

How to Recognise a Game’s Volatility?

The idea of variability can be kind of random and isn't easy to measure accurately.

Volatility and variance are not like payout rates that can be reflected in a clear percentage. Also, a game may be considered more risky by one player and less risky by another.

So, other than playing a game yourself and determining your risk versus success after at least 200 spins, the best way to recognize a game’s volatility is by examining the paytable, bonus features, hit frequency and bet value.

In games with high volatility, you'll usually find a higher minimum bet and a more generous paytable. These games also include extra features, such as free spins, bonus rounds, scatter symbols and multipliers.

Low-volatility games may lack some extra features and have a lower minimum bet value. 

Finally, some games blatantly tell you if they have a high or low volatility, either immediately as you open them or within their guide. So if you're not sure, you can refer to the game itself. 

For example, The Dog House let's you know right as you open the game that you are dealing with high volatility and you can get more details under the game's info button.

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Volatility FAQ

What is volatility in casino games? chevron-down-icon

Volatility refers to the level of risk versus the reward in online slots and casino games. It determines the frequency of payouts and the size of wins. High volatility games typically have bigger wins that occur less frequently and games with low volatility have more regular, but smaller wins.

What factors determine volatility in slots and casino games? chevron-down-icon

Volatility can be determined by factors, such as bonus features, paytables and bet values. More special features, higher paytables and higher minimum bets can be an indication of high-volatility games.

Do games with high volatility pay more? chevron-down-icon

Games with high volatility have the potential to pay out larger sums, but they also come with a greater level of risk, leading to less frequent wins compared to low-volatility games. To gain a comprehensive understanding of your chances of winning, players should look at both the volatility and RTP of a game.

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