Understanding variance in casino games

Slot machines are one of the most popular forms of casino gaming, both in reallife and online. A big part of their appeal is that they’re clearly based on chance, so no skill or experience is needed to enjoy playing them, and to have the same chance of winning as everyone else. On the other hand, chasing a win is the basis of the thrill derived from the game, and so everyone is always looking for a way to beat the system and increase their winning opportunities.

How slots work

Every slot machine, online or not, is controlled by a computerized random number generator (RNG). This means there is no pattern to be cracked and the chances of a particular symbol or number coming up are entirely determined by chance. This randomness is taken very seriously by casino governing bodies, and all games are rigorously assessed on this score by independent auditors for licensing and regulation purposes.

One popular myth about slot machines is that if they haven’t paid out for some time they must be “due” and your chances of winning are increased. This is not the case, as each spin is a unique event, uninfluenced by the outcome of previous spins.

Understanding the edge

Another factor often cited when discussing slot machines is the house edge versus the payout percentage. This is a representation of how much of the amount you pay into a machine you’d win back if you were to keep on playing forever. Typically this is around 97% and the remaining 3% represents the house edge, or profit. Some games have a higher or lower edge, and while this is worth knowing it’s largely theoretical as you’re not going to play forever. The payout percentage has little practical impact on any individual game: much more important is the level of variance.

What is variance?

Variance, or volatility, is a measure of how often and how much a game pays out. A high variance slot gives bigger wins, but less often. Low variance slots give smaller wins, but more frequently. It’s obviously worth having an idea of how volatile a game is before you start playing, as different levels of variance will appeal to different kinds of player.

One way to get an idea of variance is to read online reviews of slots games, but it’s also possible to make your own assessment of a game’s volatility through observation. If a game promises big winnings the chances are it pays out less often than a game offering smaller top line rewards. Similarly, games with lots of bonus features and wild symbols that multiply your payout are likely to have high variance.

Winning strategies

Variance isn’t good or bad as such. It’s a matter of personal taste and how risk averse you are. Some people like to play for big stakes even knowing the odds are against them. Others would rather go for a game where they’re more likely to win, even if it’s not as much. Ultimately slot games are all about luck. There is no foolproof winning strategy to be understood, but it’s worth being aware of exactly what kind of game you’re playing.