High variance slots are the lotto of the gaming world. It could take millions of spins to land that huge, rare win. High variance online slots are unpredictable and popular because of the unlikely prospect of a big payout.
But they come in all shapes and sizes – 3 reel, 6 reel, 10 paylines, 117,649 paylines, 94% and 97% RTP. The common factor is all of these online slots is the way wins are awarded.
Let’s look at variance – or volatility, as it’s often called in the slots world – and then check out some of the most popular high variance slots of all time.
What is variance?
In games of chance like Blackjack and Texas Hold’em that involve a little skill, some players use the word variance to talk about the amount of luck and its effect on their results.
A high variance game like a multi-player poker tournament involves a lot of luck. So however skilled you are, you have to play a very large number of games to reduce the impact of luck and see the skill take effect.
Two players may play identically but their results will vary wildly because of the high degree of luck. That’s variance. A game like chess has no luck at all, so it’s a zero variance game where skill is the only factor in the results.
But slots are 100% luck, so what does slots variance mean?
Online slot machines may look different, but they are all powered by similar software with a mathematical model which tells them how to award prizes.
There are a few important parts to that model; the hit rate (how many spins, on average, it takes to win a prize), prize distribution (whether small, medium and large prizes are awarded) and Return To Player (the % of money staked that is returned on average).
Variance is the result of a combination of these factors; how often you spin a win and the average size of those wins. It’s sometimes defined like this:
High variance slots often have much bigger prizes at the top of the paytable, and bigger maximum multipliers. They pay out less often, but when they do pay out, you’re more likely to land a big win.
The Return To Player (RTP) is less important in high variance slots because the results vary greatly from player to player. A slot’s actual results will match the advertised RTP only after millions of spins, possibly even more. That means that in a short session, the results can differ greatly. You might get a 0% return, or a 100,000% profit.
High variance vs Low variance
The lowest variance casino games have small, regular and fairly predictable payout models. Think of games like Casino Hold’em, Baccarat, Blackjack and 50/50 bets like red or black in Roulette. Even games like scratchcards with top prizes of 50x are considered low variance, because of their 1 in 3 hit rates and lack of huge wins.
When we talk about low variance online slots, the word ‘low’ is relative. These games involve a lot of luck and risk, so the swings in your bankroll are much higher. If you play 10,000 spins of Starburst, your results will be much more varied than 10,000 hands of Blackjack.
So a low variance slot is still volatile compared to most casino games, but you will see more wins in an average session than you would with a high variance slot.
The chart below is a very crude example of the results you’d expect when you play low and high variance casino games. The red line illustrates a typical Blackjack session where we bet £5 on each hand. We win, lose and push in equal measure and we rarely see long strings of consecutive losses. As a result, you don’t see big swings in your bankroll.
The grey line is what might happen if we play roulette or slots for £1 per game. It’s much more unpredictable, and the wins are bigger when they come. A true high variance graph would actually include longer streaks of small losses between each bigger win, but you get the idea!
Now let’s talk about high variance games. You could say that playing single numbers in roulette is a high variance bet type, because you of the 1 in 37 odds. But I wouldn’t put those bets in the high variance category.
Compared to any other casino game, all slots are relatively high variance, but slots like Ecuador Gold are the highest of all, with extremely unpredictable results, even over long periods of play.
Should you play low, medium or high variance slots? That’s partly down to your player profile. Do you enjoy regular wins, even if the amount isn’t important? Or do you have the patience to play for millions, even though you know winning the jackpot is extremely unlikely?
Your choice of slot may also affect your bankroll. If you play high variance slots on a regular basis, you may need a larger bankroll (in terms of coins or bets, rather than money terms) to withstand the long runs without a big win.
If you only play slots occasionally, the small sample size of games will render the RTP and variance pretty meaningless anyway, so learn how to play slots and play what you like!
How to find high variance slots
Here’s the tricky part about variance. It’s not a number or score that slots providers are required to display in their game rules, like RTP. In fact, RTP has no relationship at all to volatility, so although you can find a game’s RTP, it won’t help you determine how volatile it is.
Some slots providers show a volatility score prominently in their slots. Chilli Heat from Pragmatic Play has a volatility rating of 3 out of 5.
Some slot guides will tell you that you can spot higher variance slots by playing, but as I’ve explained, the very point of high variance slots is a massive range of possible outcomes in a short period, so that won’t help.
Instead you can look for tell-tale signs in the paytable and game rules. High variance slots usually have bigger symbol wins in the paytable, or a larger difference between low value and high value symbols. The maximum multiplier awarded on any given spin is another number to look out for.
If a game has a maximum multiplier of 1,000x, you’ve found a low volatility slot. If your slot has a maximum multiplier of 50,000x, you’re playing a very high volatility.
Be aware that even prize amounts aren’t guaranteed ways of determining variance. Starburst has a 50,000 maximum multiplier and yet it is considered to be a low volatility slot because of the payout model. Pragmatic Play’s Joker King slot has a top prize of only 5,000x, but it’s a high volatility slot!
Also, the 2,000 slots you can play at PlayOJO are by no means either low or high volatility, and most fall into the medium or medium-high volatility categories.
Top high variance slots
There is no league table of variance, so you won’t be able to tell which slots have the highest variance. But the level of variance is just one factor, and some of the best high variance slots, like our 5 favourites below, achieved fame & glory because of their design and bonus features.
This is by no means the definitive list of high variance slots, but they are some of the most popular high variance slots of the last 10 years. We’ve got high variance Playtech slots coming soon too, so look out for those.
#1: Book of Dead
The jewel in the Play ‘n GO crown, Rich Wilde and the Book of Dead slot is one of the slickest video slots around, with 10 selectable paylines and a modest 94.25% RTP.
The 25,000-coin maximum win and hefty symbol wins (5000 coins for 5 of the highest paying symbol) give you some idea of the slot’s win potential. The Free Spins feature with expanding symbols is another driver behind the volatile prize model. It might be a high variance slot, but you
#2: Fishin’ Frenzy Megaways
Despite the hateful of paylines, not all Megaways™ slots are high variance. But this take on a legendary Reel Time Gaming slot certainly is.
Fishin’ frenzy Megaways™ Blueprint gaming’s version has 6 reels, 15,625 paylines thanks to up to 5 symbols on each reel. Like all Megaways slots, the symbols wins are low but the multiplier-laden Free Games bonus can generate wins of up to 10,000 times your stake.
The first Megaways game to hit the market is still a classic high volatility slot. It doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy plenty of winning moments along the way – that’s part of the joy of Megaways games.
But it’s the rare 10,000x win players hope to bag, and the Free Spins game with unlimited multipliers in this 117,649 Ways slot is the best way to do it.
#4: Fluffy Favourites
Eyecon’s hit slot is a massive favourite with the bingo crowd, and even though it’s only got 25 lines, but the 5,000 coin max symbol win is a clue to how volatile this game is. You can win up to 25 Free Games and retrigger the feature as many as 15 times.
#5: Ecuador Gold
This Elk Studios creation is one of our all-time favourite high variance slots. The 6-reel 5-row game starts at 4,096 paylines but can expand to 8 rows and up to 262,144 paylines.
Throw in some ghosting wilds and mega symbols and you’ve got yourself an Aztec adventure with the chance of rare treasures for players with patience. You can try this game for free too.
#6: Fruit Shop Megaways
Bit of a theme building here! Our third Megaways choice is a high variance NetEnt slot that’s among their 10 most popular slots. It can deliver up to 117,649 ways to win, so it’s a full fat Megaways title.
It has Wilds and Free Spins with multipliers, but it’s quite a simple game and it just shows you how high volatility can be dressed up in many different ways.
#7: Esqueleto Explosivo 2
One of the surprise hits of 2020, Explosive Skeleton 2 has 99 paylines and a 5,000x maximum multiplier, both of which contribute to the slot’s action-packed play model.
Thunderkick are known for their spectacular designs, but it’s the cascading symbols and Mucho Multipliers of up to 36x that make this slot a high variance favourite. Every cascade doubles the multiplier, and you can land up to 14 Free Spins plus retriggers too.
#8: Danger High Voltage
This Big Time Gaming title even sounds like a high variance slot! Based on the cult classic track by Electric Six, this 2017 release is packed with paylines, bonus features and big win potential.
Danger High Voltage slot is a 6-reel slot with 4,096 ways to win, a couple of Free Spins bonuses and a variety of Wilds to keep you on your toes. Look out for the Gates of Hell Free Spins with Sticky Wilds, and High Voltage Free Spins with Stacked Wilds and multipliers of up to 66x!
#9: Thunderstruck II
Thunderstruck II is one of the original modern video slots, and perhaps the most famous high variance slot of all. This 243 Ways slot from Microgaming has kept its place in the top 100 most popular slots since 2010, which says it all.
Although it has an outstanding RTP, the game’s very high variance model means your results will vary hugely from session to session and even month to month . For those who are patient and lucky enough, the carrot dangling above the game is its £240,000 top prize.
#10: Extra Chilli
If Bonanza put Big Time Gaming on the map, Extra Chilli slot was the Megaways game that confirmed their status as slots innovator supreme.
With up to 117,649 possible paylines, you’ll never be short of action, and the multiplier-laden Free Spins bonus and 20,000x max multiplier add extra spice to the experience.
Playing high variance slots safely
There’s no doubt that these slots are exciting, even if the win you’re hoping for may take more time to come.
It goes without saying that if you’re playing a slot that pays out less frequently, you will need to play more spins on average to land a bigger win. More spins either means more money staked, or reducing your bet size per spin to balance out the amount of games played.
At PlayOJO, we believe gambling is for fun, even if it’s for real money. It’s not a way to make money, and all gambling games come with a high degree of risk.
High variance slots are the extreme end of the risk spectrum and although they do award huge wins, it’s important to understand the very slim odds, and how that can impact your spending money.
We encourage our players to learn as much as gambling, probability, RTP and other game factors, as well as the importance of proper bankroll management.
If you play high variance slots, it can be very helpful to set game alerts which remind you how long you’ve been playing, and deposit limits to help you manage your money.
High variance slots FAQs
What is a high variance slot machine?
Slot volatility refers to the way a slot pays out, and it includes both the frequency and the size of the wins. Some slots are more regular and predictable, they pay out more often and for smaller amounts. That’s low volatility for you.
High variance slots are extremely unpredictable, and they usually have bigger prizes too. If 100 players played 1,000 spins of a high variance slot. The results will vary wildly. Most players might win nothing, and 1 player might spin a 10,000 coin win. In reality, high variance slots payout models are much more complex than this, but you get the gist!
What is the difference between variance and volatility?
There are some small technical differences between variance and volatility, but if we are talking about slots or casino games, you can safely assume they mean the same thing.
Are all progressive slots highly volatile?
It’s worth talking about progressive jackpot slots here too. In theory, any slot with a progressive jackpot could be categorized as a high variance slot but the reality is different. Some slots jackpots are quite small, and even if a slot has a £1 million progressive, the base game (which accounts for well over 99% of the gameplay) could be very low volatility.
What are the pros and cons of high variance slots?
Those players who prefer high variance online slots or casino games are usually attracted by the potential for big wins. Although you may wait longer for that win, it will be more exciting if it comes.
They require more patience, can be less exciting or rewarding in the short term, and require a much bigger bankroll. If it is common to go without a significant win for 1,000 spins, you need to manage your bankroll more carefully.