Variance

The majority of gamblers will be aware that any casino’s primary goal is to make money, with both online and offline casinos generate millions of pounds in profit every month. Whilst some of this profit can be attributed to a player’s lack of strategy or experience, a large amount of this revenue comes from the house-edge, otherwise known as ‘variance’.

Before we get into the specifics of what variance actually is, it’s important to note that if you use what you’re about to learn in deciding which games are best to play, you can position yourself to be in with the best chances of winning. Whilst it’s completely possible to get lucky and achieve long winning streaks at casinos, this isn’t something you can safely rely on to make you the most money on a long-term basis.

What is Variance?

Variance in casino games is best explained as an indicator of your expected outcome – i.e. the percentage of a wager the casino is likely to keep in the long-run. Generally speaking, the higher the variance, the lower your chances are of winning. But, if you do win, you’ll win a much higher amount than you’d typically win in a lower-variance alternative. The lottery is a prime example of a high-variance game, as players select a selection of numbers in the hope they’re drawn. Multi-million-pound jackpots are often featured in lottery draws because the chance of a player selecting the exact combination of numbers that’s drawn – therefore making them a winner – is so low.

The lower the variance a game has, the higher your chances are of winning. For example, imagine a classic 50/50 game of picking either red or black from a deck of playing cards. Over time, you can expect to win half the time and essentially break-even; this would mean that neither you nor the casino would win or lose a large amount of money. Sure, you could experience a lucky streak and accumulate a large number of winnings in one go, but the law of averages dictates that neither you nor the casino would hugely profit in the long-run.

And that’s exactly why casino games have variance. If all games were like this, not only would the casino not profit, but the players would have very little opportunity to win large amounts of money. This would eliminate all excitement and incentive for players to gamble on casino games, meaning the entire casino system would likely fall apart.

How to Tell the Variance of a Game

Due to the sheer volume of different casino games out there, both online and offline, it’s safe to say that there’s a huge array of variance players can expect to find. Generally speaking, the casino games with the highest variance (and are usually the most popular) are the slots, which we’ll get into a bit further on. Classic table games all tend to have relatively low variance, but there are still some opportunities for big wins’ dependent on which game a player chooses and how they play the game itself. Here’s some of the most common table games found at the majority of casinos, with their variance explained.

Table Game Variance

Roulette

Roulette has varying degrees of variance dependent on how you choose to bet. 

  • If a player places a standard ‘red or black’ bet, the variance will be low as the player has a 50/50 chance of choosing the correct colour the ball will land on.
  • A ‘Straight Up’ bet results in Roulette’s highest variance. The chances of choosing the correct number from 1-35 holds a much lower chance of winning than a simpler ‘red or black’ bet, but has the highest payout if a win is achieved.

Pai Gow Poker 

Pai Gow Power holds the lowest variance of any table game.

  • As long as a player utilises optimum strategy, the game is basically a simple coin toss between the dealer and the player.
  • Similar to a ‘red or black’ bet in Roulette, this offers nearly a 50/50 chance of winning.

Slot Variance

Across all casino games, slots have the highest variance and are generally the most popular among players. Whilst high variance often results in a lower chance of wins, if a player does win, it’s usually a large amount of money that significantly contributes to their excitement value and popularity. However, in a similar sense to table games, variance within slots will vary dependent on the specific characteristics of the slot. Every casino slot is different, and variance represents that. When investigating slot variance, there are a few tell-tale signs to look out for that act as variance indicators.

  • Jackpot Value – The higher the jackpot, the higher the variance is likely to be. It’s unlikely for a slot to have an especially high jackpot if the chances of a player winning were high.
  • Number of Paylines – Generally, the more paylines a slot has, the lower the variance will be. Any slot gambler will know that more paylines offer more variations and chances for them to win, therefore resulting in a lower variance and greater opportunities to win.

Hint: Play the demo version! Most slots offer a free-play, or “demo” mode, and doing this allows you to not only take into account the characteristics of the slot, but also to work out whether its variance is really for you or not! Playing for free, without staking your own money is a great way to do this, and almost all sites now offer demo versions of most of their games.

High Variance Slots

A lot of players enjoy the thrills of potentially winning big, hence why high variance slots with huge jackpots are often very popular. Patience is key with high variance slots, and you’ll likely want to take a large bankroll to the table, as well! Below are a few of the most commonly recognized high variance slots around.

Dead or Alive

  • Perhaps one of the most well-known high variance slots out there today, Dead or Alive by Net Entertainment is a firm favourite among many avid gamblers.
  • With bets from just 9p per spin, this slot offers players 12 free spins along with a 2x multiplier in the bonus round, with sticking wilds, and the ability to win 5 additional spins if a wild symbol lands on all five reels.

Thunderstruck II

  • Powered by Microgaming, Thunderstruck II is equally popular among players.
  • Offering numerous opportunities to win free spins, Thunderstruck II requires players to trigger a variety of levels by matching 3 bonus symbols.

300 Shields

  • Well-known for its Spartan theme, 300 Shields is notorious for few wins. But, when a player does win, it’s notably big.
  • This one is often toted as one of the highest variance slots in existence today. Within the bonus round, it’s possible to achieve a 300X multiplier on all wins and you don’t have to be a math expert to know we’re talking BIG money here… if you can catch the slot on a “good day”!

Medium Variance Slots

Still offering relatively big winning opportunities without as much pressure on having a consistent bankroll, there are many medium variance slots out there that provide players with a slightly less risky option.

Victorious

  • Another popular slot powered by Net Entertainment, Victorious offers an ideal balance between high and low variance.
  • Offering 243 ways to win, Victorious is somewhat less risky than its high variance counterparts.
  • There’s still an exciting bonus game that offers players the chance to win free spins by matching at least 3 scatter symbols. Depending on how many symbols are landed, players can win 15, 20 or 25 free spins and all their wins are multiplied by 3.

Starburst

  • A hugely popular slot all gamblers will be aware of (due to its inclusion on virtually every free-spins promotion ever released!), Starburst is yet another medium-variance slot from Net Entertainment.
  • Offering just 10 paylines, some may automatically assume that it’s a high variance slot. However, first, wins are paid left to right, and right to left, and with just 6 symbols, players enjoy far more wins than expected.

Low Variance Slots

Likely to appeal to players who don’t like taking big risks when gambling and are content with modest jackpots, low variance slots still remain to be a popular choice. As a player’s account balance is much less likely to swiftly drain away as seen in a high variance slot, low variance options generally offer a long slot session. The caveat with this, however, is that while your Casino balance will generally last a decent amount of time, big wins are scarce, so lower-variance slots are more for the “timid” gamer who likes to enjoy a session, as opposed to aiming for big wins.

The Mummy

  • Powered by Playtech, the Mummy is a notoriously low risk slot that offers a prolonged and enjoyable gaming experience for the slightly tamer gambler.
  • The game offers a bonus round that’s incredibly easy to trigger.

Sparta

  • Yet another slot from Playtech, like many other low variance slots, Sparta offers multiple paylines that feature multiplier symbols along its middle reels.
  • Featuring a relatively easy-to-trigger bonus game, Sparta offers players the chance to win 15 free spins from its various scatter symbols.
  • An increased amount of winning payouts can be achieved, lowering risk and giving players a fun experience without the concern of a quickly-dwindling bankroll.

Tomb Raider

  • This popular Lara Croft themed slot from Microgaming offers players the chance to win an unlimited amount of free spins from its bonus feature.
  • Players need only land 3 of Tomb Raider’s scatter symbols in order to win 10 free spins; there’s no limit to how many spins you can win from achieving this combination.

The Difference Between High Variance & Low Variance Games

That's just a brief roundup of some of the most common questions players have about variance, as well as a brief introduction to some of the games which feature low, medium, and high variance payout structures. Remember, while variance may seem like a pain in the backside, if all casino games were of low variance, playing at either online or offline casinos would become very boring. Ultimately, it’s your choice on the types of bet you want to place, but in general, the following rule applies:

If you want big wins, but are prepared to wait a long time and often bust out multiple times before hitting one – choose a high variance game. And, if you want a prolonged gaming experienced, and aren’t so bothered about big wins, but just want to enjoy your time spent gaming, choose a low variance slot.

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