What Does Volatility Mean in Slot Machines?

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Volatility as a slot machine term relates to how wild the swings can be on a machine. A lower volatility slot machine will tend to pay more frequently, and have smaller pays as a rule. A higher volatility slot machine will tend to pay less frequently, but have bigger pays when it does as a rule. 

Both types will have the ability to offer big wins, but how big, and how often, is more at the core of the term.

Players often want to know how to tell that a game is more or less volatile. With that in mind, here are some examples of ways to tell a game’s volatility.

Top Payout

Dragon Link progressives

Games with a big top payout are often more volatile because to offer that top payout they have to take the money from other line hits and bonuses. For comparison, a Sizzling 7s machine that’s $3 per spin and has a $1,000 top payout has a top pay of 333x your bet, vs. Dancing Drums where a $10,000 grand (to start) compared to the maximum bet of $8.80 on the penny denomination game, makes it more than 1000x your bet. 

Generally speaking, the higher the top prize relative to the bets available to win it, the more likely a game is going to be volatile.

Multiple Bonuses, Features and Progressives

Games that have multiple bonuses and features, along with progressives, like Lightning Link, will tend to be more volatile as the money is spread across more things. As such, you often have to get a bonus or feature to have a chance of coming out ahead. 

In the earlier days of slots, line hits alone could pay decent wins, but the line hits on games have been watered down over time to fuel these additional bonuses and features.

By comparison, some games, like some mechanical reel slots and games like IGT’s Twin Win, dispense with any bonuses at all, putting all the money into the line hits.

Heavy Use of Multipliers

Games that offer a lot more use of multipliers tend to be more volatile than others that don’t, because the multipliers are where the big wins come out and they have to collect in just the right way. 

A great example of this is the free spins bonus of Lightning Link’s Tiki Fire and Heart Throb themes. There are x2 wild multipliers on the last four reels – get all four of those to line up on a line, and you get x2x2x2x2 – a 16x multiplier on a five of a kind payout.

Number of Unique Symbols on the Reels

Games with more symbols on the reels are by design more volatile because you have to sift through more symbols to get something to line up. Games with less than 10 symbols on the reels will have line hits that are easier to accomplish than those with more symbols taking up space on the reels.

One thing to keep in mind is that the number of symbols includes bonus symbols, scatter symbols and wilds too – count them all for a true representation of how many competing pay symbols there are.

Mixed Symbol Pays

On the flip side, the ability for symbols to pay mixed can be a great volatility reducer, as symbols are less apt to block each other. Games with low symbol counts and mixed symbol pays can combine for a very low volatility scenario. 

Early Quick Hit Games, many of the Quick Spin series and other games like them employ these two together quite often.

All Ways Pays vs. Lines

Games with more lines will tend to be less volatile because there’s more ways to win. But when a game has no lines at all, featuring an all ways pays model, it actually can increase the volatility because the payouts tend to be bigger when a bunch of the same symbol comes out.

For comparison, many games with lines have anywhere from 20-50 lines on average, whereas all ways pays games can have 243 or 1,024 ways to win – the potential is higher, but usually so is the volatility.

So from a volatility perspective from least volatile to most volatile, more lines is the least volatile and all ways pays is the most volatile, as a general rule.

Stacked and Clumped Symbols

Many times, games will feature stacked or clumped symbols, which in tandem with things like all ways pays, can be what yields some of the biggest wins. 

Consider a game like Buffalo – getting a few Buffalo on each reel is the holy grail of payouts, because the five of a kind pay is multiplied by the number of unique ways it happens with those clumped or stacked symbols.

How Complicated the Game’s Pay Table Information Is

Double Diamond pay table

Earlier mechanical reel games, and some of their modern counterparts, have such a simple pay structure that they display it right on the game. But many modern slot machines have a button you hit on the screen to see the payout information.

On some modern games, these pay tables now go into the dozens of pages, explaining all sorts of things and combinations going on. And generally, the fact that all these permutations are possible tends to mean it’s hard to make the most lucrative of those permutations happen, and therefore the game is more volatile.

Hit Frequency

One final way you can tell a slot’s volatility is how often you win… anything really. Higher hit frequencies, or the percentage of spins where you win something on your wager, are a hallmark of low volatility slot machines. A low hit frequency is often a hallmark of a high volatility slot machine. 

It makes sense, really, if you refer back to the definition of volatility that led the article – bigger wins less often for a higher volatility game would tie in well to a hit frequency, and that’s something most players can see and feel pretty quickly playing one game vs. another.


While this isn’t an exhaustive list of ways to tell whether a slot is more or less volatile, hopefully this clues you in as a player as to various ways to examine a game to figure out how tough it might be. 

Then, you can figure out what style of game fits your appetite for what type of slot game you like the most, and be able to find more like it on a casino floor.

Have a question? Submit yours here!

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4 Replies to “What Does Volatility Mean in Slot Machines?”

  • beth haseley says:

    Thank you Brian for the definition of “volatile”. I am going to read your definition a few more times to make sense. Do you think it makes a difference to pull out your winnings and start over with fresh money? I can not express my gratitude for your channel when Covid was here. Helped make most days happy.

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      Hey Beth – thanks for reading! It doesn’t make a difference pulling out winnings. The machine just keeps track of the numbers and doesn’t do anything with that information when it comes to payouts. As a player though, pulling winnings can help you protect them by not leaving it in the machine and playing it all through! And of course it could change your timing, although we’ll never know if it’s for the better or the worse. Hope that helps!

  • Gene Kelly says:

    Would you please explain, what is meant by ‘” LINES” in a game. I have watched your videos for some time and learned a lot but the term lines and how read them escapes me, so if you please could you break it down in to very simple terms.
    Thanks much

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