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Ask the Slot Expert: Slot Machine Volatility

1 January 2014

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

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Some slot machines let you choose volatility. What is volatility?

Slot machines send your bankroll on a roller coaster ride from the bizarro universe. On a regular roller coaster, you climb up very slowy and drop down very quickly.

On the slot machine's bizarro roller coaster, your bankroll goes down very slowly, but it can go up very quickly. You can't lose more than the amount you're betting per spin, so that limits how quickly your bankroll can drop. Your bankroll can jump up very quickly, however, especially if you hit the jackpot or another high-paying combination.

Low volatility machines hit small amounts fairly frequently. Your bankroll usually doesn't disappear quickly because the machine hits so frequently. Cold spells tend to be short-lived. Your bankroll also probably won't get very high because you usually win small amounts. Low volatility machines are like Kansas -- no tall mountains, no deep valleys. Low volatility is for people who don't like to have to feed machines frequently.

High volatility machines hit larger amounts less frequently. You might lose your entire session bankroll quickly because hits are not as frequent as on a low voltility machine. You might have to feed the machine to keep playing it if you hit a cold spell, which can be long. When you hit something, though, the amounts tend to be large. Compared with the low volatility machine, your bankroll will go down more quickly and go higher when you play the high volatility machines.

Some players like the stomach-churning excitement of playing a high volatility machine. They have the bankroll for and don't mind feeding a machine to keep playing in search of a nice payday. Other players prefer a more gentle ride and will gladly trade some excitement for tending to get more play from their buy-ins.

I like low volatility in video poker. My favorite paytable is 9/6 Jacks or Better. I can frequently get a lot of play from $100. I was recently at the LVH (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton) playing dollar 9/6 Jacks. I had a coupon to get an extra $25 on jackpots of $100 or more. When I hit four of a kind, I had to wait for a floorperson to come and pay me the bonus.

The hand I had was four aces and a deuce. As I was waiting, a passerby pointed out that had I been playing Double Double Bonus, I would have won $2000 instead of $125. I politely agreed with him.

While it's true that I didn't win as much as I could have, the Double Double Bonus paytable is too volatile for my liking. I would have gotten only a push on all of those two pairs I hit and woudn't have had as much "tray money" to keep me from having to feed the machine.

On a slot machine, I'm willing to go for more volatility because I have less money at risk per spin. I'll play some at each volatility level, but usually settle in on the medium level. That usually keeps me from having to continually feed a machine, but also gives me a chance at hitting a nice payday.

Finally, remember that volatility say nothing about long-term payback. The two are independent. Long-term payback tells us how much of our money the machine will hold in the long run. Volatility tells us how bumpy the ride to the long run will be.

John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots