Slots have always been one of the most popular casino games. And if you happen to be a real fan of slots, you might have noticed that they seem to behave in different ways. Some appear to give a lot of payouts, but only in smaller amounts, whereas others will offer larger payouts but much less frequently. That´s because of a feature known as volatility, which is basically the amount of risk present in any particular game. Put another way, it’s the term which describes how much and how often you might expect to win.
How are slot machines programmed?
All slots incorporate what’s called a random number generator (RNG). Though this replicates effects such as spinning a roulette wheel, it’s handled by a computer and so is no longer a mechanical process. What that means is that it’s ALWAYS random. So, despite the myths many players still seem to cling to, there really is no such thing as a jackpot being due soon, or the dynamic of game payouts starting to change according to whether the ‘machine’ is hot or cold etc. Nowadays, you may still see ‘reels’ on the video screen, but these are usually just images. And even if they are real, it’s still the RNG algorithm alone which actually determines whether or not you win. Early slots had spinning reels which typically ‘stopped’ 10 times per reel, but modern computer-controlled machines can stop as much as 50 times per reel. That makes it harder to get big wins and the likelihood of a win on any machine is termed its ‘weighting’. The weighting system of any machine is always skewed in the owner’s favour.
What are the odds in a slot machine?
The odds in a slot machine are determined by the par sheet. Each individual slot machine has its own par sheet which indicates the weightings (which means the likelihood) for every stop on every reel – that includes the blanks (if any). As a result of the par sheet specifications, the odds (as well as the house edge) for each and every slot machine become easily quantifiable —but, of course, only for the casino owners. A gambling business will always keep this par sheet data a secret. Thus players will never get a clear grasp of the odds for each game, nor discover what the house edge or the payback percentage amounts to.
What is the payback percentage?
The payback percentage, or payback rate, is a mathematical calculation which predicts how much of the money the machine takes will be paid back in winnings over an infinite number of spins. So if a slot is programmed to offer a 97% payback, once it has completed enough spins, the average payout should be very close to winning back $3 for every $100 spent in the machine. However, a casino will always distinguish between the theoretical machine payback rate and the actual return on any machine.
Another relevant term here is ‘hit frequency’, which is a measure of how frequently a win combination will appear on the screen. (A higher number means a greater hit frequency.) Because different slots are programmed to offer different payback percentages and hit frequencies, to the player, they will soon appear to have very different characteristics and responses. There is always a correlation between the machine’s payback rate and hit frequency. The effect of different programming is to create machines with a range of high and low hit frequencies. Slots which offer a higher hit frequency are often known as ‘loose’ machines because they appear to be more ‘generous’ than other machines. Despite this perception, this kind of machine does not have a high payback percentage. That’s because it will generate (low) payments more frequently.
And conversely, slots which are designed to have a lower hit frequency are known as “tight” machines. But despite this, their payout rate will usually exceed that of one of the looser machines. So, as regards a gaming strategy, slot players should remember that it should be potentially more rewarding to play on tight machines (= low hit frequency but high payback rate) than it would be to play a loose machine (= high hit frequency but lower payback rate).
So when should you choose high or low volatility slots?
This is basically a matter of ‘horses for courses’, especially as regards the financial resources you have available. So if you have plenty of cash and a lot of time, and can, therefore, afford to be patient and play on machines for longer, the best strategy would be to go for high volatility slots. But with less cash to play with, low volatility slot games equate to a lower risk for the player, and yet will still offer the opportunity to gain smaller wins within a shorter space of time.