Payout percentage (RTP) and the variance of slots on the example of Wolf Gold

Payout percentage and variance are the 2 most important mathematical characteristics of a slot machine. They basically affect how much and how often you win. However, in reality it is a bit more complicated than that. But I will try to explain it to you.

Payout Percentage (RTP)

The RTP (Return to Player, also called "payout ratio" or "payout percentage") in Wolf Gold slot is the long-term statistical percentage of total money won divided by the total amount of money wagered.

If you only play a few hundred rounds, your current return can range from 30% to 1000%. But the more rounds you play, the more likely you are to be closer to the slot machine's statistical RTP. That's why I used such big numbers in the example above.

The most common payout percentage in online slots is around 96%. Some slots, such as Wolf Gold, have an RTP of up to 98%.

"The most common payout percentage in online slots is about 96%."

RTP (payout percentage) is a very popular characteristic in online slots because it can be expressed by a single number. It is easy to compare and most popular game providers provide RTP data for each slot. And it's easier to write articles like "Top 10 slots with the highest payouts".

RTP can be used for various simplified calculations (such as the percentage loss on bonus wagering).


Simplified calculations are good when you want to impress your friends over a glass of beer. But for more serious calculations (like the ones we made in our Bonus Hunt article) you'll need to factor in volatility, or variance.

The variance in slots cannot be expressed by a single number, as you can win thousands of different amounts as a result of many different winning combinations. I have found that the most accurate way to represent slots variance is through a chart like this:

How the variance is calculated

Because variance cannot be expressed as a single number, game vendors usually categorize slots as "low," "medium," or "high" variance. These categories can't be effectively compared or used in calculations, but they can give you a basic idea of the volatility of the game you've chosen.

Determining the real variance of a slot (in the form of the chart above) is a very difficult task. Essentially, you have to reconstruct the game's set of reels and correctly estimate the probabilities of the other game features. Even for me, this is quite a daunting task, which depending on the slot can take all day, if not more.

The variance of a slot can be roughly calculated from the payout table and the set of reels. Look for the highest winning combination. What is the probability of collecting it? How much will you win?

Personally, I like high-dispersion games because you can win large amounts, and you can have the same thrill with lower bets. And lower stakes mean you will statistically lose less. This effect can easily be offset by a lower payout percentage.

For example, the payout percentage in lotteries is about 50%, but the chance to win the jackpot and become a multimillionaire still attracts players. Even my mother sometimes buys a lottery ticket and imagines what she would do if she won. That said, she will never throw a dime into a slot machine.

Lottery aside, slots are the most volatile type of game you can play in a casino. The advantage of high variance can beat the high payout percentage of games like blackjack or roulette. To learn more about variance and payout percentages and how they affect your chances of winning, read this article.

How to Increase Slot Machine Dispersion

Here are some tricks you can use to increase the variance of slots:

  • Use the doubling button (black/red). The payout percentage will remain the same and you can easily increase the game's variance to your desired values simply by gambling until you win enough money.
  • Change the number of winning lines to 1 and increase the bet per line. The odds of winning on that particular line are lower, but you can expect much higher wins. If you don't believe me, try this tactic in our online slots in demo mode ;).

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