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Playing Low RTP Slots - What's Their Deal?

Playing Low RTP Slots - What's Their Deal?

Recently a close friend of mine and myself entered into a debate about the true importance of RTP in relation to the final outcome for a gambling session in the short term.

On the one side it was ferociously argued by my friend that higher RTP is always better due to the obvious mathematical reasons which 'cannot be disputed', on the other hand I kept coming back to the constant notion that in the short term (an hour or two of game play) RTP can be factored out.

I understand that this kind of goes against the established grain - however let's reason this out.

What is RTP, What Does It Mean?

I'll keep this short as most players will already have an inherent understanding of RTP and it's effects. RTP is an acronym for Return To Player. It has a value listed as a percentage always less than 100% (usually between the 96 to 98.8%) rate and it dictates the average payout you are expected to receive compared to the total wager you place on a given casino game.

RTP although being a mathematical value is also a theoretical one and this distinction is an important one to make.

The word theoretical implies two things:

  1. The value of the RTP is only reached after an infinite amount of time
  2. RTP is an average not a constant, averages are made up of many fluctuations

Players can win more money from slots on every turn, sometimes winning more than their wager and sometimes losing all their wager.

Is More RTP Always Better?

This is the hot potato question. The key point to understand here, is that RTP is an average payout across all the features of the slot. This means that the potential wins that can occur from different parts of the slot game, say between the base game and its bonus rounds, can be completely different.

The difference is what we call Variance or Volatility. Now in the short term over a short couple of hours gambling run for example this variance is further amplified since by it's very nature variance is highest across shorter time-spans.

Take progressive jackpots as an example, they always have lower RTP than standard slots yet they are the type of slots which pay out the most.

You might be thinking that this is not a really fair comparison and you would be right, the notion however of low RTP games potentially being more profitable that high RTP games is what I want to convey with this comparison.

Following this line of thought, bearing in mind that we don't usually gamble for 10 hours at a time (realistically), what really should be effecting the bottom line is the variance and not the RTP.

Now we already know that to win big we need to be playing high volatility machines, more on that here, and we also know that many of the best high volatility machines gravitate towards a lower RTP.

There is a conclusion to be made here that lower RTP might actually in a specific sense be more profitable when coupled with proper playing practises.

How To Tell The RTP Of A Game

Some casinos advertise this directly on the game thumbnail, the RTP (or theoretical RTP rather) is not a secret in any way. Game manufacturers make this information public to both online casinos and to the public in general. 

It makes sense, the RTP of a game created by a reputable game manufacturer is audited by independent government organisations to ensure the manufacturer does not rig the machine and that the machine falls within a range which is legally accepted.

We also maintain a few RTP lists for NetEnt and Microgaming on this portal for ease of access. The point is there should be no problem identifying the theoretical factory RTP of your favourite game or games.

Slot Machine Variance - The Most Vital Game Factor

Variance is a measure of how a casino game behaves in the short term - over a short to medium gambling session. Many players do not realise this, however there is a mathematical explanation of sorts which explains why some people are lucky.

Yes, as strange as it may sound, plain old luck can be boiled down to a set of probability based equations - the same equations which describe variance.

Slot Variance (also known as volatility) explains how likely you are to deviate from the expected house edge on any given game. If we take a quick look at the numbers (in broad strokes) we can use this knowledge to better chose what Casino Games to play.

What Is Variance?

In probability theory and statistics, variance is the expectation of the squared deviation of a random variable from its mean. In the real world it means a measure of the amount by which any outcome can differ from the average outcome; or put as an example.

Let's image a super simple slot machine which has a limited number of payout modes on any bet made. This slot machine pays out as a multiplier of the bet as a function of these multipliers. The variance of this machine would be measured as the average of the square 'distance' of each multiplier from the number of possible multipliers (or outcomes).

Machine #1

For example, if it can payout 2 (two) x0 Multipliers, or 1 (one) single x3 Multiplier on any bet placed; or we lose two (2) out of every three (3) times we bet and the other time we get twice our bet back; each of which have the same odds of emerging (three (3) options at 33.3% each).

Calculating Machine #1 We Get:

  • The total multiplier average (mean multiplier) is 1; or Sum / Count.
  • The differences are {-1,-1, 2}; or Every Number minus the Mean.
  • The square of the differences are {1, 1, 4};  or {(-1 * -1), (-1 * -1), (2 * 2)}
  • The variance is 2; or (1 + 1 + 4) / 3
  • The standard deviation is 1.41; or the square root of the variance.

In plain old English on average we win 1 time our bet per spin, the multipliers differ from each other by a factor of 1.41, this machine has a variance of 2 and an RTP of 100%.

Machine #2

Now we will add more multipliers to the machine whilst at the same time reducing our RTP. Let's take a new set of multipliers:

The options are: 9 (nine) x0 Multipliers, or 1 (one) single x8 Multiplier; each of which have the same odds of emerging (ten (10) options at 10% odds each).

Calculating Machine #2 We Get:

  • The total multiplier average (mean multiplier) is 0.8; or Sum / Count.
  • The differences are {-0.8, -0.8, … , 7.2}; or Every Number minus the Mean.
  • The square of the differences are {0.64, 0.64, … , 51.84};  or {(-0.8 * -0.8), (-0.8 * -0.8), … , (7.2 * 7.2)}
  • The variance is 5.76; or sum of the square differences divided by count (1.77 + 1.77 + … + 44.44) / 10
  • The standard deviation is 2.4; or square root of the variance.

This means that on average we win 0.8 times our bet per spin, the multipliers differ from each other by a factor of 2.4, this machine has a variance of 2.4 and an RTP of 80%.

As we can very easily see the first machine has a much better RTP than the second however the second has a higher variance and the potential to hit a much bigger win than the first.

The RTP difference is very much exaggerated in these examples, usually in real online slots it wouldn't vary by more than 2 or 3 % at most. The variance difference however can still show us the expected behaviour in the sort term.

As variance goes up, we become more and more likely to end up with a final outcome which farther away from the expected return - in this case the expected return being the RTP.

Therefore, a low variance indicates that the average win tends to be very close to the average RTP. A high variance indicates that the average wins are very spread out from the average RTP.

In casino games a high variance in is associated with higher risk, along with a higher return. Low variance is associated with lower risk and a lower return.

How Does This Even Help?

Luckily for us, slot machines manufacturers publish the variance of their games - it not a secret as one would imagine. By knowing a game's variance we can get an understanding of how the game is really expected to behave, it's almost like getting familiar with the character of the game.

If you want the chance at big bonus rounds with huge multipliers, or getting a hefty mega win, but are willing to take the risk of losing more often, you'll want to select a game with high variance. On the other hand, if you want the chance at modest wins and would like to extended your game play time as much as possible, then you are so much better off picking games with low variance.

In addition, let's say you want to complete the wagering requirement of a bonus and just hit a good win on a high variance machine, your odds of cashing the bonus up would increase considerable if at this point you were to switch over to a High RTP - Low Variance game.

If you want to place a smaller number of big bets in the hope of getting a big win, then you would want to place them on a Low RTP - High Variance slot because, although the range of possible wins will be greater and the duration between them much less consistent, the upper limit on the wins will also be much higher.

If you want to get a quick list of some high variance slot machines (the most commonly played) we found, since they are the one players most often rave about getting mega wins on, then check out the list at the bottom of this article - why you should be playing high variance slots.

You can also find RTP listings for the most popular NetEnt games here and for the Microgaming games here.

RTP Isn't Everything - It Has Importance

RTP will give you a mathematical indication of what you are 'expected' to get back from a machine in the very long term (years). It won't tell you specifically where and when you can win the biggest wins on the slot. The inherent information provided by the RTP has value but we're not gambling to other people's expectations, we're looking to break expectations and have a hobby which brings both thrills and financial rewards.

The RTP is too cold of a number to be of any use in this regard, and again as we already stated, since lower RTP games tend to be more volatile they should give the better wins over higher RTP ones.

If you ever find a low RTP slot which is a simple game, with no additional bonus rounds or features, then avoid it like cancer, but otherwise there is nothing (not even mathematically) which states that we are expected to win less during a session.

One final thing, should you ever be in a situation where you are having a cold run on a low RTP machine, don't stick with it, close or change the game. It's a myth that a game will pay more after a cold or dry run, they don't, they are not programmed that way and when calculating the odds, the maths clearly implies that there is no link between the outcome of one event (spin) and the outcome of another.

So if a lower RTP slot you've found is turning your bankroll into a gaping black hole and you're not getting a big win quickly, then take your money elsewhere and save it for a prize that's worth it.

If you have any real world experiences related to what we just discussed or have what you feel is a strong counter argument to the RTP mentality then do leave your comment - we'd love to hear multiple perspectives on this.

As always, Best of luck!


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