Games of chance: RTP and variance


Some say he can hear a roulette wheel spin from a thousand yards, others that he can deal a deck of cards with just his toes. He is the Casino Veteran and he thought it was high time that he shared with you exactly how RTP and variance work in games of chance.


When playing games of chance, there are a few things that the Casino Veteran likes to keep in mind. While it’s hard to develop a strategy that works consistently when playing games that rely almost completely on luck, there are certainly some concepts that can help you win big at your online casino, even when playing slots and other games of chance.


What do RTP and variance mean?

RTP stands for Return to Player, and is also known as the payout ratio, payout percentage or simply as the expected return. It refers to the money that the player can expect to have returned to them during any given casino game, as a percentage of the total money wagered. The RTP can be looked at as the flip side of the house edge. The house edge is literally 100% minus the RTP – so if the RTP on a particular game is 97%, then the house edge is 3%.

When playing European roulette, for example, a straight bet on red gives you a chance of winning based on 18 (the amount of red numbers) divided by 37 (the total amount of numbers on the wheel). The payout on “red or black” bets is 2 X the amount wagered. Therefore, the formula for working out the RTP ratio is 2 X 18 divided by 37, which is 0.973 (rounded) X 100 to get a percentage, which is 97.3%. This makes the RTP 97.3%, and the house edge 2.7%.

RTP is not always that clear-cut, of course, and can vary across different versions of the same game, and even during a single game as, for example, the dealer deals more cards. To further complicate matters, games of chance are also affected by variance, or volatility.



What’s the difference between high and low-variance games?

Games can be either high variance or low variance, and this will determine how much you will be adding to, or losing from, your bankroll as the game progresses. When you play a game with low variance, you can expect to win regularly, but only small amounts at a time. When playing a game with high variance, also known as high volatility, you will lose most rounds, but when you win, you will win big. Many gamblers seek out high-variance games in the expectation that, over time, they will end up winning more money, even though they lose more rounds.

High-variance games are considered better for a number of reasons. A high-variance game is more likely to pay out one big win, which, for many gamblers, will signal that it’s time to walk away from the game. Those who play high-variance games tend to find it easier to quit while they’re ahead than those playing low-variance games and winning lots of small amounts.

Losing frequently can also, counter-intuitively, be an advantage. When they lose frequently, players tend to make a small wager in the next round. This sounds like it may be an overall disadvantage, but high variance also means that you can win a high amount, relative to the amount wagered, so you can bet lower amounts to win higher amounts. This also reduces the total sum of your bets, and limits overall losses. Generally speaking, high-variance games are popular because in the long term, they result in more significant winnings. 


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How to find games with high RTP

By now, you are probably wondering how to find games with high RTP. There are a few ways, and it is not as hard as you might imagine. As previously mentioned, it is possible to work out the RTP and house edge on some games.

This is not so easy with more complicated games, or truly “random” games such as video slots, but this doesn’t mean that the RTP is destined to ever remain a mystery on these games. Far from it. Many online casino games state exactly what the RTP percentage is, though others may be a little more vague and avoid giving an actual percentage, with some slots simply stating that they have a high, medium or low RTP.

The next thing to do to get an idea of RTP is to simply search online. Many websites that review individual online casino games include the RTP, and a quick online search for “casino games with high RTP” will bring up several lists compiled by gamblers all over the web. Just be aware that not all these lists and statistics are 100% accurate.

Be aware when researching that it is common for RTP to vary between 92% and 97%. Games with a very low house edge, such as European roulette, will have an RTP of a little over 97%. Any game with an RTP of 96% or more is generally considered high RTP, and therefore a good option.

It’s also vital to recognise that RTP is not an exact science. It is possible to play high RTP games and lose money, of course, just as it’s possible to win big on a low RTP game. Casino games really are based on luck. The RTP is a ratio that plays out statistically, over long periods of time, so if a game pays out at a much lower rate than expected, this doesn’t mean that the system is not working. It simply means that other players of that game are, or will be, luckier than you when playing the exact same game.

The Casino Veteran suggests you seek out some high RTP games next time you visit your favourite casino and see if your winnings increase.


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