A progressive jackpot is a jackpot (highest payoff) for a gaming machine (usually a slot machine or video poker machine) where the value of the jackpot increases a small amount for every game played. Normally multiple machines are “linked” together to form one large progressive jackpot that grows more quickly because multiple players are contributing to the jackpot at the same time.
The progressive jackpot meter
The amount of the jackpot is shown on a meter as a money value. Usually the jackpot can only be won by winning the combination with the highest payoff, e.g. a royal flush at a video poker game, or five of the most valuable symbols (lemons, cherries, alligators, etc) on a slot machine. Once a player wins the jackpot, the jackpot resets to a preset minimum level.
The amount on the jackpot progresses (increases) a small amount for every play on a connected machine. The amount that the jackpot advances by is set by the casino (“the house”). For example, on a machine whose house edge is 5%, a generous jackpot contribution might be 1% (one fifth of the expected profit). The house is prepared to contribute some of the profit of a jackpot linked machine because players are attracted by the:
- relative novelty of progressive jackpots (generally, only a small fraction of the house’s gaming machines will be connected to a progressive jackpot)
- constantly changing meter, often displayed on large, fancy LED displays
- large amount of the jackpot, which eventually motivates more players to play the game.
Usually only players who wager the maximum number of credits per play qualify to win the jackpot. All wagers, whether or not they’re max credit bets, contribute to the jackpot though. As a result, a game which requires a 10 credit wager to qualify for the progressive jackpot will tend to have the progressive jackpot rise to higher levels (relative to its break-even level) than a game that requires only a 5 credit wager to qualify.
The break-even point
In some games such as video poker, it is possible to compute an optimal playing strategy based on the frequency for each payoff versus the odds of hitting that payoff. Since the jackpot of a progressive video poker game is constantly growing, it eventually can reach a break-even point where the machine becomes a positive expectation bet for the player.
When the progressive jackpot is less than the break-even point, there is a negative expected value (house edge) for all players.
In the long run, with optimal strategy, a video poker player can make a profit, although the “long run” is generally longer than most people think. (Several tens of thousands of plays.)
It’s worthwhile to note that a break-even point cannot normally be calculated on a slot machine game, because the payback percentage for the game is unknown to the player. The break-even point in video poker can be calculated because the payback percentage for the game is a function of the paybacks and odds of the poker hands, which is based on a 52 card deck.
Advantage players who only play when the progressive jackpot provides them with a positive expectation situation still generate revenue for the casino. This is a unique situation where the player has an advantage over the house, yet the casino is still making a profit from the player. This situation occurs because the bulk of the progressive jackpot has been bought and paid for by the other players’ contributions to the jackpot.
Savvy gamblers sometimes organize teams of players to play machines where the progressive jackpots generate a positive expectation situation. Such teams often displace ordinary players, making the machines unavailable just when they are at their most interesting. Team members will often have cell phones and work in shifts, calling another teammate to replace them when they’re ready for a break. Some casinos have a policy of “no team play”, and will eject players suspected of playing in such teams.
Most casinos offer slot clubs, which pay back a percentage of a gambler’s wagers on their games in the form of cash rebates and other perks with a monetary value. Participating in a slot club can reduce the break-even point of a progressive jackpot game because of the value of the rebate on each wager.
Other jackpot games
Progressive jackpots are not limited to slot machines and video poker. Poker games sometimes include a progressive bad beat jackpot. Caribbean stud poker is another casino game which often has a progressive jackpot available, and some online casinos offer progressive versions of blackjack, roulette, and other casino games.
List of popular progressive games
- Wheel of Fortune
- Regis’ Cash Club
- Megajackpots – ticker and records for MegaJackpots from IGT
- Slotcharts – tracks online progressive jackpots