Progressive slots (and video poker games) offer jackpots that increase every time someone makes a bet up until someone wins. At that point, the progressive jackpot resets to its starting value and starts accumulating again.
The amount that the jackpot rises is based on a tiny percentage of your action on the machine. Most progressive slot machines are now pooled with other machines so that the jackpot goes up fast, although some games are still standalone progressives.
The best way to think about progressive slots is that they’re the slot machine equivalent of a lottery game. The odds of winning are long, but the prizes are huge. In most lotteries, the size of the prize increases from drawing to drawing until someone wins the lottery.
You’ll know you’re playing a progressive jackpot game because it will feature a prominent jackpot meter showing the size of the jackpot. This is also sometimes called a “jackpot ticker,” because it ticks upward as players on the network lose bets into the machines on that network.
This post features 10 of the most interesting facts I could find about progressive slot machines.
1 – Megabucks Is the Biggest Slot Machine Jackpot
Megabucks is IGT’s most famous progressive slot machine. It’s a state-wide game run in Nevada, and it’s the main reason the state doesn’t have an actual lottery. Who needs a lottery when you can just play the Megabucks slot machine?
Megabucks isn’t new either, the games have been available now for a couple of decades. Several people have won millions of dollars over the history of the game.
To play Megabucks, you must wager $3. It’s a dollar machine with a three-coin maximum bet. If you don’t place the maximum bet, you’re not eligible for the jackpot.
In Nevada, at least 750 different slot machines in over 125 different casinos pool those tiny contributions to grow that $10 million jackpot faster than you’d think is possible.
The odds of winning Megabucks is similar to that of winning the lottery, 50 million to 1. And like the lottery, winners get paid in the form of an annuity that pays annual installments over the next 25 years.
If you go with the cash option, you can settle for 60% of the prize amount as just plain cash. It’s hard to deny that Megabucks is the most interesting progressive jackpot game in the United States.
2 – Megabucks Has a Curse Associated With It
Some gamblers believe that if you win Megabucks, you have a greater than usual probability of dying young.
This legend of the “Megabucks curse” stems from the death of Cynthia Jay-Brennan, a cocktail waitress who won $35 million Megabucks only to be paralyzed in a car wreck. Jay-Brennan’s sister died in the wreck, which was caused by a drunk driver.
Most of the other tales of woe related to Megabucks are nothing more than urban legends, though.
It’s the opinion of this blogger that the wreck was just “one of those things,” and Cynthia Jay-Brennan has my sympathy.
3 – Progressive Jackpots Can Put the Odds in the Players’ Favor
Any game with a progressive jackpot can offer a player a positive expectation bet if the jackpot is large enough.
The trouble with slot machines is that no one knows exactly what the payback percentage for the game is, so it’s impossible to determine what the size of the jackpot would have to be.
But in other games with progressive jackpots, like video poker, you can compute the break-even point for the game and only play after the jackpot has exceeded that point.
The optimal strategy for playing such a game changes based on the size of that jackpot, too.
4 – Some Progressive Games Get Attached by Advantage Player Teams
An advantage player is a gambler who only gambles when he has an edge over the casino. The classic example of an advantage gambler is a card counter in blackjack.
But we already discussed how a gambler could have an advantage at a progressive slot machine game.
They play as a team until someone on the team wins the progressive jackpot, and the team then splits the profits. Some casinos don’t mind this type of advantage play much, because even though the players have an edge, the jackpot comes mostly from players’ contributions to the game over time.
Other casinos have policies forbidding team play and will back off or bar such players.
5 – Slot Machines With Progressive Jackpots Have Worse Odds
You measure the casino’s advantage with a slot machine by looking at the payback percentage, or return to player percentage, for the game. This is the flip side of the house edge.
The payback percentage estimates an average amount that will be returned to the player in winnings over the long run based on the odds of winning and the prize amounts. The house edge estimates how much the player will lose on each bet.
The higher the payback percentage is, the better the game is for the player. For example, a slot machine game with a 98% payback percentage is better than a slot machine game with an 88% payback percentage.
Generally, there are two factors that ensure the progressive jackpot games have a lower payback percentage.
- The first is simple to understand. A percentage of each bet is diverted toward increasing the size of the jackpot. That amount comes directly from the payback percentage of the game.
- The second is only slightly harder to understand. A large percentage of the game’s payback percentage is based on the payout from the jackpot. If a game has a 95% payback percentage, 5% of that might be made up of the jackpot.
But with a game where you only have a 1 in 50 million or even 1 in 10 million chance of seeing that jackpot, the payback percentage before that jackpot gets hit will necessarily be lower than that 95%.
The more economical choice for slot players is always the flat-top slot machine, not the progressive slot machine.
6 – Mega Moolah Is Probably the Best Progressive Jackpot Online
Mega Moolah is an online-only progressive slot machine game with five reels and 25 paylines. The game’s symbols and sound effects have an African theme, with elephants and zebras.
In the decade since Microgaming launched Mega Moolah, no other online slot machine game has produced as many millionaires.
The prizes for Mega Moolah have ranged from $5 million to $13 million. That $13 million was the biggest online jackpot win in history, too.
7 – You Usually Can’t Win the Progressive Jackpot Unless You Play Max Coins
Most slot machines have a denomination and a maximum number of coins you can wager. Most of the time, you can bet less than the minimum without any kind of adverse effects.
But progressive slots, like video poker games, are an exception.
If you don’t bet the maximum number of coins, you’re usually ineligible to win the progressive jackpot.
This doesn’t make much of a practical difference, since the probability of winning a progressive jackpot is practically zero anyway. Once the probability of an event gets small enough, it might as well be zero.
8 – Some Online Casinos ONLY Offer Progressive Jackpots
One online casino, Slotland, offers a minimal number of games, but they all share the same progressive jackpot. You can’t play there from the United States, but it’s probably just as well. The casino has some misleading practices, especially in terms of how their video poker and blackjack games work.
When a casino offers a video blackjack or video poker game, they’re implying that those games follow the same probabilities you’d see if they were using a deck of playing cards.
If you’re okay with that, it might be okay to play there, but the most interesting thing about that casino is that all the games tie into the one big jackpot.
9 – A Standalone Progressive Offers Better Odds
You’ll find three different kinds of progressive slot machines:
- Standalone progressives
- Local area progressives
- Wide area progressives
A standalone progressive slot machine is one where the jackpot can only be won on that machine. But playing on that machine counts toward raising the jackpot. The size of the jackpot on a standalone game is almost always smaller than the jackpot on other kinds of machines.
A local area progressive network is a network of machines in the same casino, usually all within a short distance of each other. These jackpots are bigger than what you’d see on a standalone progressive, but not as big as you’ll see with a wide area progressive jackpot.
A wide area progressive jackpot is similar to what you see with Megabucks. Multiple machines in multiple locations feed the jackpot. This game has the biggest prizes.
The best odds for the player can be found at the standalone progressive slots, because the jackpot is smaller. In fact, the lower the jackpot, the better the odds are in general with a slot machine game.
10 – You Can Win the Progressive Even With Your Slots Club Card Inserted
There’s a popular myth/urban legend that you can’t win the top jackpot on a slot machine if you’re playing with the slots club card inserted. This isn’t true.
The random number generator running these machines isn’t aware of whether you’re playing with your slots club card inserted or not. It’s impossible for it to have such an effect on your gaming experience.
Progressive slot machines can be a lot of fun as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into. Generally, I recommend avoiding them for games with lower jackpots, but certain players prefer to play for big, life-changing prizes.