Hitting the Jackpot With Progressive Slot Machines

Jackpot Graphic With Cash and Slots

When it comes to slot machines, you have two broad categories. There are flat top slot machines, and there are progressive slot machines.

A flat-top slot machine is more common, and it’s a game where the top prize is a fixed amount. 1,000 coins is a common prize, but it varies by machine.

Progressive slot machines, on the other hand, have top prizes (jackpots) that grow over time until they’re hit. They can be compared to lottery games in that respect. You know how the lottery gets bigger every week if there was no winner the previous week? Hitting the progressive on jackpot on real money slot machines is just like that.

How Big Does the Jackpot Get on a Progressive Slot Machine?

The obvious first question is, how big does the jackpot on a progressive slot machine get? The answer is that it varies based on the game.

You can find progressive jackpots that rival lottery prizes in size. The Megabucks slots in Nevada have the biggest progressive slot machine jackpot in the world. The jackpot starts at $10 million and grows until someone hits it.

When I wrote this post, the jackpot was at $15 million and growing. The biggest the jackpot ever got was in 2003, when it had risen to almost $40 million before getting hit. It’s also gotten as big as $35 million before being hit, too. But that’s on the outside end of the spectrum.

Wheel of Fortune Slot Machines

Progressive jackpots can also be much smaller, depending on the casino and the specific game. You can find plenty of progressive jackpots on the other end of the spectrum, too. Online progressives can be as low as $500 or $600.

The advantage to lower-sized progressive jackpots is that you’re more likely to win one. The odds of winning something like Megabucks are astronomically small.

What Does a Progressive Jackpot Do to the Expected Return?

If you’re not familiar with the expression, the “expected return” for a slot machine is the percentage of the money you get back in the long run when playing the machine. It’s expressed as a percentage, and it’s always less than 100%.

Expected return is based on the probability of winning and the amount you stand to win. Every prize on a slot machine has an expected return based on the probability of winning that prize multiplied by the size of the prize. When you add the expected return for each prize together, you get the overall return for the game.

Here’s what that means: If you have a slot machine with an expected total return of 94%, you expect to get back 94 cents for every dollar you put into the machine.

If you’re an average slot machine player, you might make 500 spins per hour. If you’re playing for a dollar per spin, you’re putting $500 through the machine per hour.

94% of $500 is $470, which means you’ll lose an average of $30 per hour on that machine.

That’s no guarantee, by the way. That’s an average you can expect in the long run, over dozens of hours. In the short term, you might see an hour or a session where you were up $30 or even $300. You might see other hours or sessions where you lost $60 or $120 or even more. That’s why it’s random.

The Size of the Jackpot Has an Effect on the Actual Return

The actual return on a machine is the actual amount you get back. This is opposed to the theoretical return on the machine, which is what most people mean when they talk about expected return.

But when you’re dealing with a jackpot that has such a low probability of being hit, its theoretical return might as well be zero. After all, if the probability is so close to zero that you might not expect to hit it in a lifetime of play, it might as well not even count.

Megabucks is a good example. The odds of winning the jackpot are about 1 in 50,000,000. How long would it take to make 50,000,000 spins on Megabucks?

Casino Floor With Slot Machines

At 500 spins per hour, you’re looking at 100,000 hours of play. If you played Megabucks 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year, you’d get in 2,000 hours of play. That’s 50 years of playing Megabucks as a full-time job.

No one I know would want to spend 50 years playing for that jackpot. So, you might as well subtract the expected value for the jackpot from the overall expected return for the game.

Usually, this means that the expected return for a big progressive jackpot is effectively lower than it would be if you were playing a flat top slot machine game.

What Kinds of Progressive Jackpot Slot Machines Are There?

I mentioned before that I like to categorize things, and I’ve found that categorizing progressive slot machines is easy. You have three types:

  1. Individual machines
  2. Local area-networked machines
  3. Wide area-networked machines

An individual machine with a progressive jackpot has a jackpot that grows as you play it. The jackpot also grows when someone else plays it. But it doesn’t grow when it’s not being played. A percentage of each bet “fuels” that jackpot, so the jackpot ticker doesn’t move when no one is playing the game.

It’s a jackpot ticket for an individual machine. Local area-networked machines are slot machines in a single casino and sometimes in the same bank where your play on any of the networked machines that fuels the jackpot. When someone on any of the networked machines wins, the jackpot resets to its original amount.

A wide area-networked progressive jackpot is one where the jackpots in multiple casinos in multiple locations all fuel the jackpot on the games. Megabucks is the most notable example of this, but plenty of progressive jackpot games are wide area-networked games.

Generally, the gambling games with the biggest jackpots are wide area machines, and the games with the smallest jackpots are the individual machines.

What Happens When You Gamble and Win a Jackpot?

First, the machines don’t pay out immediately in coins when you win a progressive jackpot. Such a payoff would be impractical.

A flashing light usually goes off on a progressive jackpot machine when it’s hit, and a slot machine attendant will visit you. The casino will set things up for you so that you get paid. If it’s a huge jackpot like Megabucks, it’s similar to winning the lottery.

You don’t just get a check handed to you. But you do get paid. Also, keep in mind that gambling winnings are taxable income. The casino will provide you with an earnings report. You should keep a diary of your gambling expenses so that if you do win big, you can defray at least some of the taxes you owe with these expenses.

Progressive Slot Machine Ticker

You can’t defray expenses unless you’re a winning player, though, and you can never claim more in losses than you’ve won in a calendar year.

This is true for any United States casinos, and it applies to any winnings at the casino over a specific amount. Small wins like $50 are no big deal and don’t get reported, but once you get into progressive jackpot territory, they definitely get reported.

How Do You Win Progressive Jackpot Casino Slot Machines?

There’s no magic trick to winning at progressive slots. They’re like the lottery. No amount of superstition or astrology can help you win. You just have to get lucky.

You can safely ignore all the so-called slot machine strategies you’ll see for sale or talked about on the internet. They’re all equally worthless. Slot machines are random, and you can’t predict when you’re going to win on one with some silly tactic like the “zig-zag method.”

It also doesn’t matter where the slot machine is located in the casino. For years, people have suggested that the loosest slot machines are the ones nearest the walkways in the casinos, but that’s just one of the common casino myths. It might have had some basis in truth at one time. But as far as I know, no casino or casino manager makes it that easy to spot the “loose” progressive slots.


Hitting the jackpot with progressive slot machines is something most of us will never achieve. If you do become a progressive jackpot winner, it will probably be on one of the games with the smaller jackpots—the individual machines.

Still, it’s fun to watch the jackpot ticker grow constantly, and it’s even more fun to daydream about what you’re going to do when you win all that money.

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