Progressive jackpots offer the largest prizes in slots, but how do they work, and should you play them?
All slot machines offer a jackpot prize – often referred to as the maximum amount you can win from a single spin. In the United States, the term “jackpot” has a different meaning – it is used to refer to any prize that exceeds 1,200 US Dollars. This arbitrary number was chosen by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as the point at which taxes should be paid on prizes won from slot machines.
If you win more than $1,200 from a slot machine in the US, you’ll need to complete a W-2G form to let the IRS know you owe them 28% of your winnings. This means that winning $1,199 from a US slot machine leaves you $336 richer than winning $1,200. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? And if you win more than $5,000, your winnings are then considered part of your annual salary, at which point you might have to pay as much as $2,000 in taxes from your “$5,000” jackpot.
In most other parts of the world, gambling winnings are not considered deductible for tax purposes. This is much fairer from a player’s perspective, as the money you pumped into the machine before winning your jackpot Is not recorded or considered when calculating how much you owe the tax man. And if you choose to play progressive jackpot slots, the amount of tax you could end up paying is truly astonishing. I believe this is reason enough to steer clear of progressive jackpot games if you’re playing in a US casino.
Like the lottery though, huge jackpots have a way of attracting players that defies simple mathematical explanations such as this. So, what else should you know about progressive jackpot slots?
Types of Progressive Jackpot
This is something we have gone into in detail in the introduction to our article “Some of the Biggest Progressive Jackpots Won at Online Casinos”, but it seems appropriate to talk a little about the various types of jackpot here as well. If you want to know more, we recommend taking a look at that article when you have finished reading this one. That article also includes stories from those who have actually won a progressive jackpot as well as a list of the top twenty largest prizes ever won online.
Standalone / Machine Jackpot
This type of progressive jackpot is only found in land-based casinos. One specific gaming cabinet will have its jackpot comprised of a percentage of all the spins that have been played through it. Online games by their very nature can always be played by multiple people, so this kind of jackpot doesn’t make sense concerning online slots.
Multiple-Machine / Local Jackpot
When talking about land-based casinos, a local jackpot will usually be the result of multiple machines all feeding into one combined jackpot pool. The online equivalent to this can be thought of as a single game at one casino where everybody who plays that game is contributing to a single jackpot pool, but the same game will have an entirely different jackpot pool when played at another site.
Network Progressive Jackpot
The network progressive came about as land-based casinos on the famous Las Vegas Strip battled each other to try and offer the largest jackpots a few decades ago. They link together many casino properties, each containing many machines, all of which contribute to the same jackpot pool. As the “network” title implies, the jackpot offered by these games are not tied to a single machine or even one game, so it is even possible to find many games – even those from different manufacturers – all contributing to a single network progressive jackpot.
This type of progressive is largely analogous to the biggest jackpots offered by online casinos, but those are mentioned separately below because there is still a finite limit on the number of people and cabinets at land-based casinos that can contribute to these prizes.
Online Network Progressive Jackpot
Removing the need for a physical cabinet opens the door for jackpots to reach truly enormous proportions. Many slot developers who create online casino games will have one progressive prize per game, and then have every casino in the world that offers that game contributing to one single jackpot pool.
As you can imagine, with millions of potential players it isn’t uncommon to find online network progressives with jackpots in the millions of dollar range as well. Just keep in mind that the theme of “millions” extends to the odds of actually hitting one of those jackpots, too. As you’ll find out below when we go on to calculate the odds of hitting the famous “Mega Moolah” jackpot, the odds can even extend into the hundreds of millions to one kind of range.
Regular Jackpot vs Progressive Jackpot – What’s the Difference?
The popular slot Thunderstruck 2 from Microgaming proudly advertises a maximum payout of 2.4 million “coins” on its pay table. This is the game’s jackpot, and it is a fixed amount that can only be won when playing the maximum of 10 coins per spin, combined with a spin that triggers the “Wildstorm” feature that can add stacked wilds to between one and five reels.
The games top paying symbol is the wild, which usually returns 1,000 coins when one of these symbols appears on each of the games five reels. When the Wildstorm feature adds a stack of wilds to all five reels, you then receive 1,000 coins for each of the games 243 pay ways. If you are betting just one coin, then you will receive 243,000 coins back for a total of 8,100x your stake. This doesn’t change if you are betting ten coins instead – sure, you get 2,430,000 coins back, but that is still 8,100x your original stake.
That’s a decent return in anybody’s eyes, I suspect – but it pales in comparison to the jackpot offered by your average progressive slot machine. Let’s compare with another Microgaming slot, Mega Moolah, to make this the fairest comparison possible.
Mega Moolah offers four separate progressive jackpots, all of which are displayed at the top of the machine and are constantly increasing from the moment the game is opened. To facilitate this, a share of the value of each spin made on a progressive jackpot machine is assigned to the progressive “pool”, which funds the four jackpots. In Mega Moolah, the four jackpots are labelled as follows:
- Mini Progressive – Starts at 10.00
- Minor Progressive – Starts at 100.00
- Major Progressive – Starts at 10,000.00
- Mega Progressive – Starts at 1,000,00.00
Whilst these jackpots were originally funded by Microgaming, the developers of the slot machine, they now pay for themselves through a process known as seeding – whilst a portion of each spin made is going towards funding the four current jackpots, another portion is being allocated to the next set of jackpots, too. So, whilst the minimum awarded by the Mini Progressive is stated to be just 10.00, you may well see it reach a value of 25.00, win it, and then immediately see it is now worth 15.00 to the next player who wins it.
The term progressive then literally refers to the constantly increasing size of the jackpot that a machine can offer. The minimum bet on Mega Moolah is 0.25. If you are playing this stake and go on to hit a Mega Jackpot win of 1,000,000, that’s the equivalent of 4,000,000x your stake – almost 500x the size of Thunderstruck 2’s maximum jackpot. And don’t forget that 1,000,000 is the MINIMUM for the Mega Progressive too – the highest so far awarded by the game stands at an astonishing €18,915,873.33 – that’s over £16m in GBP or a little over $22.5.
That’s a LOT of Money – Why Would I Ever Choose to Play Regular Slots?
Although the headline prizes are certainly impressive – even higher than those offered by many State or Nationwide lotteries – your chances of ever winning these prizes are equally remote. Sometimes you’ll need to win a specific bonus feature for a chance to win a progressive jackpot, whereas sometimes they can be won on any qualifying spin.
In Mega Moolah, any spin can trigger the progressive jackpot feature, but your odds of hitting the feature are directly linked to the size of your bet. This means that the odds of the previous example where the top jackpot was hit on a spin of just 0.25 are extremely small. You’ll see the jackpot feature much more often when betting the maximum of 6.00 per spin, but the Mini Progressive might only be worth 10.00 anyway – that doesn’t even cover your next two spins!
The progressive jackpot feature itself is a wheel that is divided into twenty segments. The odds of hitting each segment are not fair and random anyway, but ten of them pay out the Mini progressive whilst only one is linked to the much more attractive Mega progressive. If the wheel was fair and random, you would have a 50% chance of winning the Mini each time you entered the progressive jackpot feature, compared with 30% for the Minor, 15% for the Major, and 5% for the Mega Progressive.
If you genuinely had a 1 in 20 chance of winning the Mega Progressive every time you saw the jackpot feature, you wouldn’t end up seeing it very often. At all. So, whilst the odds of winning the Mini probably are somewhere close to 50%, the higher jackpots have to be weighted to make the game exciting to play. Players want to feel like they have a chance to win that elusive Mega Progressive every time they play the game, and if they saw the jackpot wheel five times during every session, it wouldn’t be long before the odds went in their favour and their 1 in 20 shot came in.
Calculating the Odds of Winning the Mega Moolah Jackpot
Microgaming doesn’t publish the true odds for each of the progressive jackpots on the Mega Moolah wheel, but they do tell you that a minimum of $0.02 per spin is contributed to the Mega Progressive pool. The average jackpot over the lifetime of the game has been $5.86m. We can assume the $0.02 contribution relates to the minimum bet of $0.25, and that reveals that, on average, 293,000,000 spins are made in-between each jackpot being won. Those spins would cost you $73,250,000 in bets – and that’s a big enough sample size to say with certainty that, even if you didn’t win the jackpot, you would certainly lose over $8.7m thanks to the games extremely low RTP of 88.12%.
This extremely low RTP isn’t just a coincidence – it is directly related to the presence of the progressive jackpots. The true RTP of Mega Moolah is a respectable 96.92%. But Progressive Jackpot games have to fund their huge prizes somehow, and in the case of Mega Moolah, that means 8.8% of every bet you place has to go towards funding the jackpots, rather than being included in the RTP of the base game or the free spins mode, as with Thunderstruck 2.
You could play Mega Moolah every day for the rest of your life, without ever winning the Mega Jackpot – so it’s only right that the RTP is advertised as 88.12% rather than 96.92%.
How to Increase Your Chances of Winning Progressive Jackpots
Like all slots, progressive jackpot games work using a random number generator that decides when the jackpot drops. Many games require you to play the maximum number of coins to be in with a chance of winning the progressive jackpot at all, and there have been cases where players have taken screenshots of such games with the jackpot combination on-screen, and it was not awarded because they had not been playing the maximum number of coins. That’s enough to make anybody feel queasy, I’m sure!
The worst thing is that your bets are still contributing to the progressive jackpot, and the RTP of the game is still extremely low compared to other slots because of this – so never play a progressive jackpot game unless you are sure that your bets actually qualify for the jackpot prize.
Other games, such as Mega Moolah, allow you to win the jackpot regardless of the size of your stake, but your chances of hitting a chance of spinning the progressive wheel increase if you bet more. It’s not known if there is a direct correlation between these things – for example, will betting $2 per spin give you twice as many chances to see the jackpot wheel as betting $1? Nobody knows for sure, so pick a bet size you are comfortable with. In nearly all cases, the size of the progressive jackpot Is not linked with the size of your bet, you only increase your chances of hitting the Jackpot feature.
The Various Ways Progressive Jackpots Can be Triggered
Jackpots are not always awarded by a jackpot wheel as described above when talking about both Mega Moolah and Mega Fortune. Slot developers have come up with several ways to determine how and when a jackpot should be paid over the years. We’ve tried to list all the most common methods below:
Awarded at Random Progressive Jackpots
Sometimes a progressive jackpot can simply be added to your balance after any spin on a jackpot machine. Real Time Gaming use this method quite often on their games, and sometimes it can initially be somewhat bewildering if you win one without the game making any fuss about it.
I have personally left an RTG slot on autoplay for a few minutes, popped out of the room, and then come back to find my balance has suddenly increased by a couple of thousand dollars and the jackpot counter has been reset without hearing any audible indication of this whilst listening to the game from the next room.
Much like the other methods on this list, you will usually have a larger chance of winning a randomly awarded progressive jackpot if you are playing at the maximum stake.
Triggered by Bonus Feature
This could be a prize wheel as described for Mega Moolah, or just a regular free spin feature or another type of game that is awarded by scatter symbols which then goes on to offer you a chance of winning the jackpot. You may need to pick matching symbols, choose from a selection of playing cards, or play some other type of game that implies that it is possible to choose the “right” or “wrong” item on the screen.
That is usually not the case, however – just like most things with slots, the outcome of the bonus round is usually decided before you make a single pick. In some jurisdictions, this kind of thing is banned now and the items shown on screen have to genuinely represent the choices you are making, which is probably what has led to the popularity of the prize wheel as an alternative.
Must-Trigger Progressive Jackpots
This type of jackpot will have a specific time or size of prize attached to it. As the specified time and date approaches, or the size of the jackpot pool near the numbers advertised, the odds of winning the jackpot will steadily increase.
This is intended to attract more players to try and hit the jackpot as the deadline approaches. These jackpots cause some players to try and wait until the last possible second to make a spin, hoping that they are the ones who hit the button at the time the odds are in their favour.
Most of the time those players will be beaten by someone who was just randomly playing the slot in the last hour before the deadline when the odds began to increase significantly. This makes must-trigger jackpots a difficult type to work out a strategy for – as ever with slots, all you can do is hope to get lucky!
Awarded by Symbol Combination
Finally, sometimes a progressive jackpot can be won just by hitting a certain permutation of symbols on the reels. These games will usually have extremely long reel strips with only a single jackpot combination out of perhaps a billion or more possible outcomes.
The odds can be further extended by specifying that the jackpot will only be awarded at certain bet sizes or when the symbol combination lands on a certain pay line, both of which have caused unbelievable anguish to players over the years.
Progressive Jackpots Summary
In summary, whichever method a slot uses to trigger its progressive jackpot will make little difference to your odds of actually winning it. The bigger the prize is, the lower your chance of winning it with any single spin. The more you play, the better your chances are but be sure to limit the size of your bets and deposits to amounts you feel comfortable losing!