A Guide to Casino Slot Machines With Progressive Jackpots
Have you ever hit a casino jackpot? It’s one of the coolest feelings you’ll get playing in a casino.
I’ve hit a few jackpots myself. Not big ones. The biggest jackpot I won was $130 from a Wizard of Oz slot machine in a casino in Las Vegas. I’ve won several smaller $10, $20, $50 jackpots, too.
Size doesn’t matter, though. Don’t let anyone tell you different. ALL jackpots are fun to win. Because it’s really the surprise and feeling of winning anything that makes jackpots so much fun.
I imagine progressive jackpots are the same …only much, MUCH bigger. I wouldn’t know, of course. I’ve never won one.
That’s because progressive jackpots tend to payout tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Millions even. Often life altering sums of money that are much harder to hit than your run-of-the-mill $20 jackpot.
Those are the types of jackpots we’ll be talking about today. We’ll talk more about what they are, what types of progressive games you can play (they’re not all slot machines), how much you can win, your odds of winning, and a whole lot more.
We’re also going to show you the best online casinos for progressive casino games. One thing that makes these games so great is that they’re on networks. We’ll explain more about these later. All you need to know for now is that you’re not limited on where you can play.
The rest of this page focuses on what progressive jackpots are, how they work, odds and more. Then we wrap things up with a rapid-fire FAQ section.
Let’s get started.
What are Progressive Jackpots?
It’s simple, really.
A progressive jackpot is a pool of money that’s awarded whenever a player makes a qualified bet and manages to hit the special combination or hand to trigger the payout.
The jackpot is built from players’ wagers. A portion of every bet (around 1 percent) goes to the jackpot. The remaining amount (99 percent) of each bet is used like normal – for that specific spin, round or hand.
What makes a progressive jackpot different is for every qualified bet that goes unpaid, the jackpot grows. It grows and it grows until someone wins it. The jackpot’s not a fixed amount.
Say you sit down to play Mega Moolah. The current jackpot is $999. You can bet $1 per spin min, but to play for the jackpot you have to play $5. That’s what you put in.
For the sake of this example, say that $1 of every bet goes into the jackpot. Your bet brings the jackpot total up to $1,000. The other $4 goes to the normal part of the game.
You spin and hit 3 lines for a payout of $3.48, but no jackpot.
Then rinse and repeat.
That’s a basic idea, anyway. All progressive jackpots share the same qualities, but how they pay depends on the game you’re playing. It could be a special combination of reels or a rare hand, like a royal flush.
Once the jackpot’s triggered, the person’s paid out and the pool starts over.
Sometimes the jackpot starts over at 0. Other times a specific amount is seeded, either from the casino or from a percentage of the last jackpot that was awarded.
It just depends on the casino and the type of progressive game you’re playing.
Types of Progressive Jackpots
There are different types of progressive machines.
One is a standalone machine. These are like the big machines that you might see when you first hit the casino floor. The big, shiny and flashy slots that are usually pretty expensive to play – like $5 or $10. They always have a large jackpot and are only built by the money wagered on THAT machine.
The next type is the most common – a linked progressive. This is where you have a pool of machines linked to the same jackpot, each one feeding the pool. These can be linked from the same game, different games, from one casino or from multiple casinos.
I prefer linked progressive over standalone progressives. Here’s why:
- The jackpot grows at a faster rate because you have more people feeding the pool at the same time (versus only one at a time like a standalone machine).
- You don’t have to wait to play them. The more machines on a network the better your chances at finding an empty seat.
- Linked machines are often distributed across multiple casinos. For example, you’ll find many of the same (linked) progressive slots when playing at the Bellagio, New York-New York, MGM and The Mirage. They won’t ALWAYS have the same games, but when they do you and many others can be pumping money into the same jackpot at the same time. The same applies to online progressive games, too.
- You can “compete” or “work with” other players on the progressive network when a bonus round comes up. This can make games more fun, interesting, even faux-competitive to play.
- I’ve noticed that most linked progressives are far cheaper to play than standalone progressives.
One of my favorite linked progressive games to play is the Dark Knight slot machine from IGT. You can find this one in brick and mortar casinos. Microgaming makes the online version.
The offline version is linked to the Mega Jackpots network. The way the progressive works is this – at one random point, whether you win or lose, an option to choose the Batman or Joker will pop up. Once you choose, the wheel will spin and will land on either the Mini, Minor, Major or Mega prize.
The Mega jackpot is always in the 6 or 7-figure range when I play. It’s a lot of fun, especially if you’re a fan of the Dark Knight movies from Christopher Nolan.
Progressives Are More Than Just Slots
One thing I want to make clear is that progressives are more than just slot machines. They are the most common, and they usually have the largest jackpots, but they’re not the only ones you can play.
There are others. Like these:
- Blackjack – These jackpots are often part of a side game where you need to make an additional (side) bet to play for the jackpot. The winning hand or combination or outcome depends on the game/side bet.
- Caribbean Stud – The most common (and biggest) payout occurs when someone is dealt a pat royal flush.
- Poker – These jackpots are usually triggered by a bad beat. A fairly standard threshold is you need to be holding a four-of-a-kind of 8s or better to win. Often the “winner” of the hand will get a piece of the pool. Sometimes the other players who were dealt into the hand too. And usually the pot is reseeded by the jackpot.
- Video Poker – The progressive depends on the game, but usually hinges on you being dealt or making a rare hand, like a straight or royal flush.
There are other types, too. That, along with how they work, the rules, when they pay out and how much, will depend on the type of progressive you play and where you play it.
Is There an Optimal Strategy for Progressive Jackpot Games?
Honestly, you won’t find many strategies for progressive games. Especially slots – there’s no winning strategy or betting system you can use to beat those.
The best tip anyone could give you (if you want to play/win the progressive) is to figure out what you need to do win the jackpot and what you need to bet – and then bet it. Because I’ve heard countless sad stories of people hitting the magic combination, only to find out they only paid 1 or 4 credits, when the jackpot required 5.
Now, there’s one strategy that you can use to figure out the best time to play a progressive machine. But there’s a fair amount of math involved, and it’ll depend on the game you’re playing. It’s too much for us to include here. But here’s the gist.
What you want to do is figure out the breakeven point – the intersection of where there’s enough money in the jackpot relative to the odds of you hitting the winning combination. It’s at this point you’ll be at an advantage every bet you make. Every bet you make is profitable (even when you lose a round).
Professional gamblers call this a positive expectation or +EV bet.
So, you should sit down and sink your life savings into the machine, right? Well, no – because one thing you have to remember is that gambling’s all about the long run. The jackpot could hit in a couple hands, or it could take thousands, even tens of thousands of plays to hit.
The question then becomes – how much could you afford to lose chasing the jackpot?
But the good news is that if you stick to proper strategy for the game you’re playing, not only will you make money in the long and give yourself a fighting chance at winning the jackpot – you can still win money or even breakeven in the short run. It’s hard to lose.
Currency plays a role, too – especially online. Many casinos let you play in multiple currencies, so the breakeven point and RTP can change depending on the currency you play in. That’s because the jackpot can be converted so that the same amount is paid out no matter the currency choice – but the wager required to play is not.
According to Wikipedia:For example, consider a game that pays a $1000 / €900 / £700 jackpot, but requires a fixed $1 / €1 / £1 wager to qualify for the jackpot. In such cases, it is beneficial for the player to choose to play in dollars, as the qualifying wager is a smaller proportion of the jackpot. Thus the break-even point will always be lower and the return to player will always be higher while betting dollars.
Figuring out the breakeven point is really only feasible for table games. That’s because you can figure out (or Google) a specific outcome, like the odds of hitting a royal flush or four-of-a-kind. That’s near impossible to do for slots since you need to know how much the reels are weighted, the position of every symbol on every wheel, and more. Then cross reference that to a pay table. And that’s only if you can get the information from the manufacturer. Good luck with that.
If you want to take a stab at these games and be +EV while doing so, you can stalk this table which gives you a list of progressive games and what their breakeven point is.
Good luck trying to find these games offline, though. There are teams of people who look for progressive games with a player advantage. They’ll usually occupy these games, working in shifts and calling in members when they need breaks. So you’ll be fighting for a seat against them.
But it is possible.
Here’s a good example of progressive advantage play in action. In 2011, pro poker player Huck Seed won $670,000 playing video poker at the Aria.
He played $100 per credit, five credits per hand, for a total of $500 per hand. But he bought a $40,000 ticket so he could avoid the hassle of manually feeding the machine 400 hundred dollar bills.
With everything he won and earned, between the jackpot, comps and the high rate of hands he played per hour, it’s estimated his +EV was in the range of $1,500 per hour.
Who Pays Jackpot Winners?
How are progressive jackpots paid out? What happens when you hit that $40 mini or that $1,000,000 mega jackpot?
Jackpots are (usually) paid by the game developer (even though you may get paid directly from the casino).
One reason why it happens like this is so that a small casino won’t have to handle the losses of a massive payout. Especially when you figure that linked progressives were built from customers playing at multiple casinos.
Payments are usually made in one installment, on the spot. But this depends on where you play, too – especially if you play online.
Many online casinos have limits on how much they allow people to withdraw at once, whether it’s on a weekly or monthly basis, or both. This can be something like $2-3,000 per week and/or $5,000 to $20,000 per month.
The problem, as I’m sure you can tell, is if you win a $100,000 or $1,000,000 jackpot, you’re going to have to wait a long time before you’re able to cash all of your money out. It can take months, if not years.
Most online casinos don’t have the shelf life for payments to make sense. it’s just too big a risk. But it’s a pretty common rule.
Some online casinos do make an exception – they’ll pay you out in full if you hit a progressive jackpot. Lucky Red is one example I know of. Other casinos, like Bet365 or 888, have large enough cash out limits to where you can withdraw several million in the span of a few months.
Choose your online casino wisely.
Progressive jackpots are fun to play. They’re probably better to win. Though you’d have to ask one of the few lucky enough to win to be sure.
But if you can stomach the bankroll needed to play them, you’ll have a large selection of games and variations to play that can pay out life altering sums of money, no matter what casino you join – offline or online.
There’s not too many casino games that can make the same claim.
Casino Progressive Jackpot FAQ
Here are some generally asked questions about progressive jackpot games that didn’t make it into our main article above.
What is the biggest jackpot won? What about online?
The biggest progressive jackpot paid out offline was $39.7 million. This jackpot was hit at the Excalibur in Las Vegas on a Megabucks game.
Offline, the biggest online jackpot paid out was €17.8 million on the Mega Fortune slot from Net Ent.
What are the odds of winning a progressive jackpot?
That depends on the game. VegasClick.com has a few examples on their site. Here’s what he posted (just to give you an idea):
- Red White & Blue – 1 in 262,144
- Double Diamond – 1 in 46,656
- Blazing 7’s – 1 in 93,312
- Phantom of the Opera – 1 in 114,131 to 155,345
- Double Strike – 1 in 500,000
- Money Storm – 1 in 2,188,411
- Lucky Larry’s Lobstermania – 1 in 8,107,500
- Megabucks – 1 in 49,836,032
It varies wildly. But as the prize gets bigger, the odds to win get bigger, too.
What is the house edge on a progressive jackpot?
It varies, but it can be as high as 40%.
What are the biggest progressive jackpots available to Americans online?
This is a moving target, since jackpots grow and are hit all the time. But here are the biggest progressive jackpots I see right now:
- Mega Moolah – $5,009,807
- Funky Fruits – $2,620,652
- Millionaire Genie – $1,979,451
- Beach Life – $3,119,169
- Gladiator – $2,050,545
There are MANY more, too. Several more are larger than $1 million. Many others are in the (high) 6-figure range.
Keep in mind you might want to compare a couple progressive jackpot trackers together to make sure the numbers match up – in case that’s important to you.
Which software company has the biggest progressive jackpots?
This too is a moving target. It depends on the website you use too, as some websites only post partial data. Here’s what I found:
- Microgaming (Mega Moolah) – $5,009,807
- Microgaming (The Dark Knight) – $5,009,807
There are 4-6 progressive slots from Microgaming that feed into the same jackpot. So here are some of the others beyond that.
- Realtime Gaming (Aztec Millions) – $1,954,775
- Realtime Gaming (Jackpot Piñatas Progressive) – $1,781,050
- 888 (Irish Riches) – $628,819
Like I said, though, it really depends on the sources you use.
How often do people win progressive jackpots?
Really often. Far more often than you may think.
Offline, using the tracker linked to above, you can see that Megabucks was just hit at the Wynn on 8/21/2016 for a $10+ million jackpot. Wheel of Fortune was hit at Planet Hollywood for $313k+. And Money Madness was hit 2/2016 at the Golden Nugget for $1.6+ million.
Online, 12 different jackpots were hit in the last 24 hours alone. The last 6-figure jackpot was hit 12 hours ago (from when I’m writing this) on Major Millions for more than a quarter million.
The last 7-figure score I could find was for $2.6 million. It was hit on Millionaire Genie almost 3 days ago.
The bottom line – jackpots hit all the time. You just don’t know when they’ll hit next.
How many progressive jackpots are there?
CasinoListings.com says there are more than 500 progressive machines online.
What’s the difference between a jackpot and a progressive jackpot?
The biggest difference is that a jackpot is usually a fixed amount, say, $30 or $100, for example. But a progressive jackpot grows and grows until someone hits it. The amount paid out each time it’s hit is never the same.
What are the biggest progressive jackpot wins?
These are the biggest wins offline:
- $39,710,826.36 – Anonymous Software Engineer – $100 Megabucks Slots – Excalibur Casino – March 23, 2003
- $34,955,489.56 – Cynthia Jay-Brennan – Megabucks Slots – Desert Inn Casino – January 26, 2000
- $27,580,879.60 – Anonymous Flight Attendant – Megabucks Slots – Palace Station Casino – November 15, 1998
- $22,618,156.67 – Johanna Huendl – Megabucks Slots – Bally’s Casino – March 27, 2002
- $21,346,952.22 – Anonymous Business Consultant – Megabucks Slots – Caesars Palace – June 1, 1999
- $21,147,947.00 – Elmer Sherwin – Megabucks Jackpot – Cannery Casino – September 15, 2002
- $12,700,000.00 – Anonymous Woman and Her Niece – Megabucks Jackpot – Aria Casino – January 21, 2011
- $10,600,000.00 – Anonymous – Megabucks Machine – Aria Casino – April 22, 2011
- $2,882,808.32 – Alexander Degenhardt – Money Vault Millionaires Seven – The Bellagio – February 19, 2012
And these are the biggest wins offline:
- €17,860868 – Mega Fortune – PAF.com
- €11,735,446 – Mega Fortune – Betsson
- €8,635,872 – Arabian Nights – PAF.com
- €7,673,975 – Hall of Gods – Unibet
- €5,882,594 – Mega Moolah – Butler Bingo
- €7,361,478 – Hall of Gods – Betsson
- €7,361,240 – Hall of Gods – Betsson
- €6,864,812 – Mega Fortune – PAF.com
- €6,739,821 – Hall of Gods – Betsson
- €6,413,593 – Hall of Gods – BetVictor
Looks like a lot of repeats. Now you know which slots are hot!