Progressive Slots – The Big Payers in the Casino

Slots can be entertaining no matter the size of the prizes they award but nothing quite compares to the thrill of chasing after a life-changing jackpot. In some slots, the jackpots escalate to immense proportions, reaching seven and even eight-figure amounts.

Known as progressives, such games have a huge winning potential because all players who spin their reels contribute to the prize pools with their betting action. This results in life-changing jackpots like the one won by British player Jon Heywood. Said gentleman made it to the Guinness Book of World Records after winning £13.2 million on the Mega Moolah slot back in 2015.

Not all progressive slots award such enormous prizes but having the opportunity to bag a six-figure amount is an equally attractive prospect. Keep reading as we discuss the types of progressive slots, their winning criteria, who pays the huge prizes, and what the odds of hitting the jackpot are.

Types of Progressive Slots Based on Pool Growth

Let's begin with a brief explanation of what a progressive jackpot is for the uninitiated. Simply put, this is a pool of money that goes to the player who triggers the jackpot. This usually happens when you land a special combination of symbols, although winning criteria differ between games as you shall see later. The jackpot is not a flat amount as is the case in regular slots but grows continually, instead.

The prize pool is built from the betting action of all participating players that wager on a specific slot machine. A portion of each player's bet is subtracted and added to the constantly growing pool. The said portion is usually around 1% but this percentage varies depending on which slot you are playing. What remains of the bet is used as normal for each particular spin.

The jackpot starts growing from a specific seed amount that is contributed either by the casino or by the software provider supplying the game. Here is a breakdown of how this works.

  • A software supplier contributes a starting seed of $1 million for one of its progressive slots.
  • The minimum bet the slot accepts stands at $0.50.
  • 1% is subtracted from each bet and added to the slot's progressive pool.
  • Half a cent of each minimum wager (0.50 x 0.01 = 0.005) goes toward the jackpot.
  • Higher bets naturally have a higher contribution. A $2 bettor would contribute two cents per wager and so on.

Only a tiny portion is deducted from qualifying bets, so how do the jackpots escalate to such heights? It's simple. Progressive slots are aggressively marketed by casinos as games with enormous winning potential, which they, understandably, are.

Because of this, casino goers are drawn to progressive slots as flies are drawn to sugar. With so much betting action, it is only natural for the pools to grow to massive proportions, albeit in very small increments.

Once the jackpot hits, the casino resets it back to the initial seed amount and the accumulation starts all over again. It continues until another lucky player bags the progressive prize and resets it to the seed amount again.

Progressive games like Mega Moolah feature jackpots with multiple tiers – the Mini, Minor, Major, and Mega levels. When one of the four is won, only that specific pool is reset to its seed amount while the other three pots continue to grow from the amounts they have currently reached. Now that we have gotten this out of the way, let's examine the three types of progressive slots based on pool growth.

Standalone Progressive Slots
Linked Progressive Slots
Wide-Area Progressive Slots

Standalone Progressive Slots

In standalone progressive slots, the pools are exclusive to a particular game and grow from bets made only on that specific machine. The jackpot meter does not tick unless a player is sitting on the machine and placing bets.

Since only one person can feed the jackpot at any particular time, the pools grow at a significantly slower pace. The top prizes here are smaller in size, usually no more than $10,000 to $20,000 or so. It all depends on when was the last time the pot dropped.


Linked Progressive Slots

Linked progressive slots are more common than standalone ones and also more popular. These are also known as proprietary or in-house slots. Several machines in the casino are linked and feed into the same jackpot pool.

The linked machines can offer the same game or different games. They can be connected in one casino only or across several establishments run by the same gambling company. With more players contributing to the pools, the prizes grow at faster rates.


Wide-Area Progressive Slots

Wide-area progressive slots are where the life-changing pots drop. In 1986, IGT became the first manufacturer to launch wide-area progressive slots across landbased casinos.

The Mega Moolah online slot we mentioned earlier is another great example of a wide-area progressive. It is linked across all Microgaming casinos that feature it in their online lobbies, with hundreds of thousands of players feeding the pools with their bets.

With such high levels of participation, it only makes sense that the jackpot meters of wide-area progressives tick at a lightning speed. The prizes literally grow by the second and when the jackpot is reset to its base seed amount, all spinners instantly know somewhere, someone has become a millionaire.

Top payouts run into the millions but the odds of wide-area progressive pots dropping are astronomically small.

Types of Progressive Slots Based on Winning Criteria

Progressive slots can also be categorized based on winning criteria. It is always a good idea to check the paytable beforehand and see what the qualifying terms for the jackpot are because there are discrepancies from one game to another.

Whatever the criteria are, the jackpot drop is always produced by a Random Number Generator that relies on complex algorithms. This makes it impossible to predict with certainty exactly when the huge prize will hit.

Symbol-Driven Progressive Jackpots
Progressive Slots With a Boiling Point
Slots With Randomly Awarded Jackpots

Symbol-Driven Progressive Jackpots

Symbol-driven progressive jackpots work like the payouts in standard slots with fixed jackpots. You need to form a specific combination of symbols and the jackpot is yours. In some multi-tiered progressives, a given symbol combination unlocks a bonus game.

Entering this bonus game guarantees you walk away with one of several jackpot prizes. You sometimes spin a bonus wheel as is the case in Microgaming’s Mega Moolah. In some progressive slots, only maximum bets stand a chance of triggering the jackpot.


Progressive Slots With a Boiling Point

Progressive slots with a boiling point award their top prizes whenever the pool has reached a predetermined amount. Winning conditions differ but the prize inevitably goes to the player who takes the pot to its boiling point.

Suppose the jackpot “boils over” at the amount of $100,000 and the jackpot meter shows $99,999 on a slot with a minimum bet of $1. The person who bets this amount or more on the very next spin will win the jackpot.


Slots With Randomly Awarded Jackpots

Slots with randomly awarded jackpots do not require players to line up combinations of matching symbols to earn the biggest payout. Here, the Random Number Generator takes care of this job. The jackpot can hit at any time, on any given spin, even on one that has failed to produce a regular payout.

The bet size is irrelevant, you can win even with a minimum wager. With that in mind, in some progressive slots your chances of winning the top prize increase proportionately to your wager’s size. The bigger you bet, the better the odds of scoring the jackpot. These conditions are all written in the game’s paytable, so always check that out before you hit the spin button.

Who Pays the Prize when a Progressive Jackpot is Won?

1Paid by the Software Studios

Progressive slots sometimes pay in the millions so the question arises “Who pays such massive sums of money to the lucky winners?”. With online progressives, like those developed by Microgaming, NetEnt, Playtech and the likes, the jackpots are normally paid by the software studios themselves. They also secure the seed amounts after the pools are reset.

This way, smaller online gambling operators do not have to deal with the massive losses that would otherwise result from such life-changing payouts. Moreover, wide-area jackpots build from players betting at many different casinos. It would be ludicrous to expect from a single operator to pay out a wide-area pot.

2Limits on Players' Withdrawals

Depending on where you play, the massive prize may be paid in a single installment, which is usually the case with landbased jackpot winners. However, online gambling operators normally impose weekly and monthly limits on players’ withdrawals to prevent money laundering.

The monthly limit typically ranges anywhere between $5,000 and $50,000 depending on where you play. With such restrictions in place, withdrawing a seven-figure progressive jackpot can take years until the player finally cashes out everything in full.

3Exceptions for Progressive Payouts

With that said, some gambling operators make an exception for progressive payouts and lift the withdrawal restrictions for jackpot winners. The entire sum is paid in one installment. Microgaming-powered casinos that offer the Mega Moolah slot are some of the examples we know of.

If you have your eyes set on winning a progressive pot, you should carefully read the terms and conditions of your casino of choice to acquaint yourself with its withdrawal policies in such cases.

Progressive Slots - Odds, Marketing, Wins and Taxes

More Likely to be Struck by a Lightning

Progressive Slots and Marketing

Progressive Slot Wins and Taxes

What about Slot Losses?

The odds of slots, including the progressive varieties, are measured in terms of payback percentages, also known as theoretical return to player (RTP). The RTP reflects the statistical average of all wagers the machine theoretically returns to players in the long run.

This average is cumulative, i.e. it is spread over millions of spins and applies to all players who bet on the respective slot. Since casinos operate their games for profit, payout percentages are inevitably below 100%. This is to say slots yield a negative expectation for the player and will eat up their budget sooner or later.

The lower the payout percentage is, the quicker a game would devour your bankroll. Another way to think of it is as if you are flipping a coin and betting on the outcomes of the flips. The odds of each outcome, heads or tails, are equal with a fair coin, or 50 to 50.

If you win a flip with a dollar bet but are paid only ninety cents, the theoretical return of the game would be only 90%, which gives a 10% statistical edge to the person that pays you out. Play this game long enough and you are guaranteed to part with your money.

The statistical edge of the house is built into all casino games, including progressive slots. It is a direct result of the discrepancy between the true odds of winning and the odds the casino offers for successful bets. The same goes for slots linked to progressive pools.

Such games offer attractive prizes but this comes at the expense of lower player return percentages. The RTP for regular payouts is reduced to compensate for the fraction of each bet that feeds the jackpot. Therefore, a game that would otherwise pay 97% would offer only a 95% or a 94% return if we account for the contribution toward the progressive pools.

A game’s overall RTP assumes that the player would sometimes win the progressive prize. However, the reels are weighted in such a way so that the actual chances of scoring the pot are astronomically small even if you go through many, many spins.

If you never win the jackpot in your lifetime, the RTP goes further down. Mega Moolah, for example, returns a theoretical average of 88% in the base game but the figure goes over 96% with the jackpot attached.

Some people say winning a progressive prize is akin to a lightning strike. In reality, this is not the case. You stand better chances of being struck by a lightning than winning a progressive jackpot. According to National Geographic, the probability of getting struck by a lightning in the United States in any given year are 1 in 700,000 while that of becoming a lightning victim over your entire lifespan is 1 in 3,000.

For reference, the probability of winning the progressive jackpot in IGT’s Megabucks is roughly 1 in 50 million trials. A player would need an enormous bankroll to survive such devastating variance when playing for a six or seven-figure progressive prize.

Last, but far from least, progressive slots do not get “hot” or “cold” as some players are quick to assume. No betting system or strategy is capable of boosting your chances of pocketing the big prize. The odds of collecting that coveted oversized check remain the same on each spin of the reels.

The jackpot is never “due” to hit regardless of how big it has gotten (unless it has a boiling point, of course). A progressive machine does not grow cold because it has recently awarded its top payout and vice versa.

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Things to Consider when Looking for Value in Progressive Jackpot Slots

As we already explained, slots with progressive jackpots have lower return percentages to compensate for the amounts deducted from bets to fuel the prize pools. This does not mean it is impossible to find value in such games, however.

Some clueless players try to find said value by evaluating how “cold” or “hot” a given machine is. In their eyes, a slot that has paid a big progressive jackpot only recently is a total waste of time because it is unlikely to spew another huge amount of money so soon.

There is no logic in this reasoning, though. It is irrelevant for the Random Number Generator when the game has last paid and how much. Below, we offer you several smarter ways to assess a progressive slot's value and find decent games.

Hit Frequency of the Jackpot
Average Jackpot Payout
Break-Even Points of Progressive Slots

Hit Frequency of the Jackpot

The hit frequency of the jackpot can be used as a reference point. It gives you a rough idea of the average wait time between jackpot drops. There are specialized sites on the internet with jackpot trackers for progressive slots where you can find reliable information about the average time between jackpot wins.

You will notice one interesting correlation with multiple-tier slots, in particular. The games are designed in such a way so that smaller jackpots drop with a much higher frequency than the largest prizes. For example, the Mega jackpot in Mega Moolah drops once every eight weeks on average while the smaller Major pot hits once every forty hours on average.

By contrast, RealTime Gaming’s Aztec’s Millions is a real devourer of cash. Its jackpot has not been won even a single time over the past ten years.


Average Jackpot Payout

The average jackpot payout is also important because it can be indicative of how often the huge prizes drop. There is a certain correlation between the average progressive pot’s size and its average hit frequency.

While multi-million jackpots drop rarely, games with smaller progressive prizes tend to pay more frequently. For example, Playtech’s Jackpot Giant pays out roughly once per year but the average win here is quite substantial at $5.8 million. Meanwhile, Microgaming’s Wow Pot offers a significantly smaller average prize of around $13,370 but pays roughly once every two weeks.


Break-Even Points of Progressive Slots

It is possible to find a positive expected value in slots but you have to know their jackpots’ seed amounts and their break-even points. A progressive machine begins to yield a positive expectation after its top prize exceeds a certain threshold. This causes its RTP to jump over 100%.

One such game allows the player to gain an advantage over the house at a specific point. If you have information about certain variables like the game’s break-even point, its house edge, true odds, and jackpot contribution, you can figure out your advantage. This is theoretically possible but such information is extremely hard to come by.

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