A progressive jackpot is a jackpot for a gaming machine (usually a slot machine or video poker machine) where the value of the jackpot increases a small amount each game (unless the player wins the jackpot). Normally multiple machines are linked together to form one large progressive jackpot that grows more quickly because multiple players are contributing to the jackpot at the same time. Many lotteries also feature progressive jackpots.
Progressive jackpot meter
The amount of the jackpot is shown on a meter as a money value. Usually the jackpot can only be won by winning the combination with the highest payoff, e.g. a royal flush at a video poker game, or five of the most valuable symbols (lemons, cherries, alligators, etc.) on a slot machine. Once a player wins the jackpot, the jackpot resets to a preset minimum level.
The amount on the jackpot progresses (increases) a small amount for every play on a connected machine. The amount that the jackpot advances by is set by the casino ("the house"). For example, on a machine whose house edge is 5%, a generous jackpot contribution might be 1% (one fifth of the expected profit). The house is prepared to contribute some of the profit of a jackpot linked machine because players are attracted by the:
- relative novelty of progressive jackpots (generally, only a small fraction of the house's gaming machines will be connected to a progressive jackpot)
- constantly changing meter, often displayed on large LED or LCD displays
- large amount of the jackpot, which eventually motivates more players to play the game.
Usually only players who wager the maximum number of credits per play qualify to win the jackpot. All wagers, whether or not they are maximum credit bets, contribute to the jackpot though. As a result, a game which requires a 10 credit wager to qualify for the progressive jackpot will tend to have the progressive jackpot rise to higher levels (relative to its break-even level) than a game that requires only a 5 credit wager to qualify.
In some games such as video poker, blackjack, or Caribbean Stud Poker, it is possible to compute an optimal playing strategy based on the frequency for each payoff versus the odds of hitting that payoff. Since the jackpot of a progressive game is constantly growing, it eventually can reach a break-even point where the jackpot wager becomes a positive expectation bet for the player with a return to player (RTP) of greater than 100%. When the progressive jackpot is less than the break-even point, there is a negative expected value (house edge) for all players.
In the long run, with optimal strategy, a player can make a profit by only playing progressive games when their jackpots are above the break-even point, although the "long run" is generally longer than most people think[according to whom?] (several tens of thousands of plays).
Many online casinos allow play in multiple currencies, and if so the break-even point and return to player can change depending on the player's currency choice. This is because the jackpot amount may be converted between currencies so that the same amount is paid out to the winner no matter their currency choice, but the wager required to qualify for the jackpot is not. 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.
It is worthwhile to note that a break-even point cannot be easily calculated on a slot machine game, because the payback percentage for the game is normally unknown to the player. The break-even point in poker based games can be calculated because the payback percentage for the game is a function of the paybacks and odds of the poker hands, which is based on a standard 52 card deck. The return of a slot machine is based on the published paytable, but also on the normally unpublished reels. For a five reel slot machine, the player would need to know each symbol on each of the slot machine's five reels in order to calculate the odds. For a three reel slot, the reels are normally weighted, and this would not be possible. However, in some circumstances the manufacturer may publish the payout of their machines.
Advantage players who only play when the progressive jackpot provides them with a positive expectation situation still generate revenue for the casino. This is a unique situation where the player has an advantage over the house, yet the casino is still making a profit from the player. This situation occurs because the bulk of the progressive jackpot has been bought and paid for by the other players' contributions to the jackpot.
Savvy gamblers sometimes organize teams of players to play machines where the progressive jackpots generate a positive expectation situation. Such teams often displace ordinary players, making the machines unavailable just when they are at their most interesting. Team members will often have cell phones and work in shifts, calling another teammate to replace them when they're ready for a break. Some casinos have a policy of "no team play", and will eject players suspected of playing in such teams. Such tactics do not work at online casinos because there are effectively an unlimited number of duplicate machines for players to play at, so the game cannot be monopolised by one player or small group.
Most casinos offer slot clubs, which pay back a percentage of a gambler's wagers on their games in the form of cash rebates and other perks with a monetary value. Participating in a slot club can reduce the break-even point of a progressive jackpot game because of the value of the rebate on each wager.
Other jackpot games
Progressive jackpots are not limited to slot machines and video poker. Poker games sometimes include a progressive bad beat jackpot. Caribbean stud poker is another casino game which often has a progressive jackpot available, and some online casinos offer progressive versions of blackjack, roulette, and other casino games. Many lotteries also feature progressive jackpots.
A progressive blackjack game usually does not differ from conventional blackjack, apart from the addition of an optional side bet which gives the player a chance to win a progressive jackpot. The side bet wins if the player is dealt one of several specific card combinations such as four suited aces. The awards can range from several dollars up to 100% of the jackpot depending on the different card combinations, and the winning hand paytable can differ between casinos.