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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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When and Why to Play the Progressive Slots

7 April 1997

Progressive slot machine jackpots start at respectable levels and rise from there, in proportion to the money played before some solid citizen hits a grand slam. After such a win, values are reset to the base figures and the procedure is repeated.

Some progressive jackpots are gigantic. Others merely magnificent. Either way, they're easy to spot. Look for high dollar values with upward-rolling numbers flashing on electronic meters.

The progressive concept is what makes the spectacular prizes feasible. Even a quick succession of successful hits only costs the casino the base value plus money already set aside from that held by the machine.

Here are five guidelines if you're considering progressive play.


One, decide whether progressive slots are for you. Practically speaking, casinos have the same profit margins on different machines over extended periods. So the more allocated to infrequent giant jackpots, the smaller and less likely are low and intermediate payouts. If you're motivated to invest your stake in a longshot at striking it rich, the progressives may be your best bets. However, say you want to maximize playing time and would be delighted making a few bucks. Then, look for machines with modest jackpots; these usually yield more and better small returns.

Two, recognize the trade-off between payout and probability of winning. Progressive jackpots don't get gargantuan by accident. They're big because the chances they'll be won are small - so they can be started with attractive amounts, and contributions from ongoing play accumulate over long intervals. The poshest prizes are the most elusive.

Three, compare progressive jackpots on similar machines or links to find the highest payouts in a class. Several stand-alone progressive machines may seem identical except for the current jackpots. An interconnected carousel of progressive slots might offer one jackpot, while a set of similar machines across the aisle pays more. Possibly, even on look-alike machines, the higher jackpots have the lower probabilities. More typically, in these cases, chances are roughly the same and dollar disparities reflect different durations since the last big payout. Given this situation, play for the highest jackpot in a class of machines.

Four, be wary of jackpots with meters at constant values. They may not be progressive. Or they may have topped-out, so the casino is keeping a larger fraction of the action. The amount may appear high, yet be out of line with the chance of winning.

Five, bet the maximum number of coins at the progressive slots. If you play these machines, you've opted to forego possible small profits for a shot at a big payday. And the heavy hauls are only handed to players hitting the jackpot with the maximum bet.

Six, don't fall for fables about machines being "due" when a jackpot reaches some level. Someone I know heard a slot attendant say a certain set of progressives "never got above $10,000." So, at $9,900, my confidant and some cronies camped at a corner of the carousel and pumped in the dough. When they gave up, having lost their recess money, the meter was over $11,000 and climbing. Progressive slots aren't programmed to pay out before they reach some value. The attendant may have watched for years and never seen figures higher than $10,000. This only meant the chance was high of the jackpot being hit within the number of plays needed to reach $10,000. But the chance on any try was still tiny - and the same, regardless of what was on the meter.

Occasionally, a progressive jackpot gets so high that the theoretical payback breaks the 100 percent barrier. Time to hock grandpa's gold watch for the cash to bet on a "sure thing?" Not unless your pawnbroker accepts repayment with theoretical checks drawn against theoretical winnings. It's as Sumner A Ingmark, a progressive poet known for colossal couplets, commented:

I now see the light, I took as a guide,
A theory that's right, but wrongly applied.

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.