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Slots - Progressive Slots

Do casinos have the right to change minor prize odds on multi-casino progressive-linked games, such as Megabucks or Wheel of Fortune, or are the odds set the same for all casinos. The prizes I'm referring to are the bar, double bar, and triple bar hits. Also do the video poker games such as triple play poker have the same odds for all casinos or does each casino have the right to vary their own odds for the game.

James from Cherry Hill

I'm pretty sure that the odds on Megabucks are the same everywhere. It is a "proprietary game," meaning the casino and slot maker (IGT) share in the profits. As I understand it, such propriety games are generally set to a return of about 88% by the slot maker, and the casinos do not have the option for a looser or tighter version.

The Wheel of Fortune game, with the big jackpot, I believe is also a proprietary game. Video poker odds are dictated by the pay table. For example, a 9-6 Jacks or Better game will pay 99.54%, assuming optimal strategy and an infinite amount of play, regardless of where the machine is or number of number of hands the player gets on the draw.

I know this will be almost impossible for you to figure out, but I'm curious to know approximately how many people play Cash Splash on a daily basis and some idea of the odds against me. I am especially curious to know if online progressive slots offer better chances of hitting that jackpot than land-based progressives.

Donna from Los Angeles, California

You're right, it is impossible for me to know without Microgaming giving me the details on how their reels are weighted. I have asked some of the major software companies for such information, but thus far nobody has volunteered anything. However, I can tell you that the average payback for all slots at the Golden Palace for the month of March 2000 was 95.67%. This information is available at the Golden Palace web site, click on the Price Waterhouse Coopers monthly payout review.

I just have a couple more questions for you and then I wont bug you again for a really long time. Promise. : 0 ). What the jackpot would have to be on a 8/5 20 nickel game for it to be a 100% game, keeping in mind that it takes 20 nickels to be eligible for the jackpot? What about the same machine on a 7/5 game? And finally, what would it have to be on an 8/5 quarter machine that requires eight coins to be eligible for the jackpot. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for your sage advice. It has made gambling a lot more enjoyable!


You're welcome! In an 8/5 game, the jackpot would have to reach 37,704 coins to reach 100%, assuming you have to play 20 coins to win it. Assuming only 8 coins, the meter would have to reach 15,082 coins. On a 7/5 machine and 20 coins required the meter would have to reach, 46,956 coins. These figures assume you are playing the proper strategy for these pay tables with a per coin payoff for a royal flush of 800. As the jackpot grows some strategy adjustments are called for to more aggressively try for the royal. These adjustments were not calculated in this answer. It doesn't make any difference what the coinage is.

Concerning the Cash Splash progressive slot game played on Microgaming sites... Is the jackpot paid by all participating casinos? If so, does each casino have the same payout percentage set for these machines or is it set by each casino individually? What about mid-level payouts on these Cash Splash machines? Thank you very much.

Helen from Memphis, U.S.

I would assume that the odds are the same at all Microgaming casinos. All casinos probably contribute money to the same account from which the jackpot is paid. This way, the individual casino from which the jackpot was hit does not have to reach into their own pocket when somebody wins. Mid-level payouts are probably paid by the casino itself.

When a local gaming authority sets a minimum payout for slots does that minimum apply to each individual machine or a casino average payout? I know some games are set from the manufacturer higher than other and some lower. For example, if the minimum is 87%, then can one machine be set to 60% and another set to 120% for and average of 90% thus exceeding the minimum, or does each machine must pay at least 87%.

Jim from U.S.

The minimum applies to every machine. Someone with the Gaming Control Board in Carson City, Nevada, told me that every machine in the state must meet minimum payback percentages. The only exception, he said, are on some antique machines in Virginia City.

Your site is definitely the best one I've ever seen regarding gambling, and I commend you for providing some light and truth in a seemingly endless sea of "winning gambling strategies, tips & tricks." My question is this. I'm no slot player, but obviously when a progressive jackpot reaches a certain point, the edge would shift from the house to the player. I was wondering if there are any "groups" or "clubs" that go out into the casinos when this happens, (virtually) monopolize the machines, capitalize on the opportunity, and split the winnings? I have never heard of any, but they've got to be out there.

Bryan from Palmdale, USA

Thanks for the kind words. I have barely heard of teams of slot players doing this. However, this is very common with progressive video poker players. There are teams of these professional players who routinely check the meters and when they find one high enough they call their teammates in an attempt to monopolize the machines until somebody hits the jackpot.

The problem with slots is that it is not clear to the player what the odds are of hitting the jackpot so it is not obvious what the jackpot size has to reach for the machine to become profitable. Plus, it probably rarely happens that a meter gets high enough to overcome the house edge.

In your slot machine advice, you indicate to play machines with variable states that are in a high state or progressive machines with the meter high. Could you please explain? How do you know a machine is in a high state?

Ken from Naperville, Illinois

For variable-state slots, you have to know what the positive point is for that model of machine. For example, on the Piggy Bankin' slot machine, I think it becomes positive when there are about 40 credits in the bank. At that point the player is supposed to play one coin at a time until the bank is hit. The book Robbing the One-Armed Bandits by Charles Lund (1999) covers specific positive points for various machines, however many of the machines covered in that book are now hard to find.

As for how to determine when a progressive jackpot is unusually high, you'll either have to observe it over a long period of time or find someone who has done the same. For example, keeps data on progressive slots at online casinos. But even when a progressive slot is unusually high, it's impossible to know at what point it becomes high enough to be a positive-expectation game without knowing how the probabilities on the machine are programmed. In my section Deconstructing Megabucks I attempt to figure out when the jackpot is large enough to have a player advantage.

Update: Since this question was published, is blocked to U.S. traffic.

Is there some way of telling when a progressive slot has reached a level where the house edge is zero? For example, what would the Major Millions jackpot have to be?


Although this is easy with video poker with slots there is no way to tell without knowing how the machine was programmed.

I’m told the casinos don’t pay jackpots for progressives, they’re paid by the game vendor. Is this true and if so, does this apply to other slot jackpots as well?


That is true only of the super-big jackpots like Megabucks and Wheel of Fortune. When somebody wins a representative of IGT (the slot-maker) verifies the win is legitimate and then pays the winner. A portion of each bet made goes to a fund to pay the progressive.

What happens with accrued money in a progressive slot jackpot that is not won at the time that the progressive is discontinued? Seems to me that the accrued amount over the base should be allocated back to the players in some way since it was part of the return.

Roger from Dallas, Texas

According to Nevada Gaming Control Board regulation 5.110.5(c), the casino licensee must add the progressive jackpot to a similar game at the same establishment.

A long time ago, I asked you about progressives on slot machines where they decide to pull that slot. And I asked if the amount over the base minimum for the progressive is just kept or if it is redistributed to players in some other way. You weren't entirely sure. Well something interesting happened over Christmas. I follow jackpot amounts at the IGT website. The jackpot for $0.25 Wheel of Fortune jumped unexplainably from about 3-400,000 to over $5 Million literally overnight. At the same time, I noticed that they had pulled the Quartermania machines, which had a jackpot of over $2 Million at the time. There were some other brands that had disappeared as well. If you click on the link for the $0.25 Wheel of Fortune, you'll see that it shows the last win at over $5 Million at Caesars. So my question is, do you have the resources to figure out what happened here? Is it just a typo or error, or did they really roll other discontinued jackpots into this one? Thanks in advance.

Roger S. from Dallas, Texas

I agree with your hypothesis, that they pulled out the Quartermania machines and rolled the progressive jackpot into Wheel of Fortune. It can't be a coincidence.

Foxwoods casino had progressive slots that I played. The Jackpot was well over $225,000 and when I went back to play 2 days later, all of the Progressive Slots were removed and replaced with Video Slots. When I went to the casino's web site, I did not see anyone listed as winning this Jackpot. I wrote to the Casino and never got a satisfactory response - very evasive to my questions. I therefore wrote to the DA's office and a State Senator as to my concerns. Basically, I was told that they had no control and that it was up to the Tribunal Commission -- they could do what they want. I’m sure this is not fair to all those who played these slot machines. Are there any Industry rules on this? Thanks

Norman Cote from Nashua NH

Here in Nevada the casino would have to roll the progressive jackpot into another game, per Nevada Gaming Control Board regulation 5.110.5(c). If there is any such policy at Foxwoods I am unaware of it. If Foxwoods would like to express their version in this forum I would be happy to accept their statement.

Hello Wizard, thanks for the great site. Do you have any insight or knowledge of how the Jumbo Jackpot works at Station Casinos? Is it more likely to hit as the jackpot increases simply due to more chances being drawn, or are there other considerations?

Dan from Las Vegas, NV

You’re welcome. I don’t guarantee this as fact, but here is how I believe it works. First, the point at which the jackpot hits is randomly chosen between $50,000 and $100,000. I think each hit point is equally likely.

When the meter crosses the predestined hit point, everybody with a slot card in and playing will win $50 in fee play. To be considered “playing” the player must have his player card inserted, and have made a bet within the last ten seconds. Then, somehow, a machine is chosen at random from all those being actively played to win the Jumbo Jackpot. It does not appear that the bet amount matters, so all qualifying machines have the same probability of being chosen. As long as you can actively play multiple machines, that would muliply your chances of the jackpot by number of machines played, and you would qualify for the free play on all of them.

I would like to thank Bob Dancer for his help with this question.

Note: This answer has been updated in June, 2008, after a rule change to the Jumbo Jackpot.

Hiya Wizard, I’m hoping you can settle a bet between me and my wife. Do the odds of hitting the Station Casinos Jumbo Jackpot get better as the jackpot increases? My wife believes that it doesn’t matter when you play, because it’s equally likely to hit at any time. I believe that this means it’s better to play later, because it’s an equal distribution over all the numbers but you’re playing against a subset so it’s an increased likelihood of hitting. Who is correct?

Nick from San Diego

As usual, the person asking the question is right. For the benefit of other readers, I indicate the rules in my March 4, 2008, column. The probability of the jackpot hitting is inversely proportional to the how far the jackpot is from the guaranteed hit point of $100,000. The closer you get to $100,000 there is a smaller range where the jackpot can hit, so the odds of hitting at any given moment go up. If the current jackpot is j, the probability it will hit before the jackpot goes up $1 (for j<=$99,999) is 1/(100,000-j). At a jackpot of $50,000 the probability of hitting before going up $1 is 0.002%. At a jackpot of $99,999, the probability of hittng before going up $1 is 100%. So, you win the bet.

Do you know if there is any way to get the probability payout schedules for slot machines in Nevada? I called gaming and they told me it was confidential information. I am curious because at some point when playing a progressive slot machine, it must tilt into the players favor. And as a follow-up, what is the law on disclosure of probability tables. Thanks for the help in advance.

Mark from Las Vegas

No, there isn’t. I don’t like it any more than you do. I think the player should be allowed to know the rules and/or the odds about what he is gambling on. Others have asked me if invoking the state Freedom of Information Act. I tend to doubt it would help or apply. As far as I know, the only place with such a right to know might be Holland. I’m told in Amsterdam information about the virtual reel stripping is indicated in little cards on the machines. You could in theory calculate the odds with that information and the pay table.

I saw a $1 progressive jackpot at a casino in Michigan based on the flop and player’s two hole cards. It pays as follows:

Royal flush: 100% of jackpot
Straight flush: 10% of jackpot
Four of a kind: $300
Full house: $50
Flush: $40
Straight: $30
Three of a kind: $9

What would be the odds on a $105,000 jackpot?

Mike G.

The return for a jackpot of j is 0.530569 + j×0.029242. So, if j=105,000, the return would be 83.76%. For more information, see my page on Ultimate Texas Hold ’Em.

In your page on Megabucks, you said the value of 25 equal annual payments at the beginning of each year, with an interest rate of 4.66%, is worth 61.07% of face value. I was wondering what formula you used for the annuity?


The formula is V = P × [(1-(1+i)-n)]/(i/(1+i)), where:

V = value of annuity
P = individual payment amount
i = interest rate
n = number of payments

Let’s say the jackpot was $15M. Using i = 4.66%, and n=25, the fair payment to keep up with inflation would be $982,525. You would actually get 15M/25 = $600,000. Actual payment/fair payment = 61.07%.

Not that you asked, but the formula if the payments are made at the end of each year is V = P × [(1-(1+i)-n)]/i.

This question was raised and discussed in the forum of my companion site Wizard of Vegas.