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Evaluating Progressives: Picking the Right Machine

Quick Hit by Bally Jackpots at max bet
Written by Joshua

Many slot machines have some sort of jackpot mechanism built in, where triggering a certain bonus, reaching a “must hit by” value, or some other purpose will trigger a jackpot win.

In some cases jackpots are progressive, meaning they will increase based on either the amount bet or amount win. The good news is that these jackpots are visible on the machine, and so making good decisions about the machine you sit down at can give you a better expected payback, presuming all other things equal.

Fixed Jackpots vs. Progressives

We’ve spoken about this a bit in the recent write-up about Quick Hit games and max betting, but some casino operators choose to take games with traditionally progressive jackpots and fix some or all of them to a certain value instead.

In practice, this has the effect of lowering the machine’s payback as some percentage of your expected payback, probably a couple of percentage points, would come from the growth of those meters from your bets or wins. While it’s possible the casino operator has upped the base game pays to make up for this, you can only work off the information you have available. As such, if you have a choice of playing a game with progressives and one with fixed jackpots, you should lean towards progressives, especially if it’s the same game, which is sometimes the case.

Like casinos offering 6-5 and 3-2 Blackjack tables side by side and sometimes at the same bet level, do your homework to maximize your opportunity if you’re going to play.

This goes for Video Poker too, by the way. I recently visited Emerald Island and was playing 9/6 Jacks or Better at pennies (what a find!), and even hit a royal flush:

Emerald Island royal flush

On my way out, though, I found bartops with penny video poker and progressives that were over $1,000. Now, there’s no guarantee that I would’ve hit the royal there, but had I done so, that would’ve paid me 4x the above. There were other subtle differences between the games (although the paytables were the same, but it was less hands), so it’s not always an apples to apples comparison, but a cursory look is always recommended. Sometimes video poker pay tables can differ between machines in the same section.

Comparing the Progressives

Presuming all the machines are in the same boat (and progressives are all on), there’s still a decision to make. A review of the progessives should be your next step, and you should sit at the machine that’s open and has the best progressives.

I recently wrote about our group pull on Mighty Cash as part of the article on that game; check out the photo from during our bonus:

Mighty Cash progressives

You can see the machine on the right, which we were playing, had higher Grand, Major and Maxi progressives than the machine on the left. (The mini and minor are fixed jackpots based on your bet level, so they’re higher by choice.)

By choosing to play the machine on the right, presuming nothing else is different between the machines (and that’s generally a safe bet nowadays), you’re going to get a higher expected payback over time just by the nature of eventually hitting one or more of the elevated progressives.

Is it a guarantee? No, but neither is hitting a progressive to begin with. It’s about the math – over time, and at some point, the game on the right will be expected pay better as long as those progressives are larger. Once they’re all hit, it changes, but at this particular moment, you should play the one on the right.

It’s not unusual for machines to have a mixed bag – a slightly higher grand, a really big major, etc. Since a Major would be expected to hit with a higher frequency than the Grand, a really high major may make you overlook another machine having a higher Grand.

Progressive Types: ‘Must Hit By’ vs. Random Wins

Major progressive on Dancing Drums at 88 cents
A Major progressive won at 88 cents on Dancing Drums.

The other thing to consider when playing for progressives is whether they have a required trigger point. Many games, like Mighty Cash, Quick Hit and Dancing Drums, do not have a “must hit by” component, so a high progressive may make some think a machine is “due to hit,” but that is not the case at all – hitting that progressive on spin 100 is just as likely as spin 99. So while a big progressive can be enticing, don’t chase those.

But if you’re looking to play the game with a certain amount of budget and find an above average progressive, certainly play it – just don’t keep putting money in expecting it to hit because it’s so high.

On the other hand, if you encounter machines with a “Must Hit By” mechanism, you have a slightly better understanding of how far away from a guaranteed hit a progressive is, and you can get a gauge of if it’s incrementing by bet or win, and how much.

You can then do some actual back of napkin calculations of how much money would need to be bet, or won, to make grabbing the progressive and whether putting in some focused play to secure it is worthwhile. Games that increment the progressives based on bet, vs. win, are obviously more advantageous as games that have a guaranteed spend cap before a progressive can hit (and of course they can hit before the top number).

So if you plan on actually chasing a progressive, make sure it’s one that can be successfully chased.

What’s the biggest progressive you’ve ever won? Share in the comments!

About the author


My name is Joshua, and I’m a slot enthusiast who works in tech as a marketer by day, and dabbles in casinos periodically during off-times. Know Your Slots will reflect my interests in understanding the various ways you can play slots, travel, casino promotions and how you can get the most out of your casino visits.


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