Is there a difference between a Jackpot and a Progressive? Absolutely! And the difference can sometimes be important when choosing a game to play.
Generally speaking, a Jackpot is generally listed on the top box of the machine as an enticement to play a game. It could be the top prize of the game, or a special prize that can be done for achieving something. While the term usually indicates a prize that can be a handpay of $1,200 or more, it doesn’t always have to be a handpay.
Similarly, a progressive is generally a jackpot, but a specific kind of one. (It’s like the square vs. rectangle definition: A progressive is a jackpot, but a jackpot isn’t necessarily a progressive.)
A progressive grows based on criteria that happens from play of a machine. Most often a progressive will progress based on wagers, so a certain amount wagered will increase it. However, it could increase based on wins, or some other criteria specific to the game.
Games like Quick Hit are traditionally progressive jackpot games, but on occasion casinos will turn off the progressive element, making them flat jackpot prizes. Most games that feature progressives can actually be set with the progressive feature off, in fact.
That usually is to the detriment of the payback percentage of the game, given the progressive increment is usually incorporated into the game’s overall payback design. You’ll most commonly see this done in large markets such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Game designers will on occasion also tell you they’re not the biggest fans of this, and in some cases try to design games in a way that won’t allow this to be disabled, so players get the experience they designed it to provide, which includes the progressives.
Meanwhile, some jackpots are designed to always be flat, such as the top jackpot on Konami’s Jewel Reward game, which I wrote about recently. In those cases the flat jackpot chances are built into the math and the overall payback, so there’s less to worry about there.
So when you see a game’s graphics talking about a progressive, but it not giving you an actual progressive, you probably know something’s up, and you can decide whether this is really the game you want to be playing.