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AGS table-game progressives add a new level of excitement to the pit

By Frank Legato


The big-money jackpot. For more than three decades— since the 1986 launch of Megabucks—that phrase has been most associated with the slot machine. For the past decade, however, it has gained attention in the pit as never before.

Table-game side bets have been common for some time, often with set pay schedules for certain hands that are printed right on the felt. The idea of a progressive in the table game pit first surfaced in the 1990s with Caribbean Stud Poker, but more recently, slot-style progressive jackpots have surged on a variety of table games, including some that never had been even considered to host a progressive.

At the center of that surge has been slot and table-game supplier AGS, which has refined the technology behind table progressives, making them more attractive to players and casino operators alike.

AGS first broke progressive ground with the launch of the STAX table-game progressive in 2017. STAX offers five progressive jackpots, the top four tied to triggering hands. There are more than 1,000 total tables out in casinos that are equipped with the STAX progressive.

The STAX progressive can be linked to blackjack, baccarat or poker derivative games. Casinos normally have placed their own branding on the STAX. For example, Live! Casino Maryland features the STAX Super 4 Blackjack Progressive.

The side bet pays non-progressive prizes on many hands. On the Live! setup, the payoffs start with $10 on the $5 side bet if the dealer’s up card is an Ace (no blackjack). Any dealer blackjack pays $25. The rest of the pay schedule is triggered by a combination of the dealer’s first two cards and the player’s cards to form poker hands. If dealer and player cards form a pair, the payoff is $50. If all cards are the same color, it pays $100; if they form two pair, $200; a flush, $300.

The four progressives kick in for higher hands. While each casino determines the reset amounts for the progressives, a typical blackjack setup has the progressive for a straight start at $300, three of a kind at $500, a royal flush in spades, clubs or hearts at $5,000 and a royal flush in diamonds at $50,000.

To this mix is added another unique innovation from AGS—the “Must Hit By” jackpot.

This borrows the concept of a “mystery progressive” from the slot world. A typical setup will have the Must Hit By at $200. As the meter nears $200, betting intensifies, and at a random point after a threshold near $200, it will hit, and a random table seat will be picked for the prize.

“We used some of the technology that we saw becoming popular on slot machines to add a mystery-style jackpot,” says Jamie Abrahamson, senior director of table game content for AGS. “It adds a dimension of fun to more frequently hitting jackpots—smaller amounts that would engage the players and encourage participation.”

Participation in the side bet is definitely encouraged by the fact that when the Must Hit By jackpot is triggered, a random seat position is chosen. Imagine it hitting on the one hand where you didn’t make the progressive side bet.

“That really was the first RNG slot element brought into a table jackpot,” Abrahamson says. “Up to that point, progressives relied on the hands dictated by the cards.”

STAX has been a hit with players, as the three lower progressives are frequent, keeping up the excitement between when the big hands hit. “The $200 and $500 prizes are more quick-hitting,” says Abrahamson. “The idea was to have jackpots that go off multiple times per hour in a large casino, or multiple times per day, depending on the casino size.”


To the Xtreme

STAX was still spreading when, in 2020, AGS launched an even more groundbreaking progressive system called Bonus Spin Xtreme. It was the first table-game progressive to link different table games to a single progressive—with no limit on the number of tables to be linked, up to every table game in the casino.

One aspect casino operators like about the system is that by linking all the tables together, there is only one reset amount—called the seed amount—for jackpots across the floor.

“Where traditionally for every game type, the operator has to put down, let’s say, that $10,000 seed, now, they could actually have one seed amount for every single game,” says Abrahamson. “So right away it’s a more compelling jackpot. And then every wager being placed at every table increments that amount to the same meter, so it’s going to build more quickly and grow to bigger jackpots.”

When the Palms in Las Vegas reopened under new ownership in 2022, it featured the largest-to- date installation of Bonus Spin Xtreme, linking a jackpot to 40 of its 50 table games.

Bonus Spin Xtreme applies a unique trigger to each table game, allowing the two-level Bonus Spin prize—a grand prize spin for one player along with a secondary jackpot for each participating player at the table—on roulette, craps poker, blackjack, baccarat and sic bo.

As a third prize, Bonus Spin Xtreme incorporates an optional Must Hit By progressive; when triggered, the wheel spins to pick one of the player positions for that prize.

Bonus Spin Xtreme was made possible by a grand feat of mathematics to make the progressive fair regardless of the particular table game. The AGS team determined that a fair trigger for the progressive sequence would be a result on each game that occurs 5 percent of the time.

“Bonus Spin Xtreme solved a few problems,” says Abrahamson. “First of all, it opened up the door to linking different game types to the same progressive. And what’s required to be able to link a progressive is that a player playing at one table must have the exact same probability of winning the jackpot as someone playing it at another table or game. That’s the condition required by the regulators that allows you to link two different games.

“What Bonus Spin Xtreme did was to solve the challenge of how to make the frequency of hitting the jackpot the same across all game types. And we were able to do that by coming up with a triggering event for each game that was unique to that game, and made sense in the context of how that game is played.”

For poker derivatives, the 5 percent trigger is three of a kind or better among the community cards. For blackjack and its derivatives, it’s the dealer getting an “extreme 16” on the deal—a six with a 10 or a picture card. For baccarat, it’s a four-card tie on the deal. For roulette, it’s zero or double zero— or any two single numbers (as determined by the casino). In pai gow, it triggers if the dealer has a king-high pai gow. On craps, it’s 11 on the come-out roll.

Not only are the triggering events all at the right frequency; what’s particularly ingenious is that the triggers are events the players are rooting for to begin with. A dealer 16 in blackjack; a yo on the come-out in craps. Those are happy events in any case.

“We were looking for events that organically fit each game type that occurred roughly 5 percent of the time,” Abrahamson explains. “And then once you entered the bonus round, you were able to use our proprietary concentric wheel design.”

Bonus Spin Xtreme displays the incrementing jackpots over a concentric bonus wheel on an electronic display. When the trigger hits, the innermost wheel spins, landing on an amount normally ranging from $50 to $200. Every player at the table who made the progressive side bet receives that award.

The second wheel then spins to land on a “Hot Spot” player position. A button in front of that position lights up, and the player spins the outer wheel.

The outer wheel contains large jackpot prizes and two progressives— two diamonds for a prize typically in the tens of thousands and three diamonds for the top progressive, in the hundreds of thousands—over $1 million in many of the largest casinos.

The wheel is purely random, including the selection of the Hot Seat. That alone will compel more participation in the side bet. As with the STAX setup, no one will want to see position 3 become the Hot Seat and win the progressive if they’re seated there and happened to not have made the progressive side wager.

What is the real game-changer for Bonus Spin Xtreme, Abrahamson says, is the ability to place progressives on games like roulette and craps, which were never conducive to progressives in the past.


Craps presented a particular challenge, Abrahamson says. “A lot of factors went into picking the trigger. We have to make it simple. We have to consider not interrupting the game flow. We don’t want to irritate players by making them have to stop in the middle of a hot roll to do the spin. So we placed it on the come-out roll, and it’s a yo that triggers the spin—fitting into that roughly 5 percent, one in 18 chance, and it’s a positive event.”

Beyond the ability to place a progressive on a game like craps, Bonus Spin Xtreme injects some of the community-style, high-fiving excitement inherent in a game like craps into other table games.

“The experience of playing in this community environment, for one, is an extremely unique aspect. From a player perspective, it’s fun. A lot of people don’t play craps because they don’t understand the game, but anyone who does will say it’s the most fun, the most exciting.” The camaraderie felt by players with a common goal during a hot roll in craps can now be experienced during the spin of the wheel on other games, he says.

“No. 2, they get an opportunity at larger jackpots than they otherwise would, because everything’s linked. They’re going to have the opportunity to play for life-changing jackpots that grow more quickly. That makes it exciting.”


Coming Soon

As AGS continues to refine the technology of table progressives, those jackpots could get even bigger. And faster.

“Looking forward, I think we’ll continue to innovate on what sort of game mechanics are used to win progressives,” Abrahamson says. “As technology is added to the table and you’re able to track cards automatically or track events at the table that would be too difficult for a dealer to keep track of, it opens up the opportunity for innovation.”

He adds that progressives can become a way to differentiate the table game offerings at a particular casino from competitors. “The intellectual property has expired on pretty much all table games and side bets, so progressives are the one area on the table that operators really have a chance to differentiate the product line and offer something exciting.”

As the technology improves, Abrahamson says aspects like multi-denominational progressives will come to the tables—a $15-a-hand player will be able to experience the same level of excitement as a $200-a-hand player—and what could be the holy grail for table progressives, linking jackpots between different casinos owned by the same operator.

In fact, Abrahamson says, the technology already exists to link a single jackpot not only to different properties within a state, but in multiple states for a mind-boggling prize. It may take some time before laws and regulations catch up to the technology, but think Powerball for tables.

It’s only a matter of time, he adds, before omnichannel jackpots appear, linking live-dealer online casino games to brick-and-mortar casino games to increment jackpots more quickly. “I think you’re going to see it coming soon where you can be playing a progressive on your phone and go to the property to see it’s the same jackpot amount, same game,” he says.

And within each game, there’s that community feel. “We flipped it from where you couldn’t really come up with a solution to have a progressive on community games like craps and roulette to actually making every single game a community-style bonus,” Abrahamson says. “That really adds to the excitement.”

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