IT’S ALL ABOUT THE ODDS
Revealing the truth about winning back-to-back jackpots
By John Grochowski
I’ve received many an email, phone call, and—in days of yore— letters delivered through the U.S. Postal Service, asking if it’s possible to hit more than one big jackpot in a short time on the same machine. The questions aren’t always precisely in these words, but the common theme is, “Doesn’t the machine have to go cold to make up for the payoﬀ?”
As you’ve no doubt read in Strictly Slots and other publications, slots and video poker machines don’t have to go cold after a big win. The random number generator just keeps generating random numbers, the game keeps paying in normal proportions, and over hundreds of thousands of plays, the big win fades into statistical insigniﬁcance.
I was a little surprised when one person who wrote to me came at it from a diﬀerent angle:
“I get that the odds of hitting a jackpot are the same every time, even if you’ve just won one,” he wrote. “I get that even backto- back jackpots are possible. But there are millions of plays every day. So tell me, why don’t back-to-back jackpots happen more often?”
That’s a big leap from “is it possible?” to “why doesn’t it happen more?” The answer lies in the odds of the games.
In video poker, royal ﬂushes occur an average of about once per 40,000 hands, with some variation depending on player strategy as games and pay tables change. Consecutive royals come up an average of about once in 40,000 times 40,000 hands—a cool 1.6 billion hands.
That’s a big, big number, but there are tens of thousands of video poker machines in this country, getting thousands of plays per day. Every few days, or few weeks, somebody, somewhere is going to draw back-to-back royals.
In December, I received an email from a reader named Sara who had done just that.
“My husband and I were playing together in Las Vegas,” she wrote. “I was playing Double Double Bonus Poker and he was playing Deuces Wild, both on quarters. He loves those Deuces. We were joking about how nice it would be to hit a royal, or even four deuces, to help with Christmas shopping. I was dealt an Ace of spades and four low cards. I kept just the Ace, and the other high spades all come up.
“I couldn’t believe it! I’d never drawn four to a royal before. He gave me a nudge and said now I could buy him an iPad, and we laughed. Now I had more than 4,000 credits, and I went to play again. This time I was dealt the Ace, King and Jack of hearts. I don’t remember what else. I said, “Look, I’m going to do it again.” Then I did! I said, “His and hers iPads?” We haven’t done that yet, but we didn’t have to put anything on the credit cards for Christmas, either.”
On slot machines, there’s a wide range of probabilities. On a game with a relatively small jackpot, designed as a quick-hit machine, you might see a top jackpot once per 10,000 plays, while the odds on hitting the jackpot are longer on most machines, and MUCH longer on some big-money games.
Two in a row on a 1-in-10,000 game would be expected an average of once per 100 million trials. The odds are long against it ever happening to you, or to me, or to any other individual. But the chances of it happening to someone, somewhere? Given enough machines and enough plays, it’s practically a certainty.
It’s been a long time since I’ve heard from a reader who hit the top jackpot on back-to-back spins on a slot machine, but it has happened. I save stories like that, including one from Teri, who was playing Blazing 7s near her suburban Chicago home in 1999.
“I’ve always liked those games,” she wrote. “I’ve been playing since before there were casinos here. My husband likes craps, and we’ve always gone to Las Vegas a time or two every year. I’ve hit the progressive on Blazing 7s a few times, but never twice in the same day.
“There were six machines together. The highest jackpot was $1,367, and I decided not to play that one because if I won I’d get the tax form. So I started playing one where the jackpot was $1,143. It only took a few spins before I got the three blazing 7s, and they came over and paid me $1,144.
“They asked me to play oﬀ the jackpot, but that was OK, because I was going to keep playing anyway while my husband was at the tables. The progressive went down to $1,000, and on my ﬁrst spin it came up blazing 7, blazing 7, blazing 7. I was ﬂabbergasted. In fact, I went all numb. One jackpot was exciting. The second was just totally outside anything that had ever happened to me in a casino.”
On the other hand, the chance of becoming a multimillionaire by hitting Megabucks is nearly 1 in 50 million. The chance of hitting that top jackpot twice in a row comes to 1 in 50 million times 50 million— unless my ﬁngers and toes deceive me, that’s 2.5 quadrillion. Might as well go to the beach and count grains of sand.
And that, I told my email acquaintance, is why those back-to-back jackpots don’t happen more often. For most games, consecutive jackpots won’t happen often, but they will happen. Given enough trials, anything that can happen eventually will. At jackpot odds, it just takes a lot of trials to get there.