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Solving The Jackpot Mystery

Can betting less increase your odds of hitting the top jackpot?

By John Grochowski


If you’re eligible for the top jackpot only when betting the max, and you’re not prepared to bet that much, you’re better off at a non-progressive machine.

I first encountered Fred back in the 1990s, while I was doing a walk-through a casino with the property’s publicist. He was hovering around a roulette table, and we struck up a conversation. He told me he was looking for a betting pattern that would give him an edge. When I told him no such thing existed, he looked sorely disappointed.

Fred still contacts me from time to time, and he’s still searching for those elusive “edges.” On a snowy Midwestern day fit mainly for snowplows and salt trucks, Fred phoned me to ask about a system for playing low-denomination slots with mystery progressives.


“It’s not like it used to be, where you have to bet the max to have a chance at the jackpot,” he started. “I remember being really upset once when I was playing a system. It was a three-reel slot that would take one, two or three coins, but you had to bet three to win the big jackpot. Well, I’d been talking to a guy who said his system was to bet one coin, to kind of prime the machine, see? And when he had a couple of winning spins, then he’d jump to three coins and go for the jackpot.

“I had to give it a go, didn’t I? I played one coin, and got a cherry to win a couple of coins, and three mixed bars, and I moved my bet up. Then I didn’t win anything for a while, and I dropped back down. THAT’S when the jackpot came, like the machine was waiting for me to lower my bet.”

Usually at this point, I’d try to tell the person about random number generators, and how the chances of winning are the same on every spin, and that you should never play that type of progressive without making a maximum-coin bet. If you’re eligible for the top jackpot only when betting the max, and you’re not prepared to bet that much, you’re better off at a non-progressive machine.

But with Fred, I knew he didn’t want to hear it. So I just offered a little sympathy and encouraged him to move on to what he really wanted to talk about.

“It’s these mystery progressives,” he explained. “On some of them, the machines are linked together and the meters all rise the same amount for all the machines. There’s no big jump in the top jackpot for betting the max, like there was on my old three-reel game. The jackpot is the same for everyone.

“It’s the ‘same for everyone’ part that got me thinking,” he continued. “On some of these games, it doesn’t matter how much you bet. You can win the same jackpot as anyone else, even if they’re betting more.”

And this led Fred to his latest “how to get an edge” idea.

“So why should you bet more?” he mused out loud. “Why wouldn’t you just bet one penny at a time, and wait for you turn at the jackpot? If the jackpots are really random, don’t I have just as good a chance betting one penny at a time as someone betting 500? Doesn’t that make the payback higher, the less you bet?”

I told Fred that neither slot manufacturers nor casino operators were about to let a game on the floor that would provide a reward for betting less. The jackpots are awarded randomly, but that doesn’t mean every player has an equal chance of winning.

The key is in the mystery programming. There are several ways to go about it. One is by time, and we’ll usually see that on games with bonus events where the player earns a multiplier for winnings based on bet size and speed of play.

Another is to launch the jackpot event when the jackpot size reaches a certain amount, or total coin wagered reaches a certain amount. Let’s say a game is configured so that a jackpot event is launched when total wagering on the bank of machines reaches a number somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 coins. That’s on the low side; on a bank of penny machines that’s only $250 to $500 worth of wagers.

A random number generator would select an amount between the parameters. If it selected $383.17, for example, the player whose wager took the total to $383.17 would trigger the jackpot event. If the games have no minimum bet or side bet required to be eligible for the jackpot event, then every active player would have a chance to go to the jackpot round. But those who are betting the most money would have the most chances.

If you’re betting one penny, you have that one chance per spin to take the total wagers to that magic number. If I’m playing with you, betting one coin per line on 25 paylines, then I’d have 25 chances per spin to move the wagering total up to the selected total, while my neighbor betting 20 coins on each of the 25 lines has 500 chances.

It’s the same deal if the launch point is a jackpot amount rather than a wagering total. You might see a sign that says, “Jackpot must hit by $500,” or some other amount. A random number generator would select an exact amount of $500 or less, and the player whose bet took the jackpot up to that level would get the mystery award. Players who bet more credits have more chances to trip the trigger.

So no, I told Fred, betting one coin at a time was no way to increase his payback percentage. The results would be random, but that doesn’t mean the one-coin bettor and the 500-coin bettor have equal chances of solving the jackpot mystery.

Knowing Fred, I expect he’ll try it anyway.

Solving The Jackpot Mystery.

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