Casinos: A Guide to Progressive Slots


Progressive slots explained

When you play a standard non-progressive slot, you know exactly what the jackpot is before you place a bet – certain combinations of symbols deliver different levels of pay-out. Progressive slots are different, however, in that the size of the jackpot grows as more players place wagers on the machine. Every time the reels spin without the jackpot being won that jackpot goes up, as a small amount of each wager is taken and added to the prize pot. Although progressive slots originated in land-based casinos they are ideally suited to online casinos, with huge numbers of people all around the world playing the most popular progressive slots and helping to build genuinely life-changing jackpot amounts.  

A quick history of progressive slots

The first-ever progressive slot machine covering an area wider than a single casino was launched by International Game Technology (IGT) in March 1986. It was called Megabucks and, at the time, the machines used to pool the jackpot were all based in land casinos in the state of Nevada. At the time the slot machines in question used the then-emerging technology of modems and telephone lines to link multiple machines together. In order to create a buzz around the game, IGT put up the first million dollars of the jackpot and people were soon playing in masses. The first pay-out on the Megabucks machine came on 1st February 1987, when a player in Reno scooped a pot worth $4,988,842.17. 

Online progressive slots

It wasn’t until 1994 that the first-ever online casino was launched, but by 1997 the technology had advanced sufficiently for slot machines to have become a major driver of online casinos, and the inevitable happened when MicroGaming launched Cash Splash, the first online progressive slot. It was a simple, 3 reel slot with just the one pay-line, but the concept of players all around the world contributing to an ever-growing jackpot proved to be massively popular, and, to date, Cash Splash still leads the way with more than 546 jackpot wins since it was launched. 

Types of progressive slot jackpots

The concept of a progressive jackpot is relatively simple and relates back to the earliest days of slot machines when the amount of money won depended upon the amount of money being fed in. The sophistication of the technology now available, however, means that even the simplest progressive slot can offer as many as three different types of jackpot: 

  • Mega Jackpot – This is the biggest jackpot and often runs into the millions. It pays out very rarely and the size of the jackpot has no bearing on how likely it is to be won. 
  • Major Jackpot – This jackpot pays out more often than the mega jackpot, and as a consequence offers lower winnings, usually only getting as high as tens of thousands.
  • Minor Jackpot – Jackpots that payout fairly often and so vary between a few pounds and a few thousand pounds.

The biggest ever jackpot wins on online progressive slots

At the time of writing the most valuable online progressive slot jackpot to have been won is the $21.7 million which a lucky player managed to extract from the Mega Moolah Progressive Jackpot Wheel, having spun the reels less than 50 times on a bet of just 75 cents. We don’t know anything else about the winner and, with all that money to pay for security, the chances are that we won’t be finding anything out in the future. Other huge wins, many of which were the largest ever recorded at the time, include the following: 

  • €11,736,375 on the Mega Fortune Slot on 24th September 2011. All we know about the winner of this jackpot is that they were based on Norway and scooped the big prize after spinning a few reels when they found themselves suffering from insomnia one night.   
  • £13.2 million on the Mega Moolah Slot (again). We know a bit more about the winner this time, such as his name – Jonathan Heywood – and the fact that he was a British soldier from Cheshire who struck lucky on 6th October 2015. 
  • €17,861,800 on the Mega Fortune Slot. This time it was a forty something-year-old man from Finland who won the big jackpot on 20th January 2013. 

The fact that players manage to scoop pots of this kind is the reason why progressive slots are so incredibly popular. Calculating the odds of winning a jackpot like this is extremely difficult thanks to the number of variables involved – from the format of the game to the number of machines being played at once and the RTP (return to player) percentage of each set of slots. Suffice it to say that the odds of hitting the very biggest jackpot are extremely small, and it is the size of that jackpot – and the supplementary jackpots on offer along the way – that keep people coming back time and time again to chase that life-changing win. It should also be remembered that on many progressive slots the largest jackpot is only available to players who place the maximum bet possible on a spin. Placing smaller bets often means that you’re contributing to the pot without having any chance of getting your hands on it. 

Cash-out limits

One other factor to bear in mind if you’re tempted to try your luck playing progressive slots is that many online casinos operate cash out limits. Put simply, this means that there is an upper limit to the number of winnings which a player is allowed to withdraw from their account over a specific time period, such as a month. Few things could be more frustrating than to see the screen of your laptop or tablet lighting up with news of a huge jackpot win only to then be told that you can’t get your hands on all of it. For this reason, it’s important, if you’re going after the biggest prizes, to take the time to check what the cashout policy of the casino in question is before you start playing.  

In many ways, progressive slots are the lottery of the online casino world. The chances of winning are slight, there are no skills involved, and you know you’re competing with tens of thousands if not millions of other players at any given moment. At the same time, and just like the lottery, someone has to be the person to strike it lucky and when they do, they can start thinking about retiring from work, stocking up on champagne and looking into that super-powered sports car they’d always fancied.