Beginners Guide to Winning Big at Progressive Blackjack
When most people think of a progressive jackpot, they think of a slot machine game.
But other games have progressive jackpots these days, too — including blackjack.
This post explains how a progressive jackpot works in general and in a blackjack game specifically. It also examines whether you can get an edge over the casino and whether it’s even worth it to place these progressive side bets.
What Is a Progressive Jackpot and How Does It Work?
The original progressive jackpot game was the slot machine. Slots have always featured jackpots, but they didn’t start featuring progressive jackpots until relatively recently — the last few decades.
A progressive jackpot is one that gets progressively larger as you play the game. The machine takes a percentage of each bet you make and adds it to the jackpot amount, which always starts at a base amount. That base amount is the seed jackpot, and the casino puts that money into play.
With slot machines, you originally had three kinds of progressive jackpots — single machine, local area networks, and wide area progressives. A single machine progressive jackpot grows as you play that machine, but it stays the same when you walk away.
A jackpot with a local area network is one that consists of several slot machines networked together, but they’re all in the same casino. Usually, they’re in the same area of the casino, too.
Every wager on each of those machines contributes to the jackpot. When it’s won on one of the machines, it resets to its base amount on the entire network.
A wide area progressive jackpot is one in which multiple slot machines — maybe even hundreds or thousands of machines — all feed into the same jackpot. These jackpots can get huge, like lottery jackpots do.
Progressive Jackpots and Table Games Like Blackjack
More recently, casinos have started offering table games with progressive jackpots. Some of these are newer games like Caribbean Stud. Sometimes they’re in the form of a “bad beat jackpot” in the poker room.
And sometimes they’re older games like blackjack, craps, or roulette.
With bad beat jackpots in the poker room, the casino collects a slightly higher rake than usual to pay for the jackpot. The rake is a percentage of each pot that the casino collects in exchange for hosting the game. It’s usually 5%, but in a bad beat jackpot game, it might be slightly higher.
With bad beat jackpots on table games like blackjack, craps, or roulette, the game usually plays normally. Your bets are adjudicated according to the standard rules of the game. The progressive jackpot is usually a side bet (a proposition bet) based on specific outcomes in the game.
In these cases, the progressive jackpot bet is a completely separate bet from your bet on the game itself. The progressive jackpot bet usually has no skill element to it, either.
An example of a progressive roulette game is Microgaming’s “Roulette Royale,” which has a starting jackpot of $60,000. To play, you just play the regular roulette game as normal, but you also place a separate side bet of $1 on the progressive jackpot.
The game awards the jackpot if the same number gets picked five times in a row.
What are the odds of that?
Since Roulette Royale is based on European roulette, the probability of getting a specific number is 1/37.
To calculate the probability of getting a number five times in a row, you just multiply the probability, like this:
1/37 x 1/37 x 1/37 x 1/37 x 1/37 = 1/69,343,957
But you can also win money if the same number gets picked two, three, or four times in a row. If the same number comes up twice in a row, you win 15 to 1 on your progressive side bet. If it comes up three times in a row, you win $200. And if it comes up four times in a row, you win $3,000.
Here’s the thing, though.
If you win a 35 to 1 payout five times in a row, you’d see winnings of $35 x 35 x 35 x 35, or $1,500,625.
If you guessed that the house edge for this game is really high, well… good. You’ve been paying attention.
But What About Progressive Blackjack?
I wanted to use roulette to illustrate the principle of a side bet that has a progressive jackpot on a table game, but let’s look specifically at progressive blackjack and how to play.
Microgaming also offers a progressive blackjack game called Triple Sevens. This is a blackjack game dealt from five decks, and if you get a hand that consists of the 7 of diamonds, another 7 of diamonds, and a third 7 of diamonds, you win the jackpot.
There are other combinations which result in smaller winnings, too — enough to keep you interested and placing the side bet. The house edge, though, is high on this bet.
Here are the payouts based on a $1 progressive side bet.
- If you get ANY 7 at all in your hand, you win $5.
- If you get two 7s of different suits, you win $25.
- If you get two 7s of the same suit, you win $50.
- If you get three 7s of different suits, you win $250.
- If you get three 7s of the same suit (other than diamonds), you win $1,000.
And of course, if they’re all of diamonds, you win the progressive jackpot.
The jackpot for this game generally hovers around $10,000, but as it grows, the house edge gets smaller. The break-even point is $109,000, at which point the game becomes positive expectation.
Should I Play a Progressive Jackpot Game If the Expectation Is Positive?
Here’s the thing about progressive jackpots and expected return.
In some cases, the expected return doesn’t matter. If the odds of winning are so bad that you realistically never hope to win that bet, it isn’t worth gambling for the progressive jackpot — even if it’s a positive expectation bet.
That’s because the volatility is so high that you won’t realistically ever see the jackpot.
You’re better off finding a game with lower volatility even if you have a lower (but still positive) expected return.
Of course, you’re dealing with two different house edge figures in Triple Sevens Blackjack. You have your main bet, which is just a regular blackjack game. The house edge for that game is around 1% or so if you play with perfect basic strategy.
The house edge for the side bet is about 37% if the jackpot is $10,000. Every $10,000 you add to the jackpot subtracts 3.5% from the house edge, which means that the side bet becomes positive expectation once the progressive jackpot hits $109,000 or so.
And don’t forget that probably 10% of the bet goes toward increasing the size of that jackpot, too. The house keeps the rest, but that’s a huge chunk subtracted from your expected return.
If you’re just looking for the lowest house edge with the lowest volatility, I can’t recommend playing Triple Sevens. Other Microgaming blackjack games have better odds. The Vegas single-deck game has a house edge of just 0.31% if you play with perfect basic strategy.
Other Progressive Blackjack Games Besides Triple Sevens
That’s just one example of a blackjack game with a progressive jackpot. Land-based casinos have their own progressive jackpot blackjack games.
Here’s an example.
At one casino, the progressive jackpot is based on your first two cards combined with the dealer’s two cards. The jackpots pay out for the following combinations:
- 4 aces of the same color (red or black, either one) pays off the progressive jackpot
- 4 aces of different colors trigger a 2000 to 1 payout
- 3 aces of the same suit trigger a 1000 to 1 payout
- 3 aces of different suits trigger a 200 to 1 payout
- 2 aces of the same suit trigger a 50 to 1 payout
- 2 aces of different suits trigger a 15 to 1 payout
- 1 ace of any suit triggers a 3 to 1 payout
This is an interesting variation because it affects strategy in subtle ways. One of the quirks of this game is that if you split the aces, you become ineligible for the jackpot. Most of the time, the correct play is to keep the aces together so that you can get the payout for the jackpot bet.
Progressive Blackjack Betting Systems
Playing in a blackjack game with a side bet on a progressive jackpot isn’t the only way to win a lot of money at the blackjack table. You could also use a progressive blackjack betting system.
A progressive betting system is one where you increase the size of your bets according to some established system.
And the system I’m going to share with you is dead simple.
Your goal with a progressive jackpot is to win a lot of money.
I call this my “go big or go home” blackjack strategy.
It’s simple, too. You’re going to play at a casino offering a $1 minimum bet and a $150 maximum bet. Your goal is to win $150.
With this system, you just let your winnings ride until you hit your win goal.
Assuming you don’t get a natural, you don’t need to win many hands in a row to achieve your goal, either. Here’s what the progression looks like:
Once you’ve won eight hands in a row, you’ve achieved your goal. Of course, that’s not a life-changing jackpot, but it’s still a big win for a dollar bet.
A better way to do this would be to find a casino with a bigger spread of betting limits. You might find a casino that offers $5 blackjack as their minimum bet but which also has tables that allow you to bet as much as $5,000.
Here’s how many hands you’d need to win in a row to win $5,000:
You’re probably thinking, “What are the odds of winning 10 or 11 hands of blackjack in a row?”
The truth is, the odds are slim.
But even though you’re facing long odds with this betting progression, you still have a better probability of a big payout by parlaying your winnings and letting them ride than you have of hitting the big jackpot.
The odds are a little worse than 1100 to 1, but since you’re looking at a 1000 to 1 payoff on the parlay, it’s not a terribly high house edge when compared to something like 35%.
The only trick is that you might need to switch blackjack tables after winning a few hands.
If you win seven hands in a row, you need to be able to bet $640 on the next hand. At a $5 minimum table, you usually can’t bet more than $500 per hand.
No problem. You just need to switch to one of the higher-limit tables.
If you play blackjack online, you can find even lower table limits. $1 blackjack is common at online casinos, and many online casinos even offer blackjack for 10 cents or 50 cents per hand — something unheard of in a brick and mortar casino.
You have to win a lot of hands in a row to turn 10 cents into something worth having, but it can be fun to try.
Also, if you occasionally get a natural with its 3 to 2 payout, you can get there even faster. You’ll see a natural more often than you might think, too.
You should, if you try this go big or go home strategy, stick with basic strategy for all your decisions. Don’t make the mistake of adjusting your play after winning four or five bets in a row. That’s a common mistake for beginners, who think they need to avoid busting to continue their progression.
Don’t do that.
Make the mathematically optimal play on every hand, which is what basic strategy tells you to do.
If you’re counting cards, you might make strategy adjustments based on the count. Then again, you’ll probably have an entirely different strategy for raising and lowering the size of your bets.
You want to know how to play progressive jackpot?
Here’s a simple, if tongue-in-cheek answer: very carefully.
Most of the time, a progressive blackjack game requires you to make a side bet where the house edge is 10% or higher. This takes blackjack, which is a game with some of the best odds in the house, and turns it into a game with a huge house edge.
You might as well play keno or the lottery or find a progressive slot machine to play.
If you want to combine that low house edge on the main blackjack game with the opportunity to win a big jackpot, this might be a fun way to play.
But I can’t recommend it in good conscience.
Still, I don’t think anyone should judge someone else for the way they like to gamble. What entertains you might not entertain me, and vice versa.
That’s what gambling is all about, anyway — entertainment.
Keep that in mind, and you’ll be all right.