Explaining Why Some Progressive Slots Offer Terrible Payback

By in Gambling Guides on
8 Minute Read

Payback is one of the first things that many slots players look at before choosing a game. The reason being is that return to player (a.k.a. RTP) determines how much money gamblers receive back on average when playing slots.

If you bet $100 on a slot with 99% RTP, then you can expect to win back $99 on average. Likewise, betting $100 on a game with 95% payback would theoretically return $95.

Higher RTP gives you a stronger chance to win money. But certain progressive slots have low payback and don’t give you great odds to win.

Progressive slots with low RTP can occur in both land-based and online casinos. IGT’s Megabucks (land-based) and Microgaming’s Mega Moolah (online) are perfect examples because they both offer 88% base payback.

Base RTP refers to how much a progressive game pays back before the jackpot grows. And even though low payback will increase along with the jackpot size, slots should still deliver far better than 88% RTP.

Why do some progressive games have poor payback? Find out as I cover several reasons why progressive jackpots can lead to low odds of winning.

Game Developers Assume Heavy Risk with Large Jackpots

A progressive slot takes small amounts from each wager to fund the jackpot. For example, 2% from each bet could go into the progressive prize.

The goal is to pull wagers from every player and create an attractive jackpot. But before any of this can happen, a game developer needs to seed the prize’s initial value.

This seeding occurs either when a game is first released or whenever the progressive jackpot is hit. Given that a game can only be launched once, most jackpot seeding is done after the top payout has been won.

Microgaming seeds the Mega Moolah jackpot at $1 million. Top prizes with a high starting amount attract many players and increase the popularity of games like Mega Moolah.

Once a jackpot is seeded, the game developer and any casinos that host the progressive slot share revenue. Both parties hope that the jackpot grows far beyond its beginning value so that they reap profits.

But game developers take significant risks with huge jackpots. IGT, which seeds Megabucks at $1.5 million, could fund the initial jackpot value, only to see somebody quickly hit it just days later.

IGT would lose well over $1 million in this event because they wouldn’t get enough play to recoup their investment into the progressive prize.

Of course, big game developers like IGT and Microgaming are well funded and can take a hit like this. Regardless, they still want a way to offset the big risk that they’re assuming on each individual jackpot.

Lower payback is the way to mitigate this risk. By featuring progressive slots with a large house edge, game providers will be properly rewarded for the high risk they’re taking on.

At 88% payback, Microgaming and IGT will make healthy long-term profits even if a few people get lucky shortly after a jackpot is seeded.

Certain Game Providers Are Still Operating on Old Payback Standards

Online slots have really pushed the bill for what’s considered acceptable payback these days. Game providers like NetEnt, Quickspin, Playtech, and Rival Gaming have raised the RTP standards.

The online slots payback offered today is in stark contrast to what was common over a decade ago. Many developers released internet slots that featured RTP ranging from 90% to 94%.

While this is still an improvement over what you’ll see at land-based casinos, it’s not exactly thrilling for online players.

Internet casinos typically have lower operating costs than land-based gaming venues. These lower costs give them wiggle room on how much they really need to win from players to earn profits.

Game developers caught on to this fact and began offering slots RTP that’s more reflective of the lower operating costs that they and online casinos incur.

The end result is that many modern internet slots have payback worth around 96%. Some games even have RTP going all the way up to 99%.

But game developers that have been around for a while refusing to change low base payback for their older progressive slots.

I just mentioned how Playtech offers some of the industry’s highest-paying slots. However, they also feature some of the lowest-paying progressive games with seven-figure jackpots.

Playtech’s Beach Life, which was released in 2006, only offers 93.25% base payback. Funky Fruits, which was launched in 2013, also offers low RTP at 93.97%.

I hate to pick on Microgaming again because they’re one of the leading developers in online gaming. But they have other slots with terrible base RTP beyond just Mega Moolah.

Released in 2000, Major Millions only offers 89.37% base payback. King Cashalot, a 2004 Microgaming release, is another low-paying slot at 90.45% RTP.

The theme here is that older progressive slots were released at a time when low online slots payback was more acceptable. Even with standards changing, though, these games still feature incredibly low RTP by modern standards.

Casinos Know That People Will Play for Big Jackpots Regardless

If the lottery has proven anything, it’s that people will play for huge jackpots regardless of the odds. World-famous lotteries like Mega Millions, Powerball, and EuroMillions only offer around 50% payback.

Luckily, you won’t find a slot machine with payback this poor in either online or brick-and-mortar casinos. But certain progressive slots offer bad RTP when compared to the rest of the industry.

Anywhere from 94% to 88% payback isn’t very good. Nevertheless, game developers still know that people will play as long as a huge jackpot is being offered.

Megabucks may only start with 88% payback. But gamblers are still likely to play, though, when the jackpot is worth $5 million or more.

Many people are more interested in the dream of getting rich through slots than what they stand to win in the short term. These players are willing to take the chance that they’ll lose hundreds of dollars per hour for a shot at life-changing money.

The majority of slots players still want a strong chance at earning short-term payouts. But there’ll always be the group that takes big risks for long odds at becoming rich.

Game Providers Are Relying on the Players to Raise RTP

One good quality to progressive slots is that the RTP increases along with the jackpot size. Here’s an example on how this occurs:

  • A progressive online slot has 92% base payback
  • The beginning jackpot value is $1 million
  • The jackpot grows to $5 million as people continue playing
  • The game’s RTP is now well over 92% due to the increased jackpot value

The only payout that’s changed is the jackpot. Therefore, the payback increase is solely attributed to the rising progressive payout.

If you don’t win the jackpot — which is almost assuredly going to be the case — then the RTP increase doesn’t really matter. But you’re still theoretically looking at higher payback.

In some cases, RTP can reach 100% or higher when the jackpot grows large enough. The point when a slot machine’s payback reaches 100% is referred to as the break-even point.

How do you calculate the break-even point on a big progressive slot? Unfortunately, this is impossible for most games due to the fact that you don’t have all of the variables.

Nobody knows the break-even point for big jackpots like those offered through Beach Life, Funky Fruits, Major Millions, Mega Moolah, and Megabucks. The best that you can do is make an educated guess as a jackpot keeps growing.

One could reasonably assume that if Mega Moolah’s starting $1 million jackpot eventually reaches $15 million, then it could offer over 100% payback.

In any case, an increasing jackpot is good for game developers. Players are the ones building the jackpot and RTP, meaning neither the developer nor casino has to contribute anything extra.

Land Based Progressive Slot Machines Usually Pay Poorly Anyways

The final reason why some progressive slot machines don’t pay much is because they’re found in land-based casinos. Brick-and-mortar venues are notorious for offering low RTP.

You can see this by looking at the average payback for each coin denomination in Nevada casinos:

  • Penny Slots = 90.17% payback
  • Nickel Slots = 94.54% payback
  • Quarter Slots = 93.06% payback
  • Dollar Slots = 93.94% payback
  • $5 Slots = 94.16% payback
  • $25 Slots = 95.03% payback
  • $100 Slots = 93.21% payback

Land-based slots payback is competitive at certain coin denominations, notably nickel, dollar, $5, and $25 slots.

But most progressive online slots don’t require you to contribute more than a penny per line to qualify for the jackpot.

Therefore, land-based players are left either hunting jackpots on low-paying penny slots or high coin denomination games. Neither case is ideal if you’re looking to stretch a bankroll further.

Nevertheless, some people visit brick-and-mortar casinos for the experience. They love spinning for big jackpots amidst the sights and sounds of casinos.

You can even turn land-based gambling trips into a social experience by bringing one or more friends to the casino. It’s common to see a couple of friends sitting next to each other and chatting while they play slots.

Of course, there’s an additional cost for doing so when considering that payback is lower. But many gamblers are willing to pay this price for the social experience.


Whether you still want to play for big progressive jackpots with low payback is a subjective matter.

Some players refuse to play any game with low payback, because they want the highest odds of winning. Others are obsessed over jackpot sizes and will throw caution to the wind in pursuit of huge payouts.

There’s no right or wrong answer when choosing slots. I personally enjoy mixing my play up between high-paying games with low variance and slots with huge jackpots.

Even when you’re going after big progressive jackpots, you don’t have to settle for less. Some game developers combine giant payouts with good base payback.

Here are a few examples of big jackpot slots with high solid base RTP:

  • NetEnt’s Arabian Nights = 95.3% base RTP
  • NetEnt’s Hall of Gods = 95.5%
  • NetEnt’s Mega Fortune Mega = 96.40%
  • Novomatic’s Golden Sevens = 95.10%
  • Random Logic’s Millionaire Genie = 95.02%

These online slots are perfect for those who don’t want to sacrifice payback when hunting for large jackpots.

But the majority of progressive games with huge prizes will pay less than the industry standard. These are the situations where you must decide whether it’s worth your time to go after the biggest payouts.

I personally think that it’s fine to go for big jackpots if you understand the situation beforehand. Most big progressive slots aren’t going to deliver smaller payouts on a consistent basis.

This aspects means that your bankroll will run out quicker on progressive games with large jackpots. As long as you’re fine with this, then, by all means, play for the largest progressive prizes.

You might even consider doing what I do in mixing play between slots with large progressive jackpots and games with lower top payouts.
Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...

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