How to Make a Profit Playing Progressive Slots

By Michael Stevens in Slots on July 9, 2019

12

Minute Read

If you want to play progressive slots, this post will explain how. In fact, it probably won’t be the longest post in the world, because playing progressive slots is no harder than playing any other kind of slot machine. You put your money in, you press the spin button, and you hope for the best.

But what I’ve tried to do with this post is give you enough information about how progressive slot machines work that you can be an educated player.

And you can check our complete progressive jackpots guide to find out even more.

Not all these tips will apply to you, but I suspect most of them will, no matter your level of expertise.

Let’s go ahead!

What Is a Progressive Slot Machine and How Does It Work?

Most people know what a slot machine is, but if you’re completely new to the subject, here’s a quick description of slots games in general.

A slot machine game is a gambling machine with spinning reels. Each reel has symbols on it, and the point at which each reel stops is determined randomly. Specific combinations of symbols across a payline result in payouts.

The simplest version of a slot machine has three reels and a single payline horizontally across the middle of the machine.

Modern slot machines are often more complicated than this. They might have five reels, and the paylines come in a bewildering array of patterns. You have to place a separate bet on each payline, too.

The easiest way to describe paylines is to compare them with variations of bingo. They always run from left to right, but they sometimes come in a zig-zag pattern. You also have symbols that land on the rows above and below the center payline.

Originally, slot machines were powered by metal reels, springs, and gears. Now, the reels are just for show. A computer program called a random number generator (RNG) determines the results, and the probabilities are programmed into the RNG.

This enables the slot machine manufacturers to make bigger machines with more possible symbols and different probabilities for each symbol. This process is called “weighting.”

On an old-school, mechanical slot machine with 10 symbols on each reel, you had a 1/10 probability for any given symbol to show up.

But with weighting in place, some symbols might be programmed to come up more often and others programmed to come up less often. You might have some symbols which come up as often as 1/5 of the time and others which only come up as seldom as 1/20 or 1/50 of the time.

And, of course, the probability of getting multiple winning symbols to line up is calculated by multiplying the probability of getting that symbol on each reel.

1/10 X 1/10 X 1/10 = 1/1000

Understanding this part is important because it makes it clear how the casino is able to offer such large jackpots without losing money. For the casino to make money from slot machines, they need a statistical advantage. They get that advantage by paying out at odds lower than the odds of winning. The difference is their long-term profit.

To offer a 6-figure or 7-figure jackpot, they need to be able to get odds that are 6 figures or 7 figures to 1. You can only do that if you weight the symbols so that they come up less often than they would on a mechanical reel.

I’ll have more to say about probability and odds in a bit.

A progressive slot machine, though, is a game where the jackpot gets bigger over time — as it gets played. A small percentage of each bet goes into the jackpot.

You’ll find three different kinds of progressive slot machines.

  • The first is a standalone progressive. This is a game where the jackpot is exclusive to that game. Every bet fuels the jackpot just for that machine. The ticker doesn’t move unless someone is playing on that machine.
  • The second is a local area network progressive. This is a game where multiple slot machines in the same casino share the same jackpot. If anyone is playing any of the machines in that network of games, the jackpot is growing for all those machines.
  • The third is the wide area progressive jackpot. This is a game that’s networked with multiple slot machines in multiple locations. These jackpots grow huge because so many people are playing them.

Once someone wins one of these progressive jackpots, it resets to whatever its starting value was, and it starts growing again.

Where Do You Find Progressive Slot Machines?

You can find progressive slot machines at almost every casino in the world, although slot machines are more popular in the United States than in Europe. You can also find progressive slot machines at online casinos. The games available online vary based on what kind of software the casino is using.

You can find these games by looking for the games with a progressive jackpot ticker at the top of the machine. This is a digital display of the size of the jackpot. With wide area progressives, this number changes (grows) almost constantly, which adds to the excitement for prospective players.

If you’re having trouble finding a progressive slot machine in a particular land-based casino, just ask one of the employees there for help finding them. They’ll know where they are. Don’t forget to give the staff member who helped you at least a $1 tip for helping you.
You’ll get better service in general if you become known as a generous tipper. And casino employees talk.

Odds, Probability, the House Edge, and Payback Percentages

The method most gamblers and casinos use to measure the odds in a slot machine game is the payback percentage. This is the statistical average of payouts on that machine expressed as a percentage of each bet that should be paid back to the player in the long run.

Since the payback percentage is almost always less than 100%, it’s clear to see how the casino makes its profit.

The lower the payback percentage is, the faster you’ll lose your money when playing the machine. The payback percentage is just a function of how much you’ll win for each combination multiplied by the probability of hitting that combination.

The machines aren’t programmed to run in cycles or to start losing after a certain point to guarantee a certain payback percentage. The payback percentage is strictly a function of the probabilities and payouts.

For Example

You might have a slot machine that pays out some kind of prize 45% of the time. The size of those prizes multiplied by the size of those prizes is what determines the payback percentage.

One way to think about it is as if you were playing a simple gambling game where you’re flipping a coin and guessing which side it will land on.

If you win, you get 50 cents. If you lose, you lose 55 cents.
Half the time, you’ll win, but the other half of the time, you’ll lose a larger amount. Over time, you’ll lose all your money.

That’s how the math and probability behind all casino games works.

Most slot machines have a payback percentage of between 75% and 95%. Lots of factors determine the payback percentage for a specific machine. At more competitive casinos, you’ll generally see a higher payback percentage. At airports and bars, you’ll see payback percentages on the lower end of that scale. At casinos on the Strip in Las Vegas, you’ll see payback percentages at the higher end of that spectrum.

At casinos in less competitive locales, like Oklahoma, the payback percentages are generally lower.

Also, the denomination of the slot machine is a factor. Casinos make more money from a player betting $3 per spin than they do from someone betting 75 cents per spin, even if the payback percentage is better on the $3 per spin player.

Look at the math.

  • 600 spins per hour at $3 per spin is $1,800. With a payback percentage of 95%, the game pays back an average of $1,710. The player loses $90 in an hour, on average.
  • 600 spins per hour at 75 cents per spin is $450 per hour. With a payback percentage of 90%, the game pays back an average of $405. The player loses $45 per hour.

Even though the house edge is twice as high on the lower-stakes game, the casino makes less money per hour on average.

You’ll also want to keep two things in mind about the odds and probability as they relate to progressive slot machines.

The first is that the tiny percentage of each bet that fuels the jackpot comes directly off your payback percentage. It has to.

So a game that would otherwise have a 95% payback percentage would only have a 94% payback percentage once you account for the contribution toward the jackpot.

The second is that the payback percentage assumes that you’ll sometimes win the progressive jackpot. But in reality, you probably won’t ever hit that jackpot. The bigger the progressive jackpot, the less likely you are to win it.

This means that a 94% payback percentage might only be 90% after you account for never hitting the progressive jackpot.

For this reason, the odds and the payback percentage for a progressive slot machine are always worse than it is for just a regular old slot machine game.

You should also take advantage of any kinds of comps and freebies the casino is willing to offer. Those only amount to between 0.1% and 0.5% of your action, but you should get as much action as you can for your money. This includes taking advantage of the free drinks at the casino.

Of course, none of that applies at online casinos. Keep in mind, too, with online casinos, that many of them limit their payouts to their players to a specific maximum dollar amount per week. Winning $100,000 is a lot less fun if it takes you 100 weeks to collect.

Playing Tips and Tricks

I don’t have many tips and tricks to offer a progressive slots player other than this.

Make sure you’re betting enough to be eligible for the progressive jackpot. Some games don’t require you to bet the max to qualify, but some do. It’s up to you to read the pay table to tell the difference.

If you’re not going to bet enough to win the progressive jackpot, find another machine to play.

Other than that, try to spin the reels more slowly. The more spins you pay for, the more money you’ll lose over time, on average. If you make 300 spins per hour instead of 600 spins per hour, you’ll probably lose half as much money on the slot machines over time.

Also, you should never play with money you need for something else. If you think you’re going to get lucky and solve all your problems with a progressive slot machine jackpot, you’re delusional.

An Easier Way to Win a Life-Changing Jackpot

Michael Bluejay wrote a great page about how you’re far more likely to win a million dollars by parlaying your winners on a table game.

In other words, you might bet $10 on a single number at roulette, and you’d win $350. Then bet the entire $360 on a single number again. This time, you’ll win $12,600.

Bet the entire $12,960 on a single number again, and you’ve won $453,000+.

The odds of winning these three bets in a row?

1/38 X 1/38 X 1/38, or 1 in about 55,000.

Those sound like terrible odds, and they are.

But they’re still far better than the odds of winning that progressive slot machine’s jackpot.

Conclusion

That’s it, really. Playing progressive slots, like I mentioned at the beginning, just isn’t hard to do. You put your money in and hope to win enough money to retire for the rest of your life.

I don’t generally play progressive slot machines, myself. I don’t like the odds.

But I’ll play some of the time just for grins, and I think that’s the best approach. People win progressive slot machine jackpots every day, and you have just as good a chance of winning as anyone else.

The only strategy you really need to remember is to make sure you’re betting enough to win the progressive jackpot. Some games don’t allow you to win the big jackpot unless you’ve bet the max number of coins.

Other than that, these are games of luck. Treat them as such.

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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