An Introduction to Progressive Slots
Walk into any live casino and you’ll see the left and right: slot machines with blaring signs, showing jackpots of ever-increasing amounts.
Log onto your favorite online casino and open a few of the slot games, and you’ll find the virtual equivalent. At the top of the screen on some games, there will be a display with ever-increasing jackpots.
These are progressive slots – slot machines with progressive jackpots.
What makes them progressive?
It’s the jackpot that progresses. A portion of every wager players make on the games is added to the jackpot until somebody wins it. After someone hits the jackpot, the meter resets to a lower, base amount and begins progressing again.
Easy enough, right? If a jackpot starts at 1,000 and 1 percent of wagers are added, then if you bet $1, the jackpot climbs to $1,000.01.
Progressive jackpots come in all sizes. Some start at a few dollars or euros and are designed to hit frequently, keeping players interested in the games. Some start in the millions – it might be years between hits for these. And, of course, there are many starting points in between.
There are several different kinds of progressive slots. Let’s check out some of the major types.
This was the first type of progressive. Single-machine progressives still exist, mainly on three-reel games in live casinos. Progressives at online social casinos, with no wagering for money permitted, usually are single-machine progressives.
Each machine has its own progressive meter, and it rises as bets are made on that machine. If you play for a while and leave with the meter at $1,178.63, then that’s where it stays until the next player takes a seat and starts to wager, sending the meter rising again.
These are the most common progressives in live casinos, and online progressives at wagering sites can be seen as versions of linked progressives.
Several machines within the same casino are electronically linked to the same jackpot. If there is a row of six machines, all linked to the same jackpot, then a wager at any of the six machines increases the jackpot for all. Then if a player at any of the linked machines wins the jackpot, the pot resets to a lower level for all machines.
Wide-areas, or WAPs, work in the same way as linked progressives, but they link machines in different casinos.
In the United States, most wide-area links must be in the same state. A player on the Las Vegas Strip, one in Reno and one in Lake Tahoe all can be making bets that add to the same jackpot, but a player in New Jersey on the same game would be on a different link for New Jersey players.
There is an exception for Native American casinos – there are Native American systems that link jackpots in multiple states.
Online, a progressive would be considered a wide-area equivalent only if it linked play at different sites by different companies. Most online progressive jackpots are open to multiple players but in the same online casino, so they are equivalent to linked progressives rather than to wide-areas.
Only the top jackpot is progressive on a single-level progressives. When progressives were invented, this was the only way it was done. The display meter would show one rising amount, which you would win when you lined up the top jackpot combination on the reels.
Most single-level progressives today are on three-reel games with mechanical reels in live casinos. They include some of the most popular and enduring games in casino history, from Blazing 7s, which starts with a $1,000 jackpot on $1 games, to Megabucks, the first wide-area game that starts its jackpot in the millions.
Most progressives today are have multiple jackpot tiers. That includes nearly all video and online progressives.
The pioneer was Aristocrat Technologies with its Hyperlink system featuring four progressive levels labeled Mini, Minor, Major and Grand. At the Mini level, jackpots are only a few dollars and hit often, while at the Grand level, the jackpots are thousands of dollars and hit less frequently.
Other multi-level progressives have used labels such as bronze, silver, gold, platinum or sapphire, emerald, ruby, diamond, but the idea is the same. The low progressive levels hit more often, create excitement and keep you in the game, while the top levels are celebration-worthy jackpot.
Four levels is common, but systems with as few as two levels and as many as 12 have attracted players.
These work just like most slot payoffs . If you line up enough jackpot symbols in a row, you win the progressive. On a three-reel slot, three jackpot symbols in a row will do it. On a five-reel video slot, it’ll usually take five – although a five-reel video slot with a multi-level progressive usually uses one of the other methods of awarding a jackpot,
Instead of awarding the progressive on the main reels, the jackpots are awarded during bonus play.
One method is with a wheel spin. A bonus wheel is affixed to the top of a machine or appears on the screen of a video or online slot. You touch a button or the screen to spin the wheel, which is divided into segments. Some segments award credits, free spins or other bonuses, while some segments award progressive jackpots.
Another method comes during a free spin bonus. Imagine that the goal of the free spins is to collect gold coins, and anytime one lands on the screen, it stays in place. At the end of the spins, the number of coins you have determine either the credits you win or, if there are enough of them, award you a progressive jackpot.
Methods of awarding jackpots during bonus play can be as varied as the jackpots themselves.
On some games, progressives take you completely by surprise. There are no jackpots on the reels, you’re not in a bonus round, but the machine goes into celebration mode with special music and animation, and you’re awarded a jackpot.
These are mystery progressives, and the way they work is that a random number generator selects a jackpot amount somewhere between a minimum and a maximum payout. If your bet is the one that pushes the jackpot to the randomly selected payout amount, you win regardless of whether you win or lose on the reels.
Note that the above types of slot machines are a mix and match set. A linked progressive can be multi-level or single level, and it can be symbol driven, bonus driven or a mystery progressive.
That gives game designers plenty of room for variety so they can keep giving us intrigued and entertained as we chase those jackpots.