Every now and again one hears of someone winning hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds at an online bingo site and invariably this is NOT from a game of bingo but from a progressive jackpot slot.
What is a progressive jackpot?
Whenever anyone takes a spin on a progressive jackpot slot, part of their stake is set aside to fund a special pot. Normally when someone has a winning slots spin they will win a fixed multiple of their line bet as specified by the paytable. When someone wins the progressive jackpot, however, they win whatever happens to be in the pot at the time and the pot is then reset – sometimes to zero but more commonly with a seed amount (also funded from the part of the stake that is set aside). If there are two progressive jackpot wins in very quick succession the second winner would then receive the seed amount. Some progressive jackpots have a maximum amount and are guaranteed to drop when they reach that amount if they haven’t done so before, and some are unlimited.
Why some progressive jackpots are much bigger than others
This is largely a matter of how widely networked the slot is.
It is possible to have a progressive jackpot attached to one instance of one slot only and indeed this is how it used to work with actual physical slot machines. More commonly now, a number of machines in the same bricks and mortar casino will share a progressive pot which can be paid out by any of them and with more machines contributing, the pot grows much faster; this is called a local progressive. When slot machines at casinos in different physical locations are linked together in this way it is called a wide area network progressive jackpot and again, with many more machines contributing this time the pot can grow still faster.
Similar sorts of hierarchy exist with online slots. At one end of the scale you have slots such as the progressive jackpot version of Fluffy Favourites. This is available at many different bingo sites (and some casinos) but each site (or in some cases group of sites under the same ownership or on the same network) has a different instance of the progressive with a different sum available to be won. Not only does the actual amount differ, but the seed and maximum amounts are set differently altering the balance between the three jackpots; the Mega Jackpot maximum amount is £30,000 or £50,000 at some sites and just £5000 at others. Essentially each site or group of sites is running its own jackpot server.
At the other end of the scale you have the likes of Microgaming’s Mega Moolah progressive jackpot. This is a massively wide area progressive jackpot network; not only does it link together every single instance of the Mega Moolah slot in online casinos all over the world as well as at Microgaming bingo sites, but several other Microgaming slots are also part of the network and contribute to the pot. This jackpot is seeded at £1 million and there have been a few winners of over £10 million including a British ex soldier who won over £13 million at Betway in 2015. The Mega Moolah jackpot is also responsible for the biggest ever win at an online bingo site which was £5.8 million at Butlers Bingo back in 2012.
Why bet size matters
Some progressive jackpots drop completely randomly but it is more usual for the size of the initial bet to have an effect on the player’s chance of winning the jackpot in one of the following ways:
- The jackpot can drop for anyone but the chances of it doing so increase with bet size (e g Mega Moolah, Gladiator Jackpot)
- The jackpot can only drop on a maximum bet/maximum lines spin (e g Jackpot Giant)
- The jackpot can drop for anyone, with the same chance for all bet sizes, but the amount actually paid out is proportional to bet size so a maximum bet spin is needed to win the headline amount (e g Clover Rollover)
The mechanics of a win
The mechanics whereby the progressive jackpot is actually dropped vary from slot to slot, for instance:
- Randomly awarded after any spin (i.e. Millionaire Genie) usually with a weighting factor based on coin size
- Awarded after spinning a combination of jackpot symbols (Jackpot Giant)
- Awarded as a (low probability) outcome of the bonus round (Gladiator, Winnings of Oz)
Many slots use a combination of the above. For instance, Megajackpots uses a combination of (1) and (2). Arguably option 3 has more entertainment value than the others as it adds to the excitement of the bonus round and creates the possibility of a near miss.
Progressive jackpots and return to player
If the payout of the jackpot is included in the Return To Player calculation, the expected RTP for a specific spin including the jackpot will be variable depending on the current jackpot value, and the actual RTP will also vary over time depending on how often the jackpot is paid out and has to be reseeded. Taking IGT’s Cleopatra slot as an example, the RTP for regular Cleopatra is 95.02% but the RTP for Megajackpots Cleopatra is stated in the paytable as being 91.01% if the jackpot is at its £500K seed value and 93.03% if the jackpot has reached £1 million (presumably it would be more if it exceeds £1 million, as it occasionally does).
Another approach to RTP for progressives is to show the RTP for the progressive jackpot separately and this is done in the case of Fluffy Favourites. Regular Fluffy has an RTP of 95.3% and progressive Fluffy has an RTP of 89.9% plus an extra 3% for the jackpot.
It is actually possible for a progressive jackpot to grow so large that the expected return from the slot is greater than one but in order to work out when this would occur one would have to know the precise odds of the jackpot dropping for each bet size and in most cases this information is not readily obtainable. Microgaming’s Major Millions jackpot is a special case as it can only be played with a total bet size of £3 and all lines in play, meaning that all spins have an equal albeit extremely tiny chance of winning the jackpot. This very tiny chance is reportedly 1 in 7,484,400 and assuming this is true, we can use the RTP of the slot net of the jackpot, which is 89.37%, to find the jackpot size where the expected return on the slot would become greater than one.
The expected return on a £3 stake assuming that the spin is not a jackpot winning one is approximately £2.68 so for each spin, the house takes an average of 32p. From that 32p, some funds the house edge and some eventually gets paid back out when someone wins the progressive. But what the player is essentially doing is gambling the 32p on winning the jackpot so if the jackpot size is more than 32p x 1/(the chance of winning) the slot becomes a positive expectation game. What that means is that if it were possible for a group of players working as a syndicate to monopolise the slot from then on until until the jackpot dropped, theoretically they would come out ahead as the jackpot payout would more than cover the losses incurred while waiting for it to drop. Of course this simply cannot be done with an online slot as any number of players can play at the same time, but it could conceivably be done with a local progressive jackpot at a bricks and mortar casino if there were enough players in the group to make sure that every machine connected to the pot was always busy, blocking anyone outside the group from playing the machines. They might have to wait a long time though! (20 years in the case of the Lion’s Share progressive jackpot)
If the 1 in 7,484,400 figure for the chance of winning the Major Millions is correct, the game would tip over into positive expectation if the pot were to exceed 32p x 7,484,400. This gives us £2,395,008 – and in fact this has never happened as the jackpot, which is seeded at £250,000, has never reached as much as £2 million but has always been paid out prior to that – for example, the win of £1.2 million at Glossy Bingo in autumn 2016.
The Big Ones: Wide Area Progressives
The really big progressive jackpots offer the opportunity to win sums in excess of a million pounds.
The already mentioned Mega Moolah by Microgaming is the biggest of all the big ones and because its seed value is £1 million a jackpot win can never be less than a 7 figure sum. Mega Moolah is available at all Microgaming bingo sites but can be hard to find at other UK bingo sites; one place that does have it is Mecca Bingo.
Not far behind are Net Ent‘s trio of progressive jackpots – Hall of Gods, Mega Fortune and Mega Fortune Dreams. Each of these has its own mega jackpot (plus smaller jackpots as well) and these are usually well into the millions when they drop. Mega Fortune Dreams also has a networked major jackpot which can run into the hundreds of thousands (at the other games, the smaller jackpots are local). Mega Fortune is responsible for the biggest ever mobile slots win of over 5 million euros which took place at Leo Vegas. These three slots also boast attractive RTP figures quoted as 95.5% for Hall of Gods, 96.4% for Mega Fortune Dreams and 96.6% for the original Mega Fortune. The only snag with these particular progressive jackpot slots is that they until very recently they were not widely available to play at UK bingo sites. In July 2016 Mega Fortune became available to play at Foxy Bingo, at Joy of Bingo sites including Wink Bingo and 888 owned Dragonfish bingo sites such as Spy Bingo, but the other two slots are still quite hard to find. Net Ent recently signed a deal with the Rank Group so we could well see them come to Mecca Bingo in the future, but in the meantime try the Vegas section at Bet365 for Hall of Gods (and Mega Fortune) and Bingo.com for Mega Fortune Dreams.
888 have several networked progressive jackpots and the biggest and best known of these is Millionaire Genie. This jackpot includes other slots such as Irish Riches and Pirates Millions as well as the Millionaire Genie slot itself, and is often in excess of a million pounds. The biggest recorded win of this jackpot, £3.4 million, was at a bingo site – Iceland Bingo – and is interesting in that it was the result of a minimum stake 15p spin, demonstrating that every spin really does have a chance of winning (albeit an extremely low one, stated in the press release to be around 1 in 200 million). Millionaire Genie is arguably the biggest slots progressive jackpot to be widely available at UK bingo sites; it appears not only at all Dragonfish network bingo sites but also at the vast majority of bingo sites that use the 888/Dragonfish software including the likes of Costa Bingo, Foxy Bingo and Wink Bingo. The RTP of Millionaire Genie including the jackpot is in the range 93.02% – 95.02% and the reason that it varies is that spins played with slots bonus do not increase the size of the jackpot (nor would free spins if 888 were to give them out on this slot). It is worth noting also that while cashout of wins at Dragonfish sites from a slots bonus is restricted to £400, this does not apply to progressive jackpot wins.
Playtech have a number of progressive jackpots but as discussed below most of the Virtue Fusion slots progressives are a special case. Of the Playtech casino slots jackpots, the most famous ones are not actually the biggest. Probably the most famous is Gladiator Jackpot, the progressive version of the much loved Gladiator slot featuring footage from the film. The Gladiator progressive jackpot has a low seed value (for a wide area progressive) of £50,000 but there have been a number of wins in excess of £1 million. Also very well known is the Marvel Jackpot, which includes all of the slots themed on the Avengers and other Marvel Superheros, but this jackpot (which is seeded at £100,000) has never paid out a 7 figure sum (it drops too often to get that high). Furthermore the Marvel slots are due to be retired soon as the deal for Playtech to be able to use the characters in coming to an end; they are in the process of being replaced by the Age of the Gods series. It remains to be seen what effect this will have on the jackpot’s popularity. Both these jackpots are normally only found at Virtue Fusion bingo sites that have a Playtech casino attached, but a few including Gala Bingo have direct access from the bingo part of the site.
In fact there are some less well known Playtech casino slots with bigger progressive jackpots and one of these is Jackpot Giant. Two years after the game’s launch the jackpot had only been won once – paying out a staggering £4.5 million to one lucky Gala Bingo player. Jackpot Giant is one of the progressive slots where the jackpot cannot be won by anyone who is not playing all paylines at maximum bet size (which amounts to £4 a spin) and its RTP is 94.22%. Again, Gala Bingo is the place to find it.
Some More Big Ones – Or Are They?
IGT Megajackpots is another internationally networked jackpot and while one might expect given the name and the wide market penetration of IGT slots that it would be on a par with the Microgaming ones, the payouts are generally quite a bit smaller. The biggest recorded win is a little over £2 million but this took place some years ago when the Megajackpots slots were Cleopatra, Monopoly and Cluedo. In March 2015 Megajackpots was relaunched with only Cleopatra from the original set of games, joined by Siberian Storm and later by Isle O’ Plenty. The quoted RTP changed and so did the mechanism for winning the jackpot; in the original version only max bet spins were eligible to win the jackpot but in the new version any spin can win, with the larger coin values having a better chance of doing so. One result of this (and a stated aim of IGT at the time) was to make the jackpot drop more frequently but this also has the effect of its not getting as large as it previously did and now, it tends to drop before reaching £1 million. Of these three games, Siberian Storm has a very slight edge in terms of RTP (91.01% when the jackpot is at its seed value of £500K and 93.07% when it reaches £1 million). A fourth slot, the classic Wolf Run, appeared in Megajackpots form during Autumn 2016., but Siberian Storm retains the RTP edge. The Megajackpots games are harder to find at UK bingo sites these days than they used to be and this was probably because the (now defunct) Gtech bingo platform was bought by IGT and used to showcase the best IGT slots. Despite this, Megajackpots can still be played at the really big Virtue Fusion sites such as Bet365 Bingo and also at Mecca Bingo.
The Virtue Fusion network progressive jackpots – which are found at all Virtue Fusion bingo sites – work differently. The most well known of these is Clover Rollover and the progressive jackpot for this (and the other slots which are included such as Snow Queen’s Magic and Cleopatra’s Chest) often exceeds £2 million. However, this does NOT mean that anyone is ever actually going to win £2 million:
- The full amount is only paid out if you bet the maximum (£5) per line. This works out to £25 a spin on Clover Rollover and a whopping £75 a spin on Cleopatra’s Chest. Bet at 10p a line and you have the same chance of winning that jackpot as someone who bets £5 a line, but if you do you will receive just 2% of the headline amount.
- The recalculation is done once a day at midnight based on the previous day’s stakes rather than right away so if the jackpot were to be won twice in one day the second player would receive the seed amount of £100,000 (or percentage thereof depending on bet size).
- When someone wins, the amount they actually win is deducted from the headline figure. As most players play with a line bet that is much smaller than £5, the majority of progressive jackpot wins are relatively small (in the tens or sometimes hundreds of thousands) and this means that the headline figure can stay high and only reset to the seed value if someone wins with a £5 line bet.
- The progressive jackpot ticker on the slots launch page shows the maximum progressive jackpot value for each of these slots – but when you actually start to play, the jackpot figure that is shown in the play window is adjusted for current line bet. Play at 10p a line and you’ll see a headline figure of £2 million drop to £40,000.
- The jackpot is actually funded by contributions from the operators on the network rather than directly from the game stakes (this explains why the recalculation is done only once a day). This means that Playtech can quote a fixed RTP for these games (93% for Clover Rollover) and it also means that they can include a clause in the small print allowing them to remove funds from the jackpot to run promotions and/or change the rules on how the jackpot is won.
The TL;DR version – the Clover Rollover jackpot looks like a big one but the amount that can be won with a minimum line bet is very much smaller, and the same goes for most of the other Virtue Fusion slots progressives.
The Not So Big Ones: Local Progressives
The best known local progressive is of course Fluffy Favourites and here, a number of local jackpot servers offer the opportunity to win up to £50,000 at some sites – read our Fluffy Favourites article for a detailed discussion of seed and maximum jackpot values at different sites. The progressive versions of Fluffy and its sequel Fluffy Too (which shares the same jackpot) are found only at sites for which 888 UK Limited holds the licence – but that is an awful lot of sites! Other Eyecon progressives such as Shaman’s Dream and White Wizard work in a similar way.
Another set of local progressives are those attached to slots by Playtech subsidiary Ash Gaming and these include Winnings of Oz, Fairest of Them All and other fairytale themed slots. These slots are widely available at bigger Virtue Fusion bingo sites and as with Fluffy Favourites, each site or group of sites has its own jackpot server; even so the jackpots run into the tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands. Moreover, some of the jackpot servers are serving an awful lot of players and this can occasionally result in some extremely large jackpots waiting to be won. For instance, as of July 2016 the Winnings of Oz progressive jackpot at Gala Coral (i.e. Gala Bingo, Coral Bingo, Gala Casino and Coral Casino) had reached a staggering £2.1 million – and unlike the Clover Rollover jackpot this can be won by any player playing at any stake level (although bigger bet sizes have a better chance of winning).
The Snowball Effect
Since every stake contributes to the jackpot, the more people who play the slot the faster the jackpot grows. But the more the jackpot grows, the more people are enticed by the sheer size of the jackpot to play that particular slot instead of a different slot. This means that a recently seeded jackpot will grow slowly but as the jackpot gets bigger, the rate at which it gets bigger will start to accelerate and eventually start to run away as more and more people flock to play the slot, resulting in situations like the one described above with the Ash Gaming jackpots where one has grown to a massive size compared to the others.
Progressive Slots – Pitfalls in the Small Print
Many bingo sites and casinos contain provisos in their terms and conditions or rules which concern progressive jackpots. The rules which players are actually likely to come into contact with are those regarding bonus and free spins usage on progressive jackpot slots and these vary wildly, from the situation at Kitty Bingo where bonuses cannot be used on progressive jackpot slots and free spins given on those slots are not eligible to win the jackpot, to the situation at Dragonfish sites and at Dream Bingo where not only is it that case that casino bonuses CAN be used on progressive slots, but a win of the progressive jackpot would be exempt from their usual cashout limit on bonus play. Watch the wagering requirements though as they may work differently on progressive slots; at Polo Bingo for instance, there is a clause saying play on progressive jackpot slots only contributes at 50%.
Another common stipulation is that when progressive jackpot slots are played with bonus money, it does not contribute to the jackpot; this has the effect, if there is a lot of bonus play, of making the overall RTP on the slot slightly lower when the jackpot is included but since the return on regular play, and the chance of winning the jackpot, remain the same, the only player actually affected is the jackpot winner (and they are unlikely to care!).
There are also provisos concerning what will happen next in the event of a jackpot win. Of course it is extremely unlikely that any of us will ever be lucky enough to be affected by these – but take a look at this, for instance (from 888’s standard terms and conditions):
“Progressive Instant Win or Casino Jackpot Winnings
- In the event of winning a progressive instant win or casino jackpot of £20,000 or more, you will grant to the Company an irrevocable, exclusive and perpetual worldwide right and license, to use your name, photograph and likeness in any media, which includes but is not limited to TV, radio, magazines and the Internet in connection with the marketing and promotion of the Company. You further agree to fully cooperate with the Company’s representatives in such regard and without additional compensation except where required by law.
- Such Jackpot prizes may be awarded to the winners in up to 24 monthly installments if so decided by the Company at its sole discretion.
- The Company reserves the right, for a reasonable period of time, to review your jackpot win to ensure its validity”.
Basically the winner of a progressive jackpot may not get their winnings for some time, when they do they may be paid in installments instead of as a lump sum, and there is no option to avoid publicity (as there would be with a lottery win).
Reserving the right to pay in 24 monthly installments is not particularly onerous, but several years ago there was a notorious case – the Joyland casino case – where a player won a huge progressive jackpot but because of the casino’s withdrawal limit rules it would have taken almost FORTY YEARS to be paid out in full. The player wasn’t convinced the casino would even be around for that long and eventually settled for a sum of around half the actual win in order to receive the funds up front (a wise decision as it turned out as the casino was subsequently sold and finally closed earlier this year). This wasn’t in the UK, and we have never heard of anything like this happening at a UK bingo site, but it is worth knowing that securing payment of winnings is outside the Gambling Commission’s remit. The solution for the ultra cautious is only to play progressive jackpot slots at sites which have previous form for paying out big wins!
Perhaps the most restrictive such clause to be found at a UK bingo site is in the terms and conditions at Cozy bingo sites, which say that progressive jackpots will be paid out at the rate of £1000 a week (so the best part of 20 years to pay out a million pound win) but currently (Autumn 2016) this does not matter as it appears no Cozy sites have any progressive jackpot slots on offer.
Progressive Slots – our verdict
Progressive slots play has both pros and cons.
On the pro side, there’s the chance (although absolutely minuscule) of winning a life changing amount.
On the con side, there’s usually a worse return to player than non progressive slots. Even if there is not, quite a bit of the return will be tied up in the jackpot reducing the chance of coming out ahead with lesser wins. This in turn can make the slot less entertaining to play than a non progressive slot, as well as burning through money faster if luck isn’t on the player’s side.
A final thing that all players of progressive slots should bear in mind is the responsible gambling guidelines and these are easier to stick to than ever before. New Gambling Commission requirements mean that players must be given the opportunity to set loss limits before engaging autoplay and must also be given periodic reality check messages to remind them how long they have been playing and this should help everyone to keep it fun.