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What Are Escalator Jackpots?

Sue Dawson

Escalator jackpots are a type of extremely popular bingo promotion that is frequently run at Playtech bingo sites.  Other operators have also been known to run them; for a while Entain used to run a rival escalator jackpot promotion every time Playtech put one on, and at Relax Gaming bingo sites they run a small escalator jackpot every morning.  It’s Playtech (aka Virtue Fusion), though, who are really well known for them.

But what IS an escalator jackpot and why are they so popular?

How Bingo Progressive Jackpots Work

To understand what an escalator jackpot is, one must first understand what a progressive jackpot is and how these work in bingo.

  • A progressive jackpot is a special kind of jackpot that starts at a (usually fairly substantial) preset value and gets bigger and bigger until it is won.  It’s then reseeded at the preset value again.
  • When you buy a ticket for a bingo room with a progressive jackpot, part of your stake is taken as a jackpot contribution (just as it is when you play a progressive jackpot slot).  Some of it goes to increasing the size of the jackpot and some of it goes to fund the next reseeding.
  • Not all bingo rooms have progressive jackpots; some have fixed jackpots (which don’t grow) and some have none at all. Regular prizes in bingo rooms with progressive jackpots will be slightly lower than they would be in a room without one, because part of the Return To Player is now tied up in the jackpot.

That’s where the money comes from to fund a progressive jackpot, then.  But how do you WIN one of these jackpots?

In 75 and 90 ball bingo, the win condition for a progressive jackpot is based on the number of calls it takes for bingo to be won.  For example, the progressive jackpot in the Deal Or No Deal 90 ball bingo room at Virtue Fusion bingo sites is normally set to 34 calls.  That means that if someone daubs all 15 numbers on their 90 ball ticket to win full house before the 35th number is called, they win part or all of the jackpot (part, because there might be a community share, which I’ll explain in due course).

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? That’s more than twice as many calls as the numbers you’ve got to daub, right?  But actually, the chance of doing it with a single bingo ticket is just 1 in 24.6 million (not that much better than the chances of winning the lottery, in fact, and worse value for money because the prize is typically much smaller).  As the number of tickets in play goes up, it becomes more likely that someone will win in 34 calls – but for very small values of “more likely” because the chance for each ticket is so very tiny.

It’s EXTREMELY rare, then, for one of these jackpots to drop under normal circumstances – and that’s where escalator jackpot promotions come into the picture.  A bingo escalator jackpot turns the progressive jackpot in a specified bingo room into a must-drop jackpot.

Why Bingo Escalator Jackpots Are Must-Drop

A real escalator moves upwards in steps, and so does an escalator jackpot – or rather, so does the number of calls within which bingo has to be won for the jackpot to drop.  While an escalator jackpot is running, the number of calls goes up at preset intervals (typically an hour but in the October 2023 version of the promotion, which we’ll get to later, it was every 5 minutes).  With each step of the escalator, it gets more likely that someone will win a bingo game in the necessary number of calls.  This continues until the jackpot drops at which point the promotion ends, the jackpot is reseeded at its usual value and the ball count returns to normal. And in an escalator jackpot, the jackpot ALWAYS drops, in the very last game of the promotion if it hasn’t done so earlier; someone’s got to win and that’s one reason why these promotions are so popular with players.

In all escalator jackpot promotions, the jackpot has a guaranteed value, but if the jackpot hasn’t dropped recently it could end up being considerably more.  The guaranteed value is there in case the jackpot is won and reseeded between the promotion being announced and the escalator starting.  When the escalator starts, the jackpot is reset if it’s smaller than the guaranteed value, and left as is if it’s larger. For example, supposing the guaranteed jackpot is £10,000:

  1. Jackpot is £15,000 when the promotion is announced but is won the day before the promotion starts and reset to £5000 – jackpot is set at £10,000 at the start of the escalator
  2. Jackpot is £15,000 when the promotion is announced and is NOT won between then and the escalator starting – jackpot stays at £15,000 (plus whatever it’s grown in the meantime) for the escalator

Bingo Escalator Jackpot – Worked Example

Let’s see how one of these promotions looks with a worked example of how the Deal Or No Deal 90 bingo escalator has worked in past versions of the promotion, with the ball count going up by 2 per hour starting at 6pm.

Time Ball Count Single Ticket Chance Of Jackpot Win*
Before start 34  1 in 24.6 million
6pm 36  1 in 8.2 million
7pm 38  1 in 2.9 million
8pm 40  1 in 1.1 million
9pm 42  1 in 464,118
10pm 44  1 in 199,188
11pm 46  1 in 89,940
11.45pm 90 Guaranteed to drop in next game

*assuming someone else hasn’t won it first

We can see that the probability of winning gets much better quite rapidly, but remains very small for each ticket.  What about the number of tickets in play, though – how does that affect things?

Well, if the jackpot includes a community share (as it typically does at Virtue Fusion, with the jackpot being split 50/50 between the full house winner or winners of the game in which it drops and the rest of the tickets in the game) the numbers of players in the room, and the number of tickets they buy, will go up as well as the evening goes on and everyone gets more excited about the prospect of getting a share of the jackpot, and this also increases the chances of a game being won in few enough calls for the jackpot to drop.

Let’s take the 10pm step on this example escalator as a reference point (assuming the jackpot hasn’t already dropped) and do the maths.

  • Each ticket in play has a 1 in 199,188 chance of winning the jackpot – and a 199,187 in 199,188 chance of NOT winning.
  • Raise 199,187/199,188 to the power of the number of tickets in play and you get the chance of NONE of them winning.
  • With 1000 tickets in play that’s around 0.995, but with 10,000 tickets in play (as there easily could be with hundreds of players maxing out) it’s around 0.95.
  • Subtract from 1 and you get the chances of the jackpot dropping in any one game at 0.05 or 1 in 20.
  • As there are 12 games an hour in Deal Or No Deal 90, at this point it’s very much game on!

The final escalator step at 11pm further increases the chance of winning and typically the bingo room goes absolutely crazy with a thousand or more players piling in.  This means that the jackpot usually drops before the end of the promotion but if it doesn’t, the ball count goes to 90 ensuring that it will drop in the next game.

What’s So Great About Bingo Escalators

It’s not simply the must drop nature of the jackpot that makes a bingo escalator such a great promotion – it’s also the atmosphere in the bingo room while the promotion is going on!  Community and chat are a really important part of the online bingo experience and this type of promotion gets lots of players into the bingo room together and creates a real buzz.

The escalator jackpot promotion that Playtech ran in October 2023 took all this to yet another level.  Previous escalator jackpots had been run on Fridays, Saturdays or holidays (such as the days between Christmas and New Year) but this time they went for Monday evenings.

Running the promotion on Mondays wasn’t the radical thing about it, though. The big idea was to run not ONE escalator jackpot over the course of the evening, but FIVE – one an hour, with £10,000 to be won each time (and the usual 50/50 split between the full house winner or winners and the community).  And no messing about with putting the ball count up by two every hour, they put it up by one every GAME (so every 5 minutes).  The promotion was also run in the network 5 line room, which is the form of bingo with the highest number of regular prizes in each game.

The effect of all of this was to change the nature of the promotion from one where many players might pop in after 9pm or 10pm to see if the jackpot was still in play and only start playing in the room if it was, and where players would leave once the jackpot had dropped even if it was early on, to a VERY solid 5 hours of full-on entertainment – on the day of the week where people are arguably the least likely to have other plans.  Pure genius!

Sure enough, between Christmas 2023 and New Year 2024 Playtech ran another escalator jackpot promotion with one drop per hour, and we expect to see more of them in the future.

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