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Jackpot odds still long at Las Vegas casinos

Shortly after Las Vegas’ casinos reopened in early June, a lucky player won a big jackpot playing Let It Ride. 

Talk about good PR. Nothing like a news story going out over the wire within the first few days of reopening that someone won a few hundred thousand dollars. Recently, I read how someone playing at Caesars Palace hit a Royal Flush playing Ultimate Texas Hold’em and also won a couple hundred thousand. 

Hitting a Royal playing Let It Ride is far more rare than hitting one playing UTH, but both can provide healthy payouts. How fortuitous that shortly after the casinos re-opened that these hands hit so quickly so as to create a positive buzz for the casinos.

When I read about the hit in Let It Ride, I had to chuckle a bit. I was expecting that somewhere in that first week we’d hear that a big slot Progressive paid off, paying out potentially millions. After all, this would be fantastic news for the casinos in trying to bring people back. This led to a conversation with a friend about whether or not casinos could actually do this.

The answer is theoretically yes, and in practice, they can likely influence it somewhat. This would be true for the slot machines, but not as much for the table games. Now, the casinos could alter what hand wins the Progressive to make it much easier to create the news story, but that’s as far as that goes. The casino cannot make a Royal Flush appear anymore often that it is going to. In the case of Let It Ride, the odds of it hitting are 1 in 649,740. In the case of Ultimate Texas Hold’em, the odds are better, 1 in 30,940. 

Obviously, they do not appear on a hard schedule, but rather on average it takes that many hands between Royals. It may be more. It may be less. But it cannot be controlled by the casino. The same is not true when it comes to slot machines. Clearly, the casino cannot pick a specific person or time in which a Progressive will hit, but they can theoretically control the probability of the Progressive hitting. 

Now, this is not to say that the casinos actually do this. And they can only change the frequency within pre-approved paytables. But, most slot machines have multiple paytables approved, so if they wanted to tweak it so that the Progressive hits a bit sooner, it is possible.

Some of you may have seen slot machines or promotions where casinos promise that it must hit by some fixed dollar amount. In these cases, the probability of the event happening increases as the meter increases. By the time it gets very close to the max, the probability is such that it all but guarantees to hit at any moment.

A similar feature could be used in some of these giant Progressives to make sure that they do not hit at smaller amounts and also that they don’t go on seemingly forever until they do hit. In this scenario, the parameters would be changed to allow the frequency of the jackpot triggering event to move up at a faster pace, creating a higher likelihood that it would hit over the next few days or weeks.

As I haven’t heard that any of these slot jackpots have paid out lately, I guess either no one thought to do it or perhaps all the capabilities don’t exist in the slot machines quite yet in practice. But the bigger point here is that these things are possible because the casinos and slot manufacturers can exert far more control over the winning events on a slot machine than they can in a table game.

In a table game, you can really only change the payout. The frequency of known hands is quite fixed. As such, these winning table game events that I read about probably were as common as always and what actually changed was that they became newsworthy only because the casinos had just reopened.