A closer look at poker progressives

Aug 1, 2005 4:35 AM


Among the jackpots on the casino floor, progressives are always eye-popping. After all, they’re framed in bright, dazzling displays and often reach into the tens of thousands of dollars and higher.

The popularity of progressive video poker jackpots, however, probably reached a peak in the 1990s. That was before multi-game, multi-denomination machines became the rage, and players could often choose from a variety of progressive carousels.

There were even individual poker machines that had dedicated progressive jackpots — just for those single machines. Unfortunately, those have gone along with coin hoppers and change persons.

One of the reasons for the popularity of progressives — besides the obvious higher-than-standard royal flush jackpot — was that progressives gave some hint of when a machine might be ready to hit.

Thus, when a certain, say, nickel progressive carousel reached $600 to $700 (having been reset at $250), players would often flock to the machines, knowing that the machine was fast approaching the point where a winning royal was imminent.

However, while progressive jackpots can be tempting, they don’t always offer the best bang for your buck.

In fact, if you take the time to do the math, sometimes the odds of winning might be greater than with non-progressive jackpot machines.

For instance, take a group of $5 video poker machines at a locals-oriented casino in Las Vegas. There are six machines in the carousel, and the amount required to hit the progressive royal flush is five "coins" or $25.

Keep in mind that the average video poker machine hits a royal flush at the rate of about once in 40,000 plays.

Unfortunately, this group of machines took far longer to hit. The progressive reset at $20,000 and was subsequently hit at $29,423. Not bad, right? Well, let’s see.

After some research, we discovered that the progressive jackpot increased by two cents every time the machines in the carousel were played with maximum coins.

Since the base jackpot was $20,000, the machines had been played enough to generate an additional $9,423.

Thus, if the jackpot increased at the rate of two cents per game, it would seem the machines were played 462,150 times before the royal was hit.

Now, spreading those number of games over six machines meant that each machine was played, on average, 77,025 times before the royal appeared.

Of course, the odds of hitting a royal flush do not guarantee that the royal will appear after 40,000 games. It could appear more frequently or not appear at all (as some players quickly attest to!).

Also, there’s the possibility that some player hit a natural royal without maximum coins played.

Nevertheless, for each machine to take about twice as many games to hit a royal as statistically expected should give players some reason to pause when contemplating chasing a progressive jackpot.