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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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When Progressives Beckon, Should You Answer?

8 August 2001

When you walk into a casino, one of the first sights that will catch your eye is the brilliantly lighted display meter of a bank of progressive slot machines. The jackpot builds right before your eyes as people chase the dream of winning a lumberyard of greenbacks for a toothpick investment.

Casinos make concerted efforts to entice you to play progressives. It's the nature of the gaming business. I believe that under no circumstances should you chase jackpots. Going into a gaming session with "pie in the sky" hopes can prove disastrous to your bankroll. Playing with a mindset that "somebody is gonna win, why not me?" has been the downfall of many a slot player.

The truth of the matter is that with a majority of progressives, the odds against your winning the jackpot are astronomical. For every person who wins a huge progressive jackpot, thousands go home disappointed. For every jubilant gambler with overflowing coin buckets in casino ads, thousands walk away from the machines with empty buckets.

When you are dealing with such astronomical odds against you but you are still tempted to "take a chance" at catching lightning in a bottle, my advice to you is this: Bet a little, not a lot. Play one roll of quarters ($10) or one roll of dollars ($20). If you get something, fine, if you lose, that's fine, too. At least you can say that you gave it a shot. After all, how many times have you heard about somebody winning a huge jackpot and read this: "I just played a few dollars and I hit two minutes after I sat down!" Sound familiar?

Giving it "a shot" is all it is really worth when the odds are millions to one against you. Just as with the lottery's Big Game or Power Ball mega-jackpots, your chances really don't increase that much whether you buy a single dollar ticket or you spend a hundred dollars. Pumping a ton of money into a progressive to chase a jackpot just doesn't make good gambling sense.

There are exceptions to the rule. The first major exception is video poker progressives. Unlike reel and video slots, which have payback percentages that vary, the odds against winning at video poker is based on true mathematical probability. Pay tables on video poker machines differ, which makes some machines better to play than others, but astute players know this and scout the best machines.

Since the odds of getting a Royal Flush are something like one in every 42,000 hands, you have pretty much the same chances of getting one on a progressive machine as you do on a solitary unit. If the pay out for a royal flush on a regular quarter machine is 4,000 coins ($1,000) and you spot a quarter progressive with a jackpot of over $1,000, you may be better off playing the progressive, depending on how big the jackpot is. (You must also take into account the pay table, because you can get eaten up percentage-wise on full houses and flushes if the payouts are sub-standard.)

The other major exception occurs with traditional reel slot progressives and whether or not you are willing to invest the time and effort to "track" them. Walking blindly up to a progressive just because the jackpot is enticing can have disappointing consequences. I have a prime example: Some years ago there was a bank of Red, White, & Blue 3-coin quarter progressives located on the lower level of the Grand Victoria Riverboat Casino in Elgin. Over the course of many months I watched that progressive grow to a staggering figure, over $100,000 at one point, a remarkable sum for a quarter progressive. It finally did get hit but only after tens of thousands of players lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The odds against winning must have been in the millions to one.

On the other hand there are progressives that are programmed to be "rapid hit." The chances of winning it are increased by the computer program. Over the long term it may be hit an average of once every day, or once every two days or three days. The ability to track such rapid hit or frequent hit banks of progressives can work to your advantage. How?

If you observe that the progressive usually hits when the jackpot reaches a certain level and then watch for the times when the jackpot climbs above that "hit" level, it may be worth playing a bit. If the jackpot rises substantially above the norm, it could be worth a little more play. Just remember that your chances of hitting it haven't changed.

Next week our discussion continues with the circumstances under which you may opt to play a progressive over your favorite solitary machine.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp