Mega Progressive Jackpot Slots

Slots or the term “slot machine” is a simplification of the phrase “coin-in-the-slot machine,” which was used to describe some of the earliest mechanical gaming devices.

In the 1870s, these took the form of mechanical “punch boards” that allowed players to win prizes, such as candy, gum, cigars or credits for free play.

Today, the “coin slots” have been replaced by electronic mechanisms for insertion of paper currency, and the “prizes” include cars, comps and cash in the millions.  It has been estimated that slot machines and their younger cousin, video poker machines, are responsible for about 70~80 percent of the gambling profits earned by casinos annually. 

The opportunity to win big with a small bankroll, along with highly entertaining formats, has made slot play the most popular form of gambling worldwide.

At the Excalibur Casino on the Las Vegas Strip in March 2003, a young man invested $3 to play the Megabucks slot machine. In less than a minute, he won a jackpot worth $38.7 million—the biggest payout in history at that time.

Slots – Humble Beginnings

Towards the end of the 19th century, a number of mechanical gadgets were invented to test players’ skill and luck.

These included pistol-like devices used to shoot coins into slots, punching bags that rewarded powerful blows, and a Brooklyn-manufactured coin-based poker-playing machine.

The latter randomly flipped cards in five windows, and players were paid winnings according to the strength of hands dealt.

In the late 1890s, three German mechanics working in a San Francisco electrical shop—Theodore Holtz, Gustav Schultze, and Charles Fey—developed a new wheel-mechanism for coin-in-the-slot play.

They called their original version “Horseshoes,” and it paid out two nickels (10¢) whenever one of ten horseshoes came up on a line out of 25 possible symbols.

Fey later fitted the device with three wheels showing card faces and named it the “Card Bell.” Within a year, the invention evolved into the “Liberty Bell,” by making bells and horseshoes the top combinations.

At the time of the Great Earthquake in 1906, San Francisco was earning six figures yearly from taxes on revenues derived from some 3,200 installed “slot machines.” When slots were deemed illegal by the city in 1909, they were already a mainstay of casinos across the United States.

To get around anti-gambling laws, slot makers changed the card symbols on the reels to fruit—oranges, plums, cherries and lemons—ostensibly representing the flavours of chewing gum that could be won when winning combinations came up.

These machines reached England in the early 20th century, and became known as “fruit machines,” a designation that’s remained common to this day.

During the Prohibition Era in America, organised crime added slot machines to “speakeasies”—private clubs where bootleg alcohol was sold. Others saw slot play as a way of stimulating a depressed economy, and one state, Nevada, went so far as to legalize gambling, including slots, in March 1931.

It has been estimated that by the end of that year, New York City alone had at least 25,000 illegal slots in operation, earning more than $25 million a year.

Types of Slots

Charles Fey’s invention has endured for more than a century, and even though it has been modified in countless ways over the years, the basics are still the same. The cost of playing can be as little as a single penny.

Randomly generated symbols in winning combinations yield payouts at fixed rates. And because payouts are set at lower than true odds, the house or slot owner is assured of profits over the long term.

When you play slots in a casino today, your first decision is what type of machine to play. Although there may appears to be hundreds of options, there are really just five basic types from which to choose.

Three-Reel Slot Machines – These are the oldest and still among the most popular slots found in casinos. The “reels” spin independent of one another, and when they stop, the symbols on their faces line up in the “window” of the machine.

A horizontal line across the middle the window is called the “payline,” and when certain combinations of symbols align there, a predetermined “payout” is made. The reels are set in motion by pulling down a lever or “arm,” which is mounted on the right side of the machine, or by pressing a “spin” button on the slot’s face.

The arm is what earned these slots their nickname as “one-armed bandits.” If you prefer simplicity and low risk, these are the slots for you.

Five-Reel Slot Machines – Like the three-reel version, these machines feature an arm, a window and a payline, but rather than having three reels in a row, there are five.

The addition of the extra two reels makes the highest winning combination—five top symbols in a row—harder to achieve, but it also allows the payouts to be larger. If you seek big payouts, you may want to choose five-reel slots.

Multi-Payline Slot Machines – These include both three-reel and five-reel versions, but instead of having a single horizontal payline, these include the option to purchase additional paylines. The simplest of these include horizontal paylines above and below the center payline. Playing three coins will enable payouts on all three.

More elaborate configurations allow five, seven, or nine paylines to be purchased, and the very newest machine offer dozens of payline options. Of course, more coins must be played to access these, so although winning becomes more likely, the cost increases considerably.

Multi-Spin Slot Machines – Unlike the other versions, these slots allow player to spin the reels more than once on a single play. After the reels spin the first time, the player can “lock” or “hold” one or more of them in position.

Then a “respin” button is pressed or the arm is pulled again, and the remaining reels that are not held spin once more. Payouts on these multi-spin slots tend to be lower but more frequent than they are on traditional three- and five-reel machines.

Progressive Slot Machines – These are the “dream makers” of casinos, where the highest payouts of all can be found. Progressive slots can be either individual machines or a group of machines.

They may look exactly like the other four types of slots, but the big difference is the top prize, or “jackpot,” which gets progressively larger until someone wins it. The current amount of the jackpot is displayed in an ever-changing marquee above the machine.

To fund the jackpot, a tiny percentage of each bet made on the game is set aside. Over time, these small amounts can easily add up to six figures or higher. To win the progressive, the player must bet the maximum allowed and get the exact combination of symbols called for.

The odds are strongly against winning, but the rewards are so great that many players are happy to accept the high risk involved.

Technology Leads the Way

Many of the earliest slot machine manufacturers did not survive their early success.

Mills Novelty Company, for example, did well with its “Admiral Dewey” slot, thanks to the wave of patriotism that followed the Spanish-American War (1898), but it could not compete with innovations brought about by high-tech competitors in the mid-20th century and left the slot business in the 1950s.

Bally Gaming, by contrast, started out making pinball machines in the Great Depression. It was founded in 1931 by Raymond Maloney of Chicago and took its name from its most popular product—The Ballyhoo—which offered seven plays for just a penny.

The company ventured into pool tables, amusement rides, vending machines and coffee brewing equipment before Maloney died in 1957. That’s when the new owners turned their attention to slots.

By the late 1960s, Bally slots were all the rage. Their initial hit was called “Money Honey,” and it was produced by the company’s Lion Manufacturing subsidiary. Money Honey was innovative in that it combined mechanical play and electric payout techniques.

When a player hit a jackpot, the sound the machine emitted would overwhelm the casino floor—a marketing gimmick much copied thereafter.

The Bally machines also incorporated the first computerized data-controlling system made for slot machines—Slot Data System (SDS). SDS prevented players from cheating machines and soon became status quo in the state of Nevada, where losses from cheating were estimated at $500 million in revenue.

By the 1970s, Bally was the world’s leading producer of slots. It went on to develop popular arcade games, such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders, in the 1980s and remains a major player in gaming technology even today.

In similar fashion, one of Bally’s Chicago-based competitors was also winding its way to success in slots. WMS Gaming was founded as Williams Gaming in 1943 by Stanford-trained engineer Harry Williams, the inventor of the pinball “tilt” mechanism.

Like Bally, WMS forayed into many aspects of amusement and recreation equipment, including pinball machines following WWII, home video in the 1980s and video lottery terminals in the 1990s.

However, what put WMS on the map with casinos was a slot machine it introduced in 1996 called “Reel ‘Em In.” The machine had a fishing theme and was the first-ever multi-line, multi-coin secondary bonus video slot game.

WMS leveraged its success with Reel ‘Em In to create a string of in-house, multi-line/multi-coin brands that took casino floors by storm, including such favourites as Jackpot Party, Boom and Filthy Rich.

A Global Phenomenon

Outside the United States, several manufacturers have found success in developing slots for their own markets and then expanding abroad. They include Atronic Slots of Luebbecke, Germany (1993), video-game specialist Konami Slots in Japan (1969), and Aristocrat Slots of Australia (1953), noted for its high-end graphics.

However, no slot manufacturer has been as successful globally as the company that introduced the “random number generator (RNG)” to machines— International Game Technology (ITG).

IGT was privately held from its inception in the early 1950s until 1981; that’s when the company went public in order to take its new technology worldwide. Prior to the development of RNG, slot machines were mechanical, confined to the standard three-reel design and limited in the number of reel symbols possible.

Larger reels would have made the slots too bulky. Limited physical size also meant limits on the size of jackpots that could be offered.

IGT’s innovation replaced the mechanics of slot machine design with electronics. Using a computer to generate symbols and simulate spinning reels, the five-reel slot became possible. Electronic technology also allowed the company to develop a truly revolutionary new gaming product: the video poker machine.

Then in 1986, IGT took the industry by storm once again, releasing the world’s first progressive slot machine—Megabucks. A bevy of progressive jackpot games soon followed.

And another innovation for which IGT is responsible is the proliferation of casino “rewards” programs. It acquired Electronic Data Technologies in 1984 and used EDT’s concept of computerized player tracking to identify “frequent slot players,” the basis for loyalty schemes ever since.

Today, IGT is the world’s undisputed leader in slot machine design and delivery. Its stable of winners includes a whole host of television-themed tie-ins: The Beverly Hillbillies, The Price is Right, Family Feud, I Love Lucy, Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, I Dream of Jeannie, and Wheel of Fortune Slots, among others.

IGT is also the only slot maker ever recognised by the American Government for manufacturing output. In 1989, the company was honored with the U.S. Senate Productivity Award.

Slots Play – The Basics

Unlike many other casino games, slot machines require little concentration and even less knowledge of “rules.” They provide amusement for adults of all ages, are easy to play, and add a feeling of relaxation to gambling.

To begin play, you simply drop in a coin in the slot or put paper currency in the bill insertion mechanism.

An electronic display will indicate how many “credits” or “plays” you have available. Select the size of bet you wish to place and/or number of paylines you wish to play by pressing the corresponding buttons, which are lit on the machine’s face below the reel window.

Next, pull the lever or push the “start” button to cause the reels to spin. The reels will come to rest on their own, unless you press the “stop” button (if available). Depending on what combinations of symbols show on the payline(s), you will win a fixed amount or be prompted to play once more.

The amount won is displayed electronically near your credits total. Many machines have a “repeat” button that you can use to place the same bet again.

The object of the game, of course, is to get a matching combination of symbols that earn a reward. The highest payout on the machine is known as the “jackpot,” a term borrowed from poker back in 1881.

Jackpots can range from several thousands to millions, depending on the machine. They are typically heralded by ringing bells and flashing lights, drawing lots of attention from other patrons and casino staff, one of whom will verify the win and see that winnings are properly paid out.

Although there are no specific rules governing the use of slot machines, there are some guidelines you should follow to get the most out of your play.

For example, be sure you read and clearly understand the pay table for the machine you select. If it is not posted above the machine, it will be accessible through a “pays” button lit up on the slot’s face.

You need to know what’s required to win the jackpot. In many cases, this requires betting the maximum amount possible. You will also want to know what combinations of symbols trigger bonus rounds, if available, before you play.

During play, be careful what buttons you push. The “max bet” button is often located right next to the “start” or “replay” button. It is easy to make a careless mistake. Many slots will allow you to adjust the number of paylines and/or locked reels after pressing a button, but few allow changing a bet after the amount has been entered.

Also, in games where reels are “held,” be sure the screen indicates the reel(s) you want has actually locked before pressing the “spin” button.

Join the Club

Even before you select the machine you want to play, take time to join the casino’s slots club. Membership is free, and it is the only way you can get access to the many complimentary services (aka, “comps”) that are offered to frequent players.

Casinos are in competition for your business, and they are more than happy to reward customers for their loyalty and play.

When you join, you will be issued a personalised club card, which is to be inserted in the “player” slot of each machine you use. A magnetic strip on the card will allow the club to track the frequency, duration and amount of your play.

For every dollar you wager, you will receive “points,” and these points can be redeemed for free rooms, discounted rooms, free meals, free drinks, gift shop merchandise, free services (such as movies or spa treatments), additional free play or even cash back.

Players who come often, stay long and wager a lot are highly prized by casinos. For this reason, most slot clubs have levels of membership, based upon the number of points earned over a given period of time. The higher the level achieved, the greater the rewards are.

And during certain promotional periods, the club will offer bonus points to stimulate play, such as 3X points on Wednesdays or random drawings for thousands of points.

Some clubs also offer new members special incentives, such a lucky draw for bonus cash, coupon books for meals and entertainment discounts, and even reimbursements of all your losses during the first 24 hours after you join.

Almost all clubs have mailing lists, too, and will send you offers, hoping to entice you to play. These can range from additional free play, special gifts, line passes, priority parking, and food offers to free entry in slot tournaments, prize drawing entries (that require your presence to be won), and birthday/holiday specials.

Even if you do not intend to play at land-based casinos and will be doing all of your slot play online, be sure to join the club and take advantage of its promotions. These range from cash-matching bonuses on initial deposits to free loyalty points for play on selected games.

The idea is to take advantage of everything the operators are willing to give away, so that even if you don’t hit a jackpot, you will still come away a winner.

Slots Strategy

Again, before you ever sit down to play, you have some decisions to make when playing slots. Having limits and sticking to them can be the difference between walking away from a session a winner or a loser. Your first and most important decision is how much money you are willing to risk.

Start with a budget. Know how much you can afford to lose. Bring exactly that much to the casino and leave your bank or credit card at home. Heading to the ATM to replenish funds should never be an option.

Many players like to set a time limit on play, as well as a financial limit. They reckon that if they cannot win in an hour or two, it is simply not their day (or night).

If you think of each segment of play as a “session,” rather than as one continuous playing experience, you will be more likely to limit your losses and quit while you are ahead. You will win some sessions and lose others. You can treat them as independent events.

Also, before you play, it is a good idea to decide whether you intend to drink alcohol or not. Cocktail waitresses will ask you if you would like a drink while you are playing. While you are waiting for them to return from the bar, you will be playing, and while you are drinking, you will feel compelled to keep playing.

The casinos know that the longer you play, the more likely you are to lose, and the more you drink, the more likely you are bet over your head and not with it. Think about having a drink to celebrate after playing, rather than as you play.

With your limits in place, it is time to select a machine. Many slot players swear they can “feel” a machine that is ready to pay out big. They zigzag through the casino searching for a vibration or a sign.

Knowing this, casino floor managers sometimes post actual signs above the machines that say, “This slot paid a $10 million jackpot” or “This machine pays back 98%!” The latter is a good bet if you are flipping coins, but in reality it means, “The house expects to take two cents out of every dollar you play.”

Although payback percentage is just an average, it can still be used as one way to separate poor opportunities from better ones. The numbers posted by most casinos range from a low of 80% to a high of 90%, so look for higher payback percentages.

Where there is more competition, the figures tend to be higher. For that reason, slot payouts in Las Vegas Strip casinos, for example, can be expected to far surpass those of Native American casinos in rural areas.

When it comes to individual machines, however, your strategy should be a function of your objective. If you are mainly interested in having fun, choose a machine with a theme that excites you and plenty of “extras” such as bonus plays, scatter wins, video clips, and lots of audio accompaniments.

Machines such as Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Aliens, and Star Wars certainly fit the bill.

If you want to win big, play progressive slots and always bet the maximum amount possible. If you want to play for a long time with little risk, go with the penny slots and bet the minimum each time. And if you simply want to come away from your session a winner, choose a loose slot.

Loose and Tight Slots

A number of studies have been written about how the payouts of a slot machine are linked to when it is played and its physical location within the casino. For example, when a casino unveils a new slot, it wants to showcase the game and attract lots of attention.

It will place the new machines in a prominent spot where there is plenty of foot traffic. The payback percentage will be set higher (looser) so that passersby see players winning time and again.

For this reason, opening day at a new casino, the arrival day of new slots, and the reopening of a slot area following renovation all signal the availability of looser slots.

Conversely, many players have noticed that slots tend to set be tighter (lower payback percentages) near the end of the month, when casinos strive to make monthly income quotas. They may also be tighter on weekends when tourists are visiting than on weekdays when locals play.

If you are loyal to certain casinos, you will notice this yourself or hear it from other regulars. Time your play to coincide with higher paybacks.

As for location, it is just as true in casino floor design as it is in real estate. Machines placed in high traffic areas tend to be looser. The casino management wants wins to be noticed by as many patrons as possible.

Areas near the coffee shop, change booth or entrance are prime locations for loose slots. Those placed on elevated carousels, which can easily be seen, may be looser, too, as will machines close to the intersections of walkways through the casino.

On the other hand, slots buried in the middle of other machines and almost hidden from view tend to be tighter. Also, those surrounding the pit area, where table play is the focus, can be very tight. Management doesn’t want card and dice players distracted by the ringing bells and flashing lights.

They also know that as players leave the table games, they are likely to drop some change in the slots. This is true of the sports book area as well. Placing the tightest machines nearby gives the house yet another advantage.

Besides timing and location, another great indicator of loose slots is other players, especially regulars. If a certain area of the slot floor looks deserted most of the time, it is probably for a good reason.

By the same token, crowded sections of machines are probably paying out steadily. Look for trends. Look for openings. Look for loose slots, and avoid the tight ones.

The Math of Winning Slots Play

All gambling is based on odds and statistics, giving the house an edge sufficient to make a healthy profit, but with payouts big enough and frequent enough to keep customers playing.

Slots are certainly no different, and a certain amount of mathematics can be useful in determining which machines are a good bet, and which are the real “one-armed bandits.”

A three-reel machine with a single payline, for example, typically has 20 “stops” per reel. Only one stop on each reel is the jackpot symbol. The probability of that symbol coming up on the first reel is 1-in-20, or 5%.

The same is true for the second and third reels. To determine the odds of all three reels showing the jackpot on the payline, you multiply the probabilities of each event together: 0.05 x 0.05 x 0.05 = 0.000125. That’s equivalent to once every 8,000 spins.

If you are playing 25 cents each spin, you might expect to spend $0.25 x 8,000 spins = $2,000 before obtaining a jackpot. If the machine’s maximum payout is anything less than $2,000, the difference is the “house edge.”

A jackpot of $1,200 would be a very tight machine (60% payout), while one with a top prize of $1,600 would be considered much looser (80% payout). This is yet another way you can separate loose slots from tight ones.

Because modern slot machines use random number generators (RNG) to create their spins, it is not always easy to determine the probability of their jackpots paying out. Nevertheless, comparisons between machines can be made.

Take any two five-reel slots with 25 paylines and compare their maximum awards. The one with the bigger jackpot may be the one you want to play.

However, that said, a little arithmetic can show you that neither machine may be worth your investment. Again using the 20 stops per reel principle, you can calculate that the top prize comes up about once every 3.2 million spins on the first payline.

Divide that by 25 lines, if you are making the maximum bet, and you can expect to win the top prize once every 128,000 spins. If the minimum cost of a payline is a penny, you will need to spend 25 cents per spin. That means the jackpot would have to be $32,000 to make this an “even money” gamble—far more than what is typically offered.

Clearly, the odds are in the house’s favour. That’s why intermediate “wins” are paid out for combinations less than a jackpot, ranging from a return of your original wager to several hundred times your bet.

Apart from the jackpot, to stay even as you play, you need to recoup your investment at a rate of about $150 per hour at 25 cents per spin when sitting at a machine where you spin every 10 seconds. At a payback rate of 90%, the casino expects you to lose about $15 an hour. Once again, this is why setting limits is so important.

Cheating at Slots

To paraphrase Albert Einstein’s famous quote about roulette tables, “You cannot beat a slot machine unless you steal money from it.” Over the years, many players have taken this concept to heart and attempted to cheat the one-armed bandits. Here are some of the better known examples, along with countermeasures taken by the casinos and manufacturers.

Back in the 1880s, when slot machines still had “slots” and accepted coins or tokens instead of paper money, cheats would use “plugged coins”—silver 25¢ pieces or nickel 5¢ pieces containing holes filled with cheaper material—to play without paying full fare.

Attaching a steel washer or coin to a string to trigger slot-play was also a much-used ploy. However, slot makers improved the coin mechanisms by adding catches, and modern machines now have “coin comparators” that allow only genuine coins of an exact size and weight to be accepted.

In the early 20th century, thieves would use a coat hanger to jam a machine’s payout mechanism. In one instance, a cheat was said to have stolen $200,000 from numerous slots by using this method before getting caught.

Tommy Glenn Carmichael, perhaps the world’s most infamous slot cheat, created a more sophisticated version he called the “monkey paw” to trip the payout switch in electronic slots.

Carmichael said he could also use the paw to add credits to a machine. He invented But like so many clever technicians, he too was eventually arrested. Today, he is a security consultant to the casino industry.

Magnetic devices that slow spinning reels, strobe lights that interfere with optical sensors, and electronic interference generators have all been used at one time or other in attempts to take money illegally from slots. Some cheating devices are quite simple and can be assembled for less than $100.

Others have been sold on the Internet or through the black market. Prices have been said to range from $1,500 to more than $20,000.

The casino’s main line of defense against all cheats is their “eye in the sky”—video cameras that pan the slot floor 24/7 and relay images that are watched by security staff. Spotting suspicious activity is their specialty.

They also have real-time access via computer to the payouts of all the machines. If irregularities occur, management can know about it almost immediately and take action.

In Nevada, a “Black Book” of known cheats is kept and circulated among casino personnel. Of those listed, slightly over a quarter have been identified as slot cheats. It has been calculated that more than $100 million a year is lost to slot thieves, some armed with crowbars and others with high-tech toys.

One study indicated that 97.1% of slot cheats get away with their crimes. For those who get caught, however, the penalties are severe.

Online Slots

Internet casinos have modeled themselves after their land-based counterparts and made slots a major component of their operations. In fact, slot machine games are perfectly suited to the online environment—played by individuals at their own pace, combining high-quality graphics and state-of-the-art audio, and offering opportunities for big wins at little financial risk.

To supply the online casinos with the latest games and technical innovations, two software providers have emerged as the industry leaders. Microgaming has far and away the most slot versions on the Internet, while Cryptologic has taken the high-end of the market with stunning graphics and the most sophisticated applications available.

The good news for players is that the competition between these two giants is so great and access to online casinos by the hundreds is so easy, they have been forced to offer extremely high payback percentages on their games.

Recent reports put the Cryptologic online slot machine odds at 96.0% at some casinos, such as InterCasino, one of the webs oldest and most reliable sites. Meanwhile, Microgaming’s slots are reported to pay a return of 95.4%.

Owing to regulations in the United States against Internet gambling, Cryptologic does not allow access to its slot games by Americans. Another provider, Playtech, who specialises in table games applications, also offers some slot software, but again not for those located in the 50 states.

However, the majority of Microgaming’s affiliated casinos do accept US-based players, albeit from just 39 states.

Those who seek out truly large progressive jackpots will be happy to see that they are also available online. Over the past decade, Microgaming’s Progressive Jackpot Network has reportedly paid out around $280 million to 7,200+ winners.

No fewer than 13 millionaires have been created, the first of which was in May 2002 when a lucky player at Captain Cook’s Internet Casino hit a Microgaming progressive slot game called “Major Millions” for a huge $1.59 million payout.

So except for the free drinks, online slots are now capable of duplicating everything that machines in a real casino can provide, from multi-reel/multi-payline versions and TV/movie themes to enormous jackpots. Because no bulky machinery is required, new games can be rolled out faster and easier in cyberspace than they can on terra firma.

And casinos online now have their own slot clubs, which means the benefits of loyalty now accrue to virtual gamers, just as they do to land-based slot-o-philes.

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