The Ultimate Guide to Casinos



Who hasn’t ever dreamt of “hitting the big one”—winning a life-changing payout with just one small bet? This almost universal desire for instant wealth has been the driving force behind lotteries and sweepstakes, games like keno and bingo, and of course the very latest gambling craze, the so-called “Progressives,” cash prizes that constantly increase in value until some lucky player claims a huge amount.

But what are the odds of being that lucky player? Are big prizes really worth the risk of a wager, or are they just “sucker bets,” used as promotions to attract naïve and unsophisticated bettors? And are there any ways to improve one’s chances of success? If you find yourself among the majority who find these questions intriguing, then welcome to the world of “Jackpots.”

A Quick History of Jackpots

Early forms of “lucky draws” used “lots” (counters made of wood or stone) and were devised by Roman legions over two thousand years ago. The “casting of lots” is mentioned several times in Biblical passages. Merchants in Venice later used “lotteries” as a method of selling goods. However, drawings for cash were largely illegal until 1530, when Italy organized the world’s first national lottery under the name “Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia.” As proof of just how popular it became, “Lotto” has existed in one guise or another ever since, spreading to every region on earth.

In the 18th century, a French card game called Poque was brought by immigrants to the Louisiana Territory of North America. Between 1830 and 1850, Americans took to calling the game “Poker” and added some new variations, including a “Draw” version that permitted a player to discard some of the original cards in return for fresh ones in an attempt to improve the hand. By 1881, a rule called “Jack Pots” had come into vogue. It required a player to hold a pair of Jacks or better to open the wagering, thus cutting down on bluffing and making the game more acceptable in social circles.

The term “Jackpots” soon assumed a broader meaning, referring to any large pot of cash formed by the accumulation of stakes. When slot machines were invented at the end of the 19th century, the word was applied to the top prize paid out, “The Jackpot,” and over time it was used to describe any large fund of money or other reward formed by the accumulation of unwon prizes. Outside of gambling, Jackpot can mean an impressive and often unexpected success or reward.

The latest trend has been to make Jackpots part of all manner of electronic and casino table games in order to attract more interest and bets. Video Poker is one of the most popular such games. A Royal Flush Jackpot is also a common feature of Caribbean Stud, and even traditional games have been infused with Jackpots through the offering of side bets, such as Perfect Pairs Blackjack and Roulette Royale.

Odds of Winning a Jackpot

Typically, the probability of winning a Jackpot is inversely proportional to the amount being offered: the bigger the prize, the less likelihood of winning it. In the American lottery known as Powerball, for example, the chances of winning the multi-million-dollar grand prize are less than one in 175 million. Similarly, for the lottery known as EuroMillions, the odds against success are over 116 million to one.

The true odds of winning a Jackpot can be calculated as the number of ways in which the prize can be won divided by the total number of all possible outcomes. In the case of Video Poker, for example, there are four combinations of cards that form a Royal Flush (A-K-Q-J-10 of the same suit) and there are exactly 2,598,960 possible five-card hands. That makes the odds of catching a straight flush on the deal equal to 4 / 2,598,960 = 1 / 649,740. If the game pays less than 649,740 credits as its top prize for natural Royal, it is offering less than true odds.

Of course, casinos exist to make money, so it would be rare indeed to ever find a fixed odds Jackpot that pays true odds. Typical payouts will be far below that value. However, in the case of “Progressive Jackpots,” it is not uncommon for the accumulated prize money to come close to or even exceed the true odds, because the prize pool expands irrespective of the number of ways in which the prize can be won or the number of outcomes available.

Progressives are indeed the “dream weavers” of casinos. The money to fund the Jackpot comes from a tiny percentage of each bet made on the game. Any game featuring a Progressive Jackpot will display a window known as “the ticker.” It keeps track of how big the jackpot is at all times, making it possible to watch the cash to be won increase even while playing the game. The constant addition of small sums can eventually add up to six figures or higher.

Two cautions are important, however, before betting to win a Progressive Jackpot. First, wait to play until the prize total is greatly above the base amount offered, such as double or more. Ideally, it should be higher than the odds against winning it. Second, be sure to comply with all rules necessary to win the top prize. With slot games, that usually means making the maximum bet each time. For table games, it requires always making the side bet. Winning a Jackpot is never easy, but it becomes impossible if the rules are not followed.