Progressive jackpots constitute one of the main draws of video poker. Each wager contributes to an ever-growing pot and pay outs happen when a lucky player hits the strongest possible hand in their game of choice.
Table poker has also introduced several forms of progressive jackpots. These jackpots add excitement to the game, and in some cases can be a significant consolation prize for players who are falling behind in the chip count.
In both cases, a progressive jackpot often awards thousands of dollars to a player with just one winning hand. Shopping around for the best progressives on a casino floor can be a time-consuming task, and it's much easier when you're browsing tables and games online.
The Player's Guide to Progressive Poker
This guide will explain how progressive jackpots work in both video and table poker and give some advice on the strategy for a progressive game. We'll also discuss how to stretch your video poker budget effectively so that you can hang in there for however long it takes to hit the progressive.
Progressive Jackpots in Video Poker
In a live casino, digital signage over a bank of machines advertises the progressive's ever-increasing dollar total. The jackpot may be tied to just that particular bank, or to different video poker machines throughout the building. A portion of each player's wager at all of these machines feed the progressive. When a player finally hits the jackpot, it resets to a fixed starting amount (usually $1,000 or $2,000) and begins to grow again.
The process is the same online, but since machines don't have to be linked up physically, many more games can contribute to a single progressive jackpot. Online jackpots grow faster than those on casino floors, and it's easier to cycle through different games and casinos to find the largest available prizes.
When Progressive Video Poker Jackpots Make Sense (And When They Don't)
It's important to do a little math when approaching video poker progressive jackpots. To qualify for the progressive, you'll usually need to insert the maximum amount of coins per spin and hit the best hand. On most machines, this will be five coins, and for the sake of simplicity—let's say you're playing Jacks or Better and the qualifying hand is a royal flush.
Now, let's imagine you are playing a nickel machine, which would mean you have to wager 25 cents per hand to qualify for the progressive. Let's say the progressive is currently at $2,700. Normally, you would get a return of 4,000 times your wager for hitting a royal flush, or a win of $1,000 on a 25 cent bet. In this case, the progressive—at $2,700—gives you more than double the maximum win, so it's worth pursuing.
What if you want to play a 25 cent machine, however? Your qualifying wager to hit the progressive would now be $1.25 per hand. Again, the reasonable return for a royal flush without a progressive present would be 4,000 times the wager, or $5,000. Unless the progressive stacks on top of that, it isn't worth pursuing. If it's only at $2,700 when you hit a royal, you're actually getting less money than you normally would! You would want to wait to see if the progressive goes above $5,000 at that particular game before jumping in.
Progressive Jackpots at Poker Tables
Progressive jackpots have traditionally been the domain of slot and video poker machines, but now poker tables have started to incorporate them in some very creative ways.
A common form of progressive jackpots in table poker is the “bad beat jackpot.” A bad beat is when a player with a strong hand unexpectedly loses to a player with a much weaker hand, often due to unusual luck on the turn and river cards. Poker rooms commonly either contribute a dollar to the bad beat jackpot when each pot reaches a certain value, or tack a percentage point onto the rake of each hand to fund it.
In some cases, the player who lost due to the bad beat collects the entire progressive jackpot, while at other tables they take 50% and split the remainder among the rest of the players. Tables running a bad beat jackpot should publish the minimum hand values required to qualify before players sit down at the table.
Some tables also run a progressive jackpot as an optional side bet. The most common format is to allow players to make an optional side bet of $1 to $5 on each hand, and the jackpot pays out when a player who has contributed to that hand hits either a straight flush or a royal flush.
Making Your Money Last at Video Poker
Video poker strategy boils down to hanging in there and breaking even for long enough to hit a royal flush, which will put you ahead. That means making your starting bankroll last as long as possible.
When played with perfect strategy, many video poker games return over 99% of funds to the player, and there are rare circumstances where that number edges over 100% payback. It's important to understand that it occurs over the life of the machine, and not for every given session. Play a 99.8% video poker machine with perfect strategy, and for every $100 you put in, you might get back from $50 to $200 before you finally hit a royal flush. You're not getting back $99 for every session, but the odds say that if you play long enough, you're going to wind up above approximately $90.
The most important consideration is to have enough of a bankroll to absorb that variance. Casinos profit from video poker players who run out of money while on a cold streak. Once you've played through your bankroll, you can't run more hands to wait for the variance to swing back in your favor.
Another factor to keep in mind is to make sure you are playing with perfect strategy. Casinos make money off of “full pay” video poker which takes advantage of the many players who think they are playing with perfect strategy but are not—bringing their theoretical return down to as little as 10%. Each type of video poker has its own rules, so it's wise to concentrate on just one or two game types. Many trainers and strategy charts can help teach you the nuances of all the modern video poker variants.
Finally, make wise use of bonus offers to sustain your bankroll. Look for online casinos that allow you to use their welcome and deposit bonuses at video poker, and take advantage of the maximum amounts if you can. Also, try to find out how well they comp loyal players with periodic email offers. Take a look at their player's club and see what the advanced tier benefits offer. Factor these bonuses into your expected profit and loss over time.
Are Poker Table Progressives Worth It?
The odds of hitting a non-royal straight flush are one in 37,260 or a probability of 0.0279%. The odds of hitting a royal flush are one in 649,739 or a staggering probability of 0.0032%. Given the unlikelihood of seeing either of these hands, that $1 to $5 you're spending on each hand of play is probably better left in your bankroll.
On the other hand, bad beat jackpots aren't necessarily a bad deal. It's true they usually add a bit to the rake. But if you're playing at an online casino with a good rakeback program, the cost may be marginal compared to the insurance they provide against “sucking out” or overplaying what you thought was an unbeatable hand.
Finding Your Perfect Poker Jackpot
Jackpots in both video and table poker can add excitement to the game, but choose carefully. In some cases, the added cost simply isn't worth the expected return. You should jump all over low-cost bad beat jackpots at the tables, however, and as far as video poker goes if you see a progressive sitting at over $5,000 it's time to get in the game.