When it comes to advantage play, where you have a long-term edge over the casino, slots is the last game that players think about.
The reason why is because slot machines are known as one of the most expensive games in the casino. I need only reference how slots are often called “one-armed bandits” for evidence.
Machine gamblers who want to win profits head towards the video poker section. Video poker features several games that offer positive expected value (+EV) with perfect strategy.
But this doesn’t mean that slot machines are unbeatable. You can gain a long-term advantage by chasing progressive jackpots when they reach a +EV point.
I’m going to discuss how you can find and exploit these situations, along with if casinos will throw you out for becoming an advantage slots player.
Mystery Progressive Slots Jackpots
The best way to win slots profits is by playing games with mystery jackpots. Also called must-win-by jackpots, these prizes are programmed to pay at a specific dollar amount.
Here are the characteristics of a mystery jackpot:
- The casino seeds the mystery prize at a starting value
- This jackpot is set to pay at a specific value (i.e., $500)
- The linked machines see a small percentage of each bet seed the mystery jackpot
- The winner is determined by making the contributing bet that reaches the specified jackpot value
You’ll find mystery jackpots of all sizes across the gaming world. Slots developers Ainsworth and WMS both offer land-based mystery slot machines with jackpots ranging from $20 to $500.
Arrow’s Edge features online slots with a mystery jackpot worth $10,000. While this larger prize is exciting, skilled slots players often go for the smaller jackpots due to the lower variance.
If you’re relying on slots payouts for income, then you don’t want to focus your play on a big prize that takes longer to win. Therefore, advantage players like working in brick-and-mortar casinos with smaller mystery jackpots.
The goal with these payouts, or any progressive prize, is to play when the jackpot reaches a certain amount. This is the point when the jackpot has grown large enough to offer you +EV.
An amateur slots player may decide to play these games based on when they think a mystery jackpot has reached its +EV point. But professionals and semi-professionals require a more accurate assessment of when to play for a must-win-by payout.
Here’s a formula from casino actuary Michael Shackleford to calculate the target point for a mystery jackpot:
- Formula: t = m × (h + r) / (h + 2r)
- t = Target point
- m = Max jackpot
- r = Rise of meter rate (percentage of each bet that goes into jackpot; i.e., 2%)
- h = House edge of game (includes average value of progressive jackpot)
Shackleford notes that the big problem with this formula is how land-based casinos don’t offer payback for specific slot machines. Even some online slots makers, like Arrow’s Edge, don’t specify payback percentages.
You must use published averages for casino gaming jurisdictions in the land-based cases. Shackleford uses the following data for Clark County, NV, as an example:
- Penny slots = 10.77% house edge
- Nickel slots = 5.96%
- Quarter slots = 5.74%
- Dollar slots = 5.64%
- $5 slots = 5.51%
- $25 slots = 3.97%
- $100 slots = 4.73%
- Megabucks progressive = 12.89%
- Multi-denomination slots = 5.32%
- Total = 6.58%
Most smaller mystery jackpots are on penny slot machines. This means that you’d use a 10.77% house edge in the formula.
Here’s an example on using the formula for a $500 mystery jackpot with a 2% rise in meter:
- $500 jackpot x (0.1077 + 0.02 rise in meter) / (0.1077 + 0.02×2) = $432.50 target point.
You’d want to play this game when the mystery jackpot is at $432.50 to maximize your +EV.
Of course, you can wait until the jackpot is bigger. But you also run the risk of losing out if somebody else hits it.
The best decision is to jump on the machine at the target point so that you have more chances to win and earn a profit.
How to Play for a Mystery Slots Jackpot
The main work involved in earning money from mystery slots jackpots is finding the target point. Once you understand the math above and can find these targets, everything is downhill from here.
A mystery progressive slot machine works just like any other slots game. The only difference is that you have a chance to win the mystery jackpot.
You normally don’t have to do anything differently in terms of betting, either. Most mystery slots see you qualify for the jackpot if you’re making the minimum bet.
One tricky part about these games, though, is that they sometimes feature multiple progressive prizes.
One example includes Arrow’s Edge slots, which can be connected to 2-3 jackpots. This gives you an opportunity to win more jackpots. But you’ll also have to run the target-point formula to figure out when the other jackpot(s) is offering +EV.
Another point worth mentioning is that you should scout out mystery jackpot slot machines ahead of time. Being aware of multiple must-win-by prizes helps you keep tabs on them and have more chances to win.
Should You Play for Bigger Progressive Slots Jackpots?
I’ve discussed a lot about playing for smaller mystery jackpots up to this point. But what about the life-changing six- and seven-figure prizes that some slot machines offer?
These obviously seem more appealing because you can get rich by winning. Furthermore, you’ll also be getting +EV when these payouts reach a certain point.
The problem, though, is that you have a small chance of winning these payouts, even when performing lots of spins. For context, the odds of winning the multimillion-dollar Megabucks slot jackpot are only 1 in 49,836,032 ($3 bets).
You’d need a massive bankroll to survive the variance while trying to win such a prize. And you’d still have to wait for favorable situations before playing.
Even small mystery jackpots can pay out inconsistently. Just imagine the inconsistency involved with facing a six- or seven-figure prize.
If you’re set on winning big, then playing for huge progressive jackpots is fun. But don’t expect to make consistent profits through this method.
You’ll still rely on a tremendous amount of luck to win big. And you’ll need a very large bankroll to survive the variance in these cases.
Do Casinos Ban Advantage Slots Players?
Casinos are well known for their sweating and even banning blackjack card counters. This makes it seem like they’d also harass advantage slots players.
But the truth is that land-based casinos are tolerant of advantage slots players. The only time when they’re not is if an advantage gambler harasses tourists to get off certain machines.
This was an issue several years ago when many brick-and-mortar casinos still had accumulator (a.k.a. banking) slots. These games see players gradually accumulate bonuses by playing long enough to earn certain achievements.
A famous example was the S&H Green Stamps slot machine, which featured a meter that went up when players collected Green Stamps. Players could exchange their stamps for money at a certain point.
This is a fine concept in theory because players get rewarded for being loyal to a certain machine. Furthermore, you can gain an advantage with banking slots by finding games that are close to delivering the bonus.
These opportunities arise when recreational players leave their machine before unlocking the reward. An advantage player can step in and have a good shot at earning the bonus without betting as much.
But casinos had serious problems with these games due to “bonus vultures,” who stalk the slots section in search of bonus opportunities.
Casinos don’t mind when advantage players walk around the casino to find a slot with +EV. But the problem with bonus vultures is that they coax tourists off machines through annoying means.
This problem got so bad that bonus vultures and recreational players had fist fights over these machines. Casinos eventually got rid of banking slots like S&H Green Stamps to ease their headaches.
I haven’t heard of an accumulator slot machine being offered in Sin City within the past few years. Therefore, this advantage play method is essentially gone.
The main reason why is because these skilled players aren’t winning profits off the casinos. Instead, they’re making money off prior bets that build a progressive jackpot to a certain point.
Another side of this is that some gambling jurisdictions have language in their rules that pave the way for advantage slots players. Nevada is a perfect example because their gambling rules state that casinos hold progressive jackpots “in trust” for “the public.”
Advantage players are part of this public, meaning that they shouldn’t be banned just for finding favorable opportunities. And if casinos did try to ban them, it could spark legal confrontations.
Slots Comps Add to the Bottom Line
Players who chase progressive jackpots can also count on loyalty rewards to boost their earnings.
Slots comps don’t make up for the house edge that the average player faces. But they’re certainly helpful when you have a long-term advantage with slot machines.
The average land-based casino comps players at a rate of 0.2% or 0.3% of their total wagers. These fractional percentages really add up when you’re playing progressive slots in a high volume.
Here’s an example:
- You perform 700 spins per hour
- Your average bet size is $1
- 700 x 1 = $700 in hourly wagers
- You play progressive slot machines for 6 hours per day
- 700 x 6 = $4,200 in daily wagers
- You play slots five days a week
- 4,200 x 5 = $21,000 in weekly bets
- Your comp rate is 0.3%
- 21,000 x 0.003 = $63
$63.00 may not sound like a lot for week. But it’s worth over $250 per month, which is nice for anybody who relies on advantage-play for part or all their income.
You’re probably aware that you need to sign up for the slots club in land-based casinos. But if not, make sure that you sign up through the casino’s website or visit player’s desk in person.
You might even spend time shopping around for the best rates in your area. You can make far more money from a 0.3% rate than a 0.2% rate over time.
Also, take advantage of double and triple slots points promotions when they’re offered. They can bump a 0.3% comp rate up to 0.9%.
Using the example above, this would increase your weekly earnings to $189 and your monthly earnings to over $750.
Chasing progressive slots jackpots can be a rewarding and even lucrative experience. But the key is that you need to go after the right payouts to win on a consistent basis.
This enables you to win more jackpots and better sustain your bankroll in the short run. And you’ll realize long-term profits if you accurately calculate target points and play at the right times.
It’s also possible to gain +EV when playing for larger progressive slots jackpots. But there are two concerns here:
- More volatility
- You need a much bigger bankroll
Those who aren’t comfortable waiting for weeks, months, or years to win a big progressive jackpot should stick with the mystery prizes.
I personally find that it’s more exciting to play for the smaller progressive jackpots because I can actually experience the thrill of winning.
I’ve never won a six- or seven-figure slots payout, so I don’t know what that feels like. But I do know what it’s like to play these games for hours and watch your bankroll melt away.
Hopefully, you live in an area where you’ll find enough quality mystery jackpots to win long-term profits without worrying about this.
If you’re interested in what I’ve covered here, you can get started by finding beatable mystery slots. The next step is to calculate the target point and wait for favorable situations.
Repeating this formula allows you to make nice profits through slots over time.