Jackpots are synonymous with poker machines. I don’t believe there’s a poker machine room in the country that doesn’t offer jackpots; clubs, pubs or casinos, the jackpots are a constant.
They’re a lure to play. When you see that big sign with the numbers ticking over, often in the thousands of dollars, who wouldn’t be tempted to drop in a few dollars and try their luck? Jackpots are a tried and tested method of getting people in front of the machines, even though the chances of actually winning the “big one” are millions, sometimes billions to one.
The industry knows it. The current proposal to introduce $1 maximum bets includes a reduction in the maximum jackpot amount to $500 (down from $10,000). This has been vigorously attacked by Clubs Australia; their CEO, Anthony Ball, has been extremely vocal on the subject. As he wrote on The Drum last year: “Who would play a machine where the most you could win was $500?” Clubs Australia even issued a media release in January this year attacking the Greens for “hiding” the “bad news” about jackpots.
The manufacturers know it too. All of the big poker machine manufacturers have their own jackpot systems that work with their machines. Every year existing jackpot systems are refined and new ones introduced, because they know that jackpots are a lure to get people playing. And once they’re playing, statistics show that many of them don’t stop.
Everyone thinks that poker machine jackpots are a bonus prize, an “extra” that you can win on top of whatever your machine might pay you… but this isn’t true. Poker machines never pay out more than they have to, and that includes jackpots. The truth of the matter is simple.
Jackpots are a con.
It works like this. Poker machines have to return a certain percentage of all money bet to the player, over time. This is called the return to player (RTP) determined by legislation and is different for every state and territory. Right now, the percentages look like this:
ACT – 87%
NSW – 85%
NT – 85% for clubs, 88% for casinos
QLD – 85/92% for clubs/pubs, 90% for casinos
SA – 85% for games installed before 1/10/01, 87.5% for games installed after 1/10/01
TAS – 85%
VIC – 87%
WA – 90% (casino only)
That seems high… but as I explained last year, any poker machine can pay out exactly what they’re supposed to, and still take all your money. Simply put, most poker machines have to return 85 – 90% of all bets to the player.
Jackpots are included in this. They are not some generous bonus prize, but are paid for and incorporated into that RTP percentage.
Every time someone plays a game on a poker machine with a jackpot, a small amount of money is added to the jackpot. That money counts as part of the RTP. And what THAT means is that the actual money returned to players during normal game-play on jackpot-enabled poker machines is LESS than the legislated minimum.
And it’s legal.
What does this mean? Well, it depends on the jackpot. There are two kinds of jackpots for poker machines; stand-alone, and linked.
Stand-alone jackpots only apply to a single poker machine, and are usually displayed above the screen. If you’re playing a poker machine with a stand-alone jackpot, you’re the only person who can win it. So if you’re in Victoria (like I am) where the legislated minimum RTP is 87%, it’s common for stand-alone jackpot poker machines to pay a small percentage (3%, for example) into the jackpot pool, and the rest (84%, for example) to the player. This isn’t such a big deal, as it’s all happening on the same machine for the same player. But the jackpot certainly isn’t any kind of bonus prize; it’s offset by the fact that the poker machine returns less in regular game-play.
Linked jackpots are a little different. This is where multiple poker machines (usually four or more) are linked to a single big jackpot. That’s when you get the big sign over a bank of poker machines displaying the jackpot amount; any of those machines is eligible to win that jackpot.
Money is added to linked jackpots in the same way as it is to stand-alone jackpots; the only difference is that it takes that money from all of the machines connected to it. Every time someone plays a game on any of the poker machines attached to a linked jackpot, the jackpot goes up.
Again, this means that a linked poker machine will pay a small percentage into the linked jackpot, and the rest to the player. But now you’re competing against all the other players… and if you don’t win (and let’s face it, these big jackpots hardly ever go off) then you’re stuck with a poker machine that’s paying you less than the legislated minimum.
Some linked jackpots only take 2% or 3% from a poker machine’s RTP. That’s bad enough, as it decreases the chance of winning anything and, therefore, increases the chance of losing. But some take far more.
I dropped in to a poker machine venue near my work this morning to take a look. Yes, it was open at 8am and yes, there were half a dozen people playing… that’s a story for another day. But I pressed the “information” button on a one-cent Oceanus poker machine, one of several attached to a Grand Central jackpot worth more than $9000. This is what I saw.
While this poker machine had a “theoretical” RTP of 93.07%, which was higher than the minimum, 9.49% of that was being returned to the jackpot. The rest (83.58%) was what was being returned to the player.
Some machines are even worse. Gaming machine approval records show that there are poker machines out there (such as Double Happiness, Zorro Unmasked and 5 Koi) that actually have an RTP of around 78% or less. The difference is “paid” into the jackpot.
So next time you’re tempted to play a jackpot poker machine, remember that the jackpot isn’t a bonus. You’re paying for it with every bet you place, and lowering your chances of winning at the same time.
No wonder the industry loves jackpots.