Jackpot: Origins and History

Some historians believe that human beings have gambled since the beginning of time. There’s a strong case to be made that the element of competition and drive to win that is hard-wired into a significant percentage of the population can manifest through gambling games where a huge jackpot is on the line.

The word jackpot has become so popular that it has crossed over into modern-day use, and many people will use it to describe any sort of win they have in their everyday life. It is synonymous with the industry and various casino games, including poker, blackjack and slot machine gaming.

Jackpot definition and meaning

Depending on the type of casino game you play, the word jackpot can have various definitions. The term jackpot originally stems from a cash prize in poker, back in the old West, when prizes could grow to large cash amounts. The rules of draw poker meant that no player at the table could start off the bid amount unless they had two jacks in their hand, so the term jackpot was coined.

Origins of jackpots

The birth of lotteries

Gambling games predate the term jackpot by quite a considerable amount of time. The history of lottery gaming is partially unknown as historians did not keep detailed records of the kinds of games that gamblers enjoyed. The Ancient Roman Empire is believed to have been the origin of the lottery game in Europe. There were often private dinner parties where each guest would receive a ticket, and there would be a prize at the end in the form of a gift or “jackpot”.

Early lotteries in Europe

While it may have been similar to the modern-day concept of bingo, private dinner parties were the first known use of lotteries in Europe, where players would receive a ticket and then have a number drawn to win a prize. Charity draws were also a common way that the lottery was utilised in its most primitive format. The Flemish region of Europe is where the first recorded sale and distribution of tickets using the modern-day lottery format we see today took place.

Towns in Europe would use this format to raise money to help the community, whether it was by giving the money back to the less fortunate or by constructing buildings that would help benefit the town. Around the mid-15th century, historians have noted that a similar competition took place in Italy, but with a very different endgame — to finance a war.

Lotteries in the New World

By the mid-16th century, a fully-fledged lottery competition was operating in the United Kingdom in the same fashion as today’s game, whereby you purchase your ticket and select five or six numbers. While gambling has undergone various legislative changes, and lottery competitions have felt the brunt of that legislative action over the last couple of hundred years, lotteries in the new world offer a vast range of services for online and land-based gamblers.

There are several variants on the common, original theme, but they all operate under roughly the same premise and provide gamblers who choose the lucky numbers a significant share of the overall prize pool.

Jackpots in modern times

The rise of casinos

As casino gaming became a juggernaut of a global industry, online gambling has been experiencing one of the most significant and sustained periods of growth in its existence. Helped along nicely by favourable legislation in America, jackpot gaming has become one of the biggest and most enticing avenues of casino gaming, especially in the world of slot machines.

In addition to the waves of legislation that have been passed over the last five years, allowing millions of Americans to gamble, the incredible developments in the world of smartphone technology have also provided a new dimension to online gambling. There are plenty of top game designers trying their hand in the market to create innovative games that can corner some of this multibillion-dollar market, which has resulted in better gaming quality, graphics and a broader variety of games to select from, with the jackpots on some games being considerably higher than others.

Las Vegas: The jackpot capital

If you explore a list of the top jackpots over the last 20 years, the vast majority occurred in Las Vegas. If you double down and explore it in more detail, you’ll see that they have all come in slot machine gaming, and about half have occurred on the same slot game. Jackpot slot machine gaming is a huge draw for people who love to play slot games. Jackpot slots operate differently and have a ticking timer with an ever-increasing jackpot. In some instances, it can take years to trigger, resulting in prizes that are in the millions of dollars.

Jackpot slots have become very popular in Vegas and there seems to be a highly concentrated number of jackpot winners from Las Vegas casinos. While there’s nothing to suggest you are more likely to win a casino jackpot in Las Vegas, due to the top 10 list of largest jackpot winners being almost exclusively made up of slot gamers in Nevada’s most populated city, it causes people to flock from all over the world to try and land a mega jackpot.

Las Vegas, for decades, was by far the biggest gambling region in the world. As the American gambling market was largely shut off to the vast majority of Americans because of strict gambling laws, there were huge waves of people that flew out to the Nevada desert to get their gambling enjoyment. Although Las Vegas hasn’t witnessed the sort of dip in popularity or profit that some people expected due to the rise of online casino gaming, it has experienced a plateau as it competes with some of the fastest-rising casino companies, land-based and digital.

Macau: Asia’s gambling mecca

Macau is an autonomous region in China that eclipses Vegas in every single way. The top two biggest casino resorts in the world are in Macau. On average, the overall region is around six times more active on the casino floor than many casinos in Las Vegas. To put this into perspective, Macau casinos generate over $5bn worth of profit yearly, and the casino floors are littered with jackpot slot games.

Lotteries today

Mega Millions and Powerball

As America’s biggest jackpot prize, Powerball often has jackpot prizes in the hundreds of millions of dollars. With millions of Americans purchasing tickets to try and land the mega jackpot, Powerball has been responsible for several of the biggest jackpot prizes.

EuroMillions and other international lotteries

The EuroMillions is by far the biggest jackpot prize for European gamblers. Over the years, there have been some truly colossal wins. The biggest ever Euromillions winner was claimed by one lucky winner, who won the entire jackpot of €230 million. While other European lotteries have an impressive jackpot size, the Euromillions is by far the most popular with the most significant jackpot.

The evolution of jackpot games

Slot machine jackpots

Progressive vs. non-progressive jackpots

Since progressive jackpot slots have proven to be such a lucrative avenue of profit for slot machine game designers, there has been an added onus on creating interesting niches within the slot gaming genre. Progressive jackpots have been the key to unlocking some of the highest jackpot prizes ever paid out in casino gaming.

Progressive jackpot slot games have a jackpot prize that continues to increase until it has been unlocked, while non-progressive jackpot slots have a fixed prize that does not change.

Online slots and their jackpots

There are several ways to unlock jackpots in slot machine gaming, whether it’s progressive or non-progressive jackpots or by simply hitting some of the key symbols across the grid reel. For example, some slot games will have a specific symbol or three specific matching symbols that you’ll need to land on a payline.

Lottery innovations

Rollovers and jackpot growth

All the biggest lottery wins have come through rollover jackpots. The concept of a rollover is fairly simple. When a jackpot prize isn’t claimed, and there are no winning tickets, the prize rolls over to the next week, including the prize pool from the previous week. The theory is that it rolls over until somebody wins it, but there are some competitions where the jackpot growth is capped.

Secondary prizes and additional chances

In a bid to freshen up the initial blueprint of the lottery, many providers started to offer secondary prizes and additional chances. For instance, if you got four of the five numbers, you would receive a smaller portion of the prize pool, which wouldn’t quite be the jackpot, but it would be much better than nothing. Adding the idea of secondary prizes to the competition was revolutionary as it gave players more incentive to play, as there was a chance of other prizes.

Famous jackpots in history

Life-changing lottery wins

The record-breaking Powerball jackpot

The Powerball lottery in America is responsible for the biggest lottery jackpot of all time. Like jackpot slot games in the casino world, the American Powerball jackpot dominates the all-time list. In November 2022, one ticket holder scooped up a pre-tax win of over $2 billion, which is by far the biggest jackpot ever won in a lottery game, or any game for that matter.

This game has a range of big wins, with a handful exceeding $1 million. However, none of the jackpots came close to this incredible win at the end of 2022, which made international headlines.

The "Big Game" jackpot winners

Before Mega Millions was renamed and launched as a new jackpot lottery prize game, The Big Game was synonymous with jackpot competitions in America. The biggest prize ever offered in this competition was $363 million, which was claimed in 2002.

Monumental casino jackpots

The legendary Megabucks wins

The Megabucks slot machine game is the reason behind five of the six biggest jackpots ever won on a slot machine in a land-based casino. The Megabucks jackpot game is the highest-paying individual slot machine of all time, and gamblers flock from all over the world to have a spin on the legendary game.

Notable slot machine jackpots

The highest-ever slot machine win on a Megabucks game was a staggering $39.7 million back in 2003. The top five biggest wins have all been in Vegas casinos or hotels and have all been in Megabucks games. There have been a few $20 million wins on online slots. Most notably, a Twitch streamer named Trainwreck won $22.5 million on a Might of Ra slot, but Vegas dominates the big wins with wins of $34.9 million, $23.6 million and $22.1 million, all happening on Megabucks machines on the world-famous strip.

Jackpot odds and strategies

Maximising your chances

Picking the right lottery numbers

There’s no way of knowing what lottery numbers will come out and no strategy to improve your chances. The number series 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 has as much chance of coming up as any other combination. Regardless of whether you pick your numbers based on personal preference or superstition, there’s no strategy to employ that will give you an advantage in the lottery.

Slot machine strategies

Again, there is no strategy or skill that can be employed in slot machine gaming. Some casino games, such as poker, are considered games of skill, but slot machine gaming is completely random, so it is huge news when gamers win such enormous jackpots.

Understanding the odds

Probability in lotteries

The likelihood of winning the mega Powerball jackpot in the USA is around 1 in 292 million. If you play the Euromillions, you have a better chance at 1 in 139 million. Other regional European lotteries usually roughly mirror the country's population, such as the United Kingdom, where the odds of winning the UK lottery are around 1 in 45 million.

Slot machine payout percentages

Slot machines range from around a 1 in 6,000 chance to a 1 in 35 million chance, which can be found on the Megabucks machines. While it might be slightly better than the lottery, the chances are still extremely low.

Jackpot FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the meaning of the word jackpot?

The word first made an appearance regarding draw poker around 100 years ago when two jacks were needed to open up the bets for a large pot.

Where did the term jackpot come from?

Oh, we enjoy a good piece of trivia! The term jackpot is actually rooted in poker - specifically, Draw Poker. It’s derived from Jack (the playing card) + the pot (cash prize) and came to be with forced antes that built a cash pot up if players weren't holding jacks or better. Over the years, slots took this gem of a word over and attributed it to an accumulating cash prize pool.

How are lottery jackpots determined?

Lottery jackpot winners are determined completely at random. Typically, a set number of random balls are picked out of a machine.

Can you remain anonymous after winning a jackpot?

Yes, it’s rare that people advertise their win. More often than not, people will choose to remain anonymous.

Can you win online casino jackpots?

Yes, but they are rarely the size of the jackpots in Vegas casinos.

What happens to unclaimed jackpots?

In lotteries, winners are usually given a set amount of time to claim their prize. Unclaimed prizes would then be featured in a rollover.

Is it possible to predict jackpot outcomes?

No, jackpots are completely random.

Biggest Slot Machine Jackpots of All Time

Slot machines have also been the catalyst for some of the largest casino wins of all time. If you discount lottery winning tickets, the biggest ever gambling wins are almost exclusively in slot machine gaming. Today, we will be dissecting the biggest wins in more detail.

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