Where Does the Term Jackpot Come From?

min read
Table with casino chips and cards with a light shining onto it.
BetMGM Jan 12, 2022, 12:16 PM

The term “jackpot” is probably the most commonly understood gambling expression in the world today. Anyone who’s ever played a lottery understands what it means to win the jackpot, even if they don’t play casino games of any other kind. Many land-based and online casino games have jackpots of various descriptions, ranging from above-average bonuses to potentially life-changing payouts. The sense of an unexpected windfall has transferred into non-gambling usage. If something particularly good comes your way – a promotion, for example – you might feel like you’ve won the jackpot. But why “jackpot” exactly? Where does the word come from? Read on for the fascinating history of the jackpot.

Jacks or better

The first time someone explained the meaning of the term “jackpot” was in an Indiana courthouse back in 1879. A gambler told the court how the betting pool in a specific version of five-card draw poker worked. 

“The money up is called the pot, and the man who holds Jacks can require the others to bet him or to drop him out.” This meant that players needed to have a pair of Jacks or better if they wanted to open betting in the first round. Once the betting was open, the other players could match, raise or fold regardless of their hand value. If nobody had Jacks or better, the hand was dealt again. Once all the dealing and betting rounds were done, the players showed their cards. But this Wild West poker variant had a twist. Unlike games such as Texas Hold’em, where you can win with a pair or even just a high card, you had to have three of a kind or better. If no player had three of a kind, the money stayed in the pot and a new round began.

The first progressive jackpots

The odds against drawing three of a kind in a hand of five-card draw are slightly more than 46:1, so it’s no surprise that many rounds of “Jacks or better” would frequently go by without any player winning. Every time that happened, the pot would get bigger. If that continued for several games, the pot would grow to a very exciting size, until somebody eventually had the good fortune to draw three of a kind (or better). 

“Jacks or better” poker (not to be confused with the video poker title of the same name) became known as the best casino game in town for players looking for a chance to win big. It was the first known example of a progressive jackpot in gambling. People began to associate Jacks with big pots and “jackpot” entered into gambling slang. Eventually, any big win came to be thought of as a jackpot.

Progressive online slot machines

The “Jacks or better” poker of the Wild West is a thing of the past now, but the progressive jackpot concept has caught on big time, especially among players of online slots. The original idea is the same: Everybody taking part in the game contributes to the jackpot pool (in online slots, that means a fraction of your bet), and the pot keeps growing until somebody wins the jackpot. 

The difference is that instead of a few poker players around a table, an unlimited number of players can participate indirectly in progressive online gambling slots. That means there’s also no limit to the amount that a networked progressive jackpot can grow to – until somebody out there wins, at least. And it could be you. The odds are extremely slim (so don’t gamble what you can’t afford to lose), but there’s a chance.

Explore the world of jackpot slots

The great thing about playing jackpot slots is that there are so many to choose from, all with feature-rich themes, eye-catching visuals, snappy animations and epic soundtracks. Travel to the mysterious world of Ancient Egypt in Loot’en Khamun and Book of Myths, go on a fantasy treasure quest for the mighty Dragon’s Hoard, or blast off into space with Super Star. Melon Madness Deluxe may be the ticket if you like to play slots online with fruit themes. Then there’s Luck O’ The Jackpot, trading on the classic theme of Irish luck, as well as Champagne Super Clover. Every one of these progressive online slots is a slick, finely crafted gem that’s easy to play and a ton of fun to watch.

Hit the entertainment jackpot with casino games at BetMGM

If you’re looking for progressive jackpots when you play slots online, you’ll get more than bargained for when you sign up at BetMGM. Our broad range of online casino games includes all of the titles mentioned above, and a whole lot more. But don’t feel restricted to playing online slot machines. You can enjoy the full gamut of classic card and table games such as poker, blackjack and roulette in our online casino. Try our first-person and live dealer variations for a totally new experience too! 

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.