How The Word “Jackpot” Came To Be Used In Gambling

Written By Cole Rush on May 1, 2023

Illinois sportsbook and casino patrons’ gambling world overflows with jargon. New terms pop up at a rapid clip, and it’s easy to get left in the dust if you aren’t up to speed with the latest words or slang.

However, some terms have remained pillars of the industry for many years — some more than a century. One such term is “jackpot,” a word so embedded into the gambling vernacular it has weaseled its way into daily use even among non-gamblers. Where does “jackpot” come from? Its origins trace back to the late 1800s.

Jackpot owes its origins to poker

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, jackpot first started to pop up in 1881 in relation to poker games. Certain poker-style games had a “jacks or better” rule. If no player had a pair of jacks or better, another round of betting occurred until someone had a qualifying hand. Sometimes pots would grow quite large, with multiple rounds of betting passing by and no player logging a hand of jacks or better.

Jackpot originally had a hyphen while used in this form, as the Online Etymology Dictionary describes:

“The regular Draw-Poker game is usually varied by occasional Jack-Pots, which are played once in so many deals, or when all have refused to play, or when the player deals who holds the buck, a marker placed in the pool with every jack-pot. In a jack-pot each player puts up an equal stake and receives a hand. The pot must then be opened by a player holding a hand of the value of a pair of knaves (jacks) or better. If no player holds so valuable a hand the deal passes and each player adds a small sum to the pot or pool.”

“Jacks or Better” remains a common game type in the gambling industry, though you’ll typically find it at video poker machines. In modern Jacks or Better games, you place a bet and receive five cards. You select which cards you wish to keep and which you wish to replace. You’ll receive replacement carts, and you win if you you have a pair of jacks or a better hand.

The evolution of the term jackpot

The original meaning of jackpot stuck around for 50 years or so. It may have lingered longer, but it’s been long gone from modern gambling.

The term enjoyed a brief tryst with the early 1900s organized crime rings. For some time starting in 1902, “jackpot” was synonymous with “trouble” in the criminal underworld. It’s unclear when its use went out of fashion, though it is clear that the use was eclipsed by big wins a few decades later. From 1932, “jackpot” came to mean a big win or prize, particularly from a slot machine.

Current uses of the word jackpot

Nowadays, “jackpot” has one common meaning:

  • A large cash prize in a game or lottery, usually one that accumulates until it is won.

To “hit the jackpot” means to win it.

When you play slot machines at an Illinois casino, you might see two types of jackpots: local and progressive. In local progressives, the jackpot builds based on the money coming into a specific machine or a bank of them. These jackpots tend to be smaller than their progressive counterparts.

Progressive jackpots, meanwhile, accumulate based on money coming in from a larger network of machines, such as all of the machines operating a specific title in one region or group of casinos. These are the progressives that have massive pots.

Can you win a jackpot at an Illinois casino?

Illinois has various games that have big jackpots. The Illinois Lottery is a big one, with various multi-state games like Powerball and Mega Millions offering the largest jackpots.

Plus, Illinois has many casinos with slot machines, and these will have jackpots of varying sizes. Illinois is home to a few new and upcoming casinos as well, such as The Temporary at American Place and Hard Rock Casino Rockford: An Opening Act. Golden Nugget Danville is well on its way to a grand opening, too.

These options and more exist if you’re on the hunt for an Illinois jackpot. Just don’t forget to play responsibly.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Cole Rush

Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. Most of those words can be found in gambling publications such as PlayIllinois, iGaming Business, Gaming Today,,, ICE 365, and IGB North America. Cole also covers pop culture and books for and Cole has more than eight years of experience writing about gambling and entertainment.

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