Jackpot is a uniquely American word. It can mean a big prize won for gambling or in a sweepstakes or lottery, an interjection or it might be a tiny town in Nevada, near the Idaho state line.
The term “jackpot” has its origins in 1880s slang. When poker players had a game going and no one had a pair of jacks or higher in his hand, the antes would be progressively higher for each hand, until someone came up with those jacks. They won the “jacks’ pot,” or jackpot. Like much American slang, the term caught on for its snappy, direct feel and was in wide use by the 1920s. At that time, it also became criminal slang for being arrested.
A gambling jackpot is usually the biggest prize in the game. In a progressive jackpot situation, such as with slot machines, several machines are linked. The jackpot increases with every quarter or dollar the player feeds into the machine. If someone “hits” or comes up with the maximum combination, then he or she wins the jackpot — whatever total the slot machine was showing at the time.