Many casino poker rooms offer a bad beat jackpot. They were originally conceived as a consolation prize for anyone who has a monster hand that's beaten by an even bigger hand. The qualifying hands vary, but it's usually something like four-of-a-kind beaten by another four-of-a-kind or a straight flush.
When it happens, the person who took the bad beat (the monster hand that didn't win) might get 50% of the jackpot. The person who won the hand might get 25% of the jackpot, with the remainder divided up among the other players at the table who were dealt in when the hand began. The percentages might be different, depending on the room, and there are some places where everyone at every table gets a share.
The jackpot is funded by a dollar taken out of every pot by the casino dealer, who puts it into a special box separate from the regular rake. In many rooms, only the lower-limit games are eligible for the jackpot, thus they're the only ones that contribute to it. Since I tend to play higher-stakes games, I rarely have to worry about the Bad Beat, but have been to some casinos that take the buck at every table. I hate that, since the Bad Beat is almost always won by players at the smaller-stakes games, who are more likely to get their short stacks in and then suffer the indignity of someone else hitting a one- or two-outer. In fact, I have never seen four-of-a-kind beaten in any of the $5/10 and up no-limit games at any of the St. Louis casinos.
Because those hands happen so rarely at any level, the Bad Beat jackpot can easily climb to six figures, which all the players can see on a sign that's updated daily on the poker room wall. That sign has the same effect as the ones showing progressive slot machine jackpots -- when they get big enough, more people come in to play, hoping they'll be the lucky winner.
I've seen one jackpot get above $430,000, and the way it was won was, in itself, a Bad Beat story.
There were several tables of $1/2 no-limit going at Harrah's St. Louis, and a bunch of people on the waiting list. When a seat opened up, the floor person called the name of the first person on the list. Just at that moment, his phone rang, so he told the floor guy to skip him as he answered the call. The next person on the list was Frank, a local who played there regularly. Frank got $100 in chips and sat down. On his very first hand, he was dealt a pair of sevens in the big blind. As often happens in that game, six other players limped in (called the $2 bet) and Frank didn't raise, either.
The flop came out 9-7-7. Having flopped quads, Frank checked, hoping another player would bet. Someone else did, and when it got back to Frank, he raised. The original better re-raised, and Frank moved all-in. The other player called instantly and turned over two nines, for a full house. Frank showed the sevens, and suddenly everyone at the table was hoping the last nine in the deck would come out. They didn't have to wait long -- the dealer turned over the case nine on the turn.
Bedlam ensued. That's the best way to describe it. Frank had just won around $215,000, the guy with quad nines had won half that (plus the $200 or so in the pot), and the other eight players at the table had each won over $13,000 as their share of the biggest Bad Beat jackpot in St. Louis history. That's a helluva return for a game where the blinds are $1 and $2 and most of the players buy-in for $100.
The irony to Frank winning that much money was that he had a reputation as one of the tightest players in town, the unlikeliest person in the room to put a lot of his winnings back into the game. True to form, Frank did not start playing bigger limit games, he didn't loosen up his playing style, he didn't go out and buy anything extravagant. He still came in to the poker room frequently, wearing the same ratty baseball cap he always wore, but the only thing that changed was his bank balance.
As for the guy who didn't take the seat? He got nothing except the most expensive phone call ever.