As most of our readers are probably well aware of, the games we call pokies aren’t known by that name by most of the world. While there are other localized names for poker machines – most notably, “fruit machines” in the UK – most of the world knows these games as slots, or slot machines.
Of course, names aren’t that important, so when we talk about online pokies or another website talks about online slots, you’re well aware that we’re talking about the same games. Still, we thought it would be a good refresher to talk about what online slots are and how they work – as well the history of how they became known as pokies in Australia.
An online slot machine is a type of game that works almost identically to the slots (or pokies) you’d find in a brick-and-mortar casino, pub, or club. Online slots normally feature either three or five “reels,” or rotating drums, on which various symbols are printed. The object of the game for the player is to match as many of these symbols in a row as possible, usually running from left-to-right across predetermined paylines.
Of course, when we’re talking about Internet slots, some of what we said above is a little bit imprecise. There are no actual reels, and the symbols aren’t “printed” on the reels. Rather, Web slots work like the video slots in live gambling venues, where everything is represented graphically on a video screen. The actual action in the game is controlled behind the scenes by a random number generator, which ensures that the games are truly random and fair for all players.
One of the great things about online slots is the variety of ways in which players can customize how much they want to spend on each spin they play. Unlike live slots, players normally have the option of choosing between several different coin sizes on the same machine, meaning a “penny slot” can also be a quarter slot and everything else in between. Players can also choose how many paylines they wish to activate, and the number of coins to play per line. The result is that the same slot machine game can often be played for a few cents or hundreds of dollars – or anywhere in between. You’ll even have the opportunity to play most online slots in free play mode to test them out, something you’d never see at a live casino.
Another area in which online slots excel is in the size and number of jackpots they reward. With hundreds of different slot machines available to online gamblers, many of which offer progressive jackpots, you’ll always be spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a big prize to shoot for.
At the higher end, some of these jackpots can become truly massive. In games like Mega Moolah, jackpots are shared by many different Internet casinos, with players at all of the networked sites adding to the jackpot. The result is that the eventual winner can win millions of dollars. It’s already happened dozens of times since the advent of Internet gambling, in fact.
While almost everyone in Australia knows that slot machines have been called pokies for as long as they can remember, few have put much thought into why that name caught on instead of the “slot machine” name that has become commonplace throughout most of the world. While we don’t have any definitive answers to that question, the answer may very well lie in the early days of slot machines – with an answer you’d never guess based on how modern slots look and play.
The story starts in the 1880s, with a man named Charles Fey. At some point around 1887, Fey created the world’s first slot machine – a three-reel game that included not only the classic Liberty Bell symbol (which is now commonplace in slots around the world), but also hearts, spades, diamonds and horseshoes.
Some of those symbols should provide a clue that Fey was looking to replicate the relatively young game of poker in a machine form. While Fey found the task too challenging, and instead managed to create the template that slot machines still follow more than a century later, others were able to better emulate poker action on a machine.
In Brooklyn, New York, Sittman and Pitt released a five-reel game that was based on poker. Released in 1891, this game allowed players the chance to make hands to win prizes. The game cost a nickel to play, and the bar or other establishment hosting the game could determine the prizes based on what they wanted to award (perhaps free beers or other drinks).
Given the poker background of these games, it isn’t surprising that they became known as “poker machines” in Australia. When the first machines hit Australia around 1920, it’s uncertain whether they were first called slots or pokies – but in any case, those who enjoyed the games in pubs and clubs soon took to the pokies name. Our best guess is that many of these early games were based on the Sittman and Pitt model, which would naturally be called a poker machine in any part of the world, rather than the Fey game, which had much less to do with poker.
By the 1950’s, when Joe Heywood designed The Clubman for pokies firm Aristocrat – the first truly Australian game of this type – the pokies name was well established in Australia. New South Wales soon moved to regulate poker machines in 1956, which started a wave of legalization and regulation throughout Australia. By the 1980’s, pokies were not only found in clubs throughout the country, but even in other venues, with the ACT legalizing hotel gaming in 1988.
The first online slots began to appear in the 1990s, with the first regulated online casinos appearing in 1994 based in Antigua and Barbuda. Given Australia’s strong gambling culture, it didn’t take long for “online pokies” to become a popular pastime in Australia as well. While the Interactive Gaming Act in 2001 made it impossible to own and operate an Internet casino in Australia marketed to Australians (though other online gambling companies, including sports betting firms, have been allowed), Australian players have long been welcomed at gambling sites around the world. That relationship remains to this day, with Australians playing online pokies being one of the key markets for online casino operators.