Why do Australians call slots pokies?

Aussies are a pretty rag-tag mob who are always looking for a cheeky little dodge: a nickname or abbreviation for something that can just be a bit too tiresome to say in its entirety.

Sometimes, shaving a syllable off a word or phrase. The rest of the international community is often left slack-jawed and scratching their heads when they hear us talk. What’s a bottle-o? What’s brekkie? What’s a snag?

So what is a pokie? Aussies are often referring to gaming machines when they use the term “pokie”. Every where else in the world seems to refer to electronic gaming machines as slot machines or slots. So why is it that Aussies refer to them simply as pokies?

History of pokies in Australia

New South Wales was the first Australian state to legalise what would eventually become known as pokies in 1956. Gaming machines were permitted in all registered clubs. From there the popularity of these machines took off like a frog on a hot-plate.

Australian company Aristocrat was one of the first to spot the potential sky-rocketing profits in gaming machines, producing their first machine in 1953. They are now one of, if not the most, recognisable name in the Australian industry.

Their first creation was “ClubMan”, which was quickly followed up in 1955 with “ClubMaster”. Aristocrat has even stayed true to their roots with their headquarters still nestled away in the Sydney suburb of North Ryde.

The original gaming machines were three reel, lever-pull machines often referred to as “one armed bandits”. The emergence of pokies and the money to be made from them is said to have even been one of the root causes for at least one gangland war in Sydney, with criminals falling over themselves to install “their” gaming machines in clubs ahead of their competition’s.

It is said one faction waltzed into a club and ripped out an oppositions pokies, threw them on the sidewalk and destroyed them before installing their machines and telling the publican that these are his new machines.

Throughout the country each state boasts different laws regarding pokies. Most look favourably upon pokies, generally allowing them in pubs, clubs and casinos. Western Australia, however, only allows them to be in the casino.

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that video pokies as we are now familiar with them began to emerge. The advent of the video gaming machine increased the number of reels from three to five and increased the number of paylines available too, which increased the possible maximum bet per spin too.

These days, pokies are thought to rake in around $12 billion dollars nationally each year which goes to show that having a quick punt on the pokes down the local pub is one of Australia’s favourite past-times.

Where does the term Pokie come from?

Obviously the term pokie is a colloquialism for the term poker machine. But even this in itself is a little baffling, because Aussies never really embraced the emergence of traditional video poker machines. Indeed the current incantation of gaming machines has nothing at all to do with poker.

The term used by the rest of the world is much easier to comprehend. Around the world, gaming machines are mainly referred to as “slot machines” due to the fact you have to pump coins into the coin “slot” to play. Hence the term “slots” or “slot machine”.

The term pokie has even transcended casual slang and emerged as an official term in Australia, with pubs, clubs and casinos around the country advertising gaming machines as “pokies”.

In their modern form, you could be forgiven for thinking that term pokie came from the fact that you have to “poke” a button for each spin, but that theory is redundant because the term pokie started becoming popular among Aussies long before the electronic pokies of the 80’s took over from the old lever pull one-armed-bandits.

In all honesty, the true story behind the emergence of “pokie” as a term for gaming machines is shrouded in mystery. Perhaps we can just attribute it to a quirk in the Aussie consciousness. The curious thing, though is the term pokie isn’t an exclusively Australian concoction, with New Zealand also adopting the phrase.

Each country seems to have adopted their own slang when it comes to referring to gaming machines with the English referring to them as “Fruit Machines”, the Scott’s call them “Puggy’s” and the Americans and Canadians calling them “Slots”.

So where the roots of the term pokie may be shrouded in mystery, at least we don’t call them “Puggy’s”….

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