The Interesting History of Pokies in Australia

Charlotte Wilson
by Charlotte Wilson
History of pokies

Much to the surprise of many, pokies have a rather brief history compared to other forms of casino gambling. The first poker machines saw the light of day some 120 years ago, but the fun reel-game mechanical devices seem to have an even briefer history in the land Down Under. If you are curious to learn a few interesting historical milestones about pokies in Australia, read on.

It All Started In America

The very first poker machines were invented by Charles Fey, a German immigrant who chose the land of opportunity as his home away from home. He settled in San Francisco, opened up a machine shop and played around with his inventor skills, up until the late-1880’s, when he started to design the pioneer poker machines that that would soon become industry icons. The year was 1895 when Fey managed to build the world-famous Liberty Bell poker machine that featured 3 mechanical reels used to randomise symbols. It only took Fey a few more years to start selling his machines to saloons and bars spread all over the San Francisco Bay region. The locals there started calling them “slot machines” and their popularity continued to sky-rocket as more and more people became acquainted with them.

Given the state laws that soon started to prohibit real money gambling, the Liberty Bell slot machines started replacing cash prizes with bubble gum, fruits and a series of other small items that would fit inside the machines. Over the years, many of the reel symbols started depicting various fruits, thus, the alternative “fruit machine” name was given to these machines in the UK.

As for the name “pokies” that Aussie players love to use when referring to these machines, there is no clear documentation of when the term came to be used for the first time. However, it has undoubtedly turned into the universally-accepted term defining video slots in the country. Video poker machines were also called “cardies” and, together with slots, they were generally called “poker machines”. Broken slang has most likely lead to the term “pokies” as people used to say they were heading off to a pub to “play the pokies". Interestingly, the term only caught on Down Under, as everybody else continues to call them “slot machines” or “slots”.

Slot Machines Banning, Post-War Leisure and Vegas

Poker machines were prohibited in California and the rest of the US soon followed. In 1931, Nevada decided to make gambling legal again, given the shortage of revenue during the Depression Era and the need for more tax revenues to support the local economy.

As soon as World War II was over, the country started facing a time of incredible wealth and prosperity. Returning from the war, Americans wanted to build their families and make a fortune, while enjoying fresh and stylish leisure activities. The introduction of jet engine aeroplanes and the construction of the interstate highway largely contributed to the turning of Las Vegas into the number one gambling destination for rich Americans, as well as numerous middle-class Americans on vacation. Since the game of slots required zero experience, skill or special gambling knowledge, it quickly turned into their favourite.

Pokies Down Under: The Clubman and the NSW Decision

It was not until the early nineties that the first pokies machines started to make an appearance in Australia. At first, they were placed outside the law, but that didn't stop passionate gamers from seeking them every time they had the chance.

The first domestic pokies machines were designed and created in 1953, thanks to the brilliant minds of the people at Aristocrat, an Aussie company that envisioned the gambling future that would belong to these poker machines, and, consequently, created the Clubman, the pioneer slots game that had Joe Heywood as a creator. Two years later, the game was replaced with an improved version, the Clubmaster.

In 1956, New South Wales government officials decided to make poker machines legal in all registered clubs. This was the sole decision that has completely changed the face of gambling Down Under and it also influenced the way gambling would be regarded worldwide ever since.

Despite their simplicity and very basic features, pokies rapidly conquered the hearts of players. A few years later, the first lights started being introduced into the machines' mechanisms. The following years didn't bring too many changes to the table. Each poker machine featured three reels and one, three or five lines. With limited jackpots and small levels of interactivity, players had to pull a handle and wait for the reels to stop spinning. While the machines managed to keep players entertained for a while, the middle of the eighties made players jump for joy as the first video slots started being produced and shown to the public.

Video slot games featured five reels, extra lines and provided more winning opportunities, including the use of free spins and gamble options. In the early nineties, a few states Down Under decided to legalize the use of pokies machines inside local pubs. Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales saw a greater widespread of pokies machines in the years to come.

Right now, walking into an Australian casino will automatically bring you face to face with loads of video slots featuring fast and captivating action, high payouts and the most interactive features that no one even dared to dream of a few decades ago.

Online Pokies In The Early Nineties

The first Internet casinos opened their virtual gates in the '90s when they started delivering a brand new way of playing pokies. The Gaming Club was one of the first online gambling venues that players had the chance to join, and also one that continues to operate today. Almost two decades after the first online real money casinos saw the light of day, Microgaming released the Thunderstruck pokies games in 2004. This was an Aussie-style pokies game available online and it encouraged more developers to start working on their own online pokies games.

Later on, mobile gambling allowed casino software developers to enable players to access incredibly complex pokies with cool graphics and special symbols, multipliers, bonus rounds, captivating themes and whopping progressive jackpots on the go.

We hope this brief look into the history of Australian pokies has given you a better understanding of their importance in the library of any casino online. While looking forward to seeing what the future holds for these fun-packed games, we warmly recommend you try out some fresh pokie titles displayed at our top recommended casinos. 

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