History and Background
Aussies love to gamble and will gladly gamble on almost everything. However, slot machines better known in Australia as pokies, may well be most Aussies’ favourite game.
The fact that pokies are immensely popular in Australia is no surprise given that it is just another variation of an activity that has been going on this country for several centuries. When new settlers introduced various forms of gambling to the natives, the idea of playing for money caught on quickly. The early games were mostly British influenced, but by the 19th century, other European and Asian games also became popular in Australia. By the late 19th century, horseracing was firmly established, and almost every region of the country had a racetrack. However, starting in the second half of the 20th century, casinos replaced horseracing as the dominant form of gambling in Australia.
Pokies machines made their first appearance in Australia in the early 1900s, only a few years after Charles Fey introduced Americans to the first modern slot machine, the Liberty Bell. Aussie gamblers did not seem to mind that pokes were illegal, and their popularity grew.
We do not know for certain how or when the term “pokies originated. It may stem from the fact that the clubs and pubs that offered the early slot machines also had machines for video poker, and all of the machines collectively were called poker machines. Then, through popular usage, the term for slot machines got shortened to “pokies.”
Pokies, like most forms of gambling, remained, illegal in Australia, throughout the first half of the 20th century. However, they continued to be very popular. In an attempt to meet the growing demand for more pokies, in 1953, Len Ainsworth founded the company Aristocrat Leisure, Ltd. Aristocrat quickly released its first machine called the Clubman and followed it up with the Clubmaster two years later.
Eventually Aristocrat began selling its machines to other markets, en route to becoming one of the leading providers to land-based casinos worldwide. Then, in 2001, Aristocrat began creating new games for the online market. But in its early days, the Aristocrat games were for Australian players only and they were an instant hit.
In 1956, New South Wales became the first Australian state to make pokies play legal. Afterwards, it was only a matter of time before other Australian states followed. Initially, even though the games were only allowed in licensed clubs, there were soon reportedly more than 7,000 of these machines spread out over more than 1,100 clubs. By the 1990s, pokies had also become a fixture in pubs and casinos all over the country. Ainsworth also founded a second company, Ainsworth Game Technology, in 1995 featuring multi-tier jackpots, which like the classic Aristocrat games, became very popular.
The early Australian machines were very simple and basic compared to today’s elaborate creations and remained that way for several decades. They all had 3 reels and 1, 3, or 5 lines. The jackpots were also much smaller than those we are accustomed to seeing today. The player simply inserted the necessary coins, pulled the handle, and hoped for the best.
When video pokies first appeared in Australia in the mid-1980s, many players found the newer machines a vast improvement over the earlier ones. Since they had five reels and many more paylines plus special added features like free spins and bonus games, there were many more ways to win.
Meanwhile, the expansion of casino gambling in Las Vegas, including new mega resorts with every amenity imaginable, inspired a similar development in Australia. Wrest Point, the first legal casino in Australia, opened in Tasmania in 1973. Today it is still operating, along with 12 other Australian casinos, many of which are world class facilities.
The Australian Government was and still is more than merely tolerant of the growing popularity of casino gambling. It became outspokenly pro gambling once it was realised that the activity was a great source of government revenue. Accordingly, in order to protect its own interests, the government started becoming very involved in overseeing the country’s casinos.
The rules pertaining to casino gambling in Australia are relatively liberal. For example, the minimal legal age to play is only 18. By law, all land-based pokies in Australia are required to pay out a minimum of 87%. However, the average payout is around 91%.
Today Australia is home to more than 200,000 land-based pokies. Besides being omnipresent in pubs and clubs all over the country, there are many more in 12 of Australia’s 13 legal casinos. Only Casino Canberra has table games only and no pokies. The following is a brief description of what each of the other Australian casinos has to offer pokies players.
- Wrest Point Hotel Casino (Tasmania)
Wrest Point, established in 1973, has the distinction of being Australia’s first casino. It has 737 pokies, with denominations ranging from 1 cent to $1.
- Country Club Casino (Tasmania)
This casino is located in a beautiful country setting with a golf course, spa, and other amenities. It has 534 pokies, but unlike most Australian casinos, is not open 24/7. Its hours of operation are Sunday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m.
- Crown Casino and Entertainment Complex (Melbourne)
The Crown name is very well known in Australia, and the Crown Casino in Melbourne is the largest casino in the country. It is very popular with Australians and international visitors alike. The massive 24/7 casino includes a huge selection of pokies and extensive VIP facilities catering to high rollers.
- Crown Casino (Perth)
This 24/7 casino has over 2,000 pokies. High rollers can play in their own private gaming area called the Pearl Room. This facility participates in the same loyalty rewards program as the Melbourne facility.
- Star Casino (Sydney)
This world class 24/7 casino is Australia’s second largest. It has an international clientele and caters to high rollers. The ground floor houses 1,500 electronic games, while the second floor contains the Sovereign, an exclusive VIP room.
- City Tattersalls Club Casino (Sydney)
This casino has no table games at all, but over 400 pokies, consisting almost exclusively of games from Australian developers Aristocrat and Ainsworth. The casino is open from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. and caters to casual players.
- SKYCITY Casino (Darwin)
This casino offers over 750 pokies and caters to all levels of players. The pokies area is open 24/7.
- Adelaide Casino (Adelaide)
Adelaide is a luxurious 24/7 casino in South Australia. It has over 1,000 pokies and an invitation-only separate high limit playing room.
- Jupiters Casino (Broadbeach)
This 24/7 casino offers 1,400+ pokies and two private gaming rooms for VIPs.
- Treasury Casino (Brisbane)
This 3 level casino located in a historical site offers more than 1,300 pokies, including both classics and new games. The casino welcomes all levels of gamblers from casual players to high rollers.
- Reef Casino (Cairns)
This casino in the luxurious Pullman Hotel attracts many international visitors due to its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. The casino offers 500+ pokies and video poker games and is open Sunday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 am.
- Lasseter’s Hotel Casino (Alice Springs)
This casino located in the Australian Outback has 900 pokies. The pokies in this casino have more of an international flavor than some of the other casinos in Australia, with many games from IGT along with the local Aristocrat games.
Australia has a booming economy so the fact that the casino gambling industry is as big as it is there makes sense. Australia is the 5th wealthiest country in the world, boasting a minimum wage of $600/week and less than a 5% unemployment rate. Most Aussies can afford to gamble and thoroughly enjoy doing so. Between 80% and 90% of the adult population gambles. Furthermore, winners have no tax worries, because in Australia, all gambling is considered recreational, so winnings are never taxed. It is no surprise that Australia has the highest rate of gambling participation of any country in the world. Australia also leads all other countries with the average per capita loss. According to The Economist, Australians spend over $20 billion per year on gambling and more than $12 billion per year on pokies alone. For many years, the Australian Government, far from being concerned, was convinced that most Australians gamble responsibly and do not lose more money than they can afford. Only in the face of mounting evidence that for many Australians, pokies are becoming a problem, has the government started being more proactive, but with little success.
In 2010 the government did introduce legislation to preset the amount of money a player was willing to lose in a single session and once that limit was reached, be locked of further play. However, vehement opposition by the hospitality industry resulted in the law being repealed. Then, in March, 2014, major features of the National Gambling Reform Act 2012 were also repealed, including the requirements for pokies to have “dynamic warnings” and for ATMs to have mandatory withdrawal limits. A new measure has been proposed to limit the maximum bet on pokies to $1 and cap hourly losses to $120, but there is little likelihood of that passing either. Some pokies machines allow players to lose more than $1,500 per hour.
Australia was one of the first countries to accept online gambling when it became an option in the 1990s. That activity temporarily came to a standstill with the passage of the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001, which made it illegal for Australian online gambling operators to offer online gambling to Australians. The only exceptions were licensed Australian dealers who were permitted to offer sports betting and lotteries in advance of the event. The reason for the law was that the government felt online gambling would be too difficult to monitor to assure that it received all of the revenue to which it was entitled. However, the law did not state that it was in any way illegal for Australians to engage in online gambling on non-Australian sites. Thus, foreign operators lost no time opening up their online gambling sites to Australian players.
Because Australia is such a lucrative market, the vast majority of overseas online gambling operators, no matter where they are located, welcome play from Australians, and many sites accept AUD as currency.
Some Australians who play online pokies miss not finding their favourite Aristocrat games that they are accustomed to playing in the brick and mortar casinos. Because Aristocrat is trying to protect its land-based business, few online casinos are allowed to offer them to Australian players. However, most Aussie players appear to have no problem finding other online pokies to their liking. Besides the utmost convenience of 24/7 availability either on the computer or on mobile devices, the payout percentages are better online (generally at least 95%) than offline. Some of the favourite online casinos among Aussie players are Spin Palace, Jackpot City, Betway, and Mansion (and many more).