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A poker machine is a casino gambling machine comprising three or more cylinders which spin when a button is pushed. Poker machines (or Pokies) have also been known in the past as “one arm bandits”. This is because they used to be operated by a single lever on one side of the machine. The “bandit” part of the name derived from the tendency of the player to be left penniless after playing.
Pokies contain an inbuilt detector which identifies and authorises the coin inserted by the player. Traditionally, the machines have comprised of three or more rotating cylinders decorated with various symbols, but newer models now feature a video screen emulating this. The player pushes a button causing the cylinders to spin. When the cylinders come to a stop, the combination of symbols showing on the machine determine whether or not a prize is won. Pokies are currently the most popular way of gambling in casinos and they produce around 70 per cent of the average casino’s revenue.
Charles Fey of San Francisco, California, U.S. invented the first ever poker machine in 1887. As this was obviously prior to computerised poker machine mechanisms, Fey found that it was almost impossible to base the game on poker as the number and variety of possible winning outcomes was so high that it made the payout scale too complicated. Thus, he came up with a machine comprising three spinning cylinders adorned with five different symbols – horseshoes, hearts, diamonds, spades and a Liberty Bell. This last symbol gave the machine its name. Different combinations of symbols resulted in different pay outs, the highest paying of which was three bells in a row. This machine was hugely successful and from this a booming poker machine industry was born.
The follow up to the Liberty Bell was developed by Sittman and Pitt of Brooklyn, New York, U.S. in 1891 and was a precursor to the modern slot machine. Unlike the Liberty Bell this machine was based on the game of poker and contained five drums depicting 50 different card faces. Another difference between Sittman and Pitt’s machine and the Liberty Bell was that there was no automatic payout facility on this machine. Players were entirely dependant on the goodwill of the owner of the establishment providing the poker machine, to pay out a reasonable prize. These prizes usually took the form of free drinks or cigars. The popularity of the machines soared and before long they were seen in almost every bar in New York. It was fairly common for bar owners to adjust the machines in order to reduce the likelihood of players winning. This was usually done by removing two cards, generally the ten of spades and the jack of hearts in order to reduce the odds of a royal flush. It was also common for the bar owners to re-arrange the machine’s cylinders to further reduce the chances of a win.
One variation on the theme was a machine that gave out fruity chewing gums instead of cash as winnings. These machines depicted fruit instead of playing card symbols on the reels – something which many Pokies continue with today. These machines were the first to use the now popular melon and cherry symbols as well as the BAR symbol which was a logo from the Bell-Fruit Gum Company. The payment of prizes in the form of sweets or chewing gum came about in order to circumnavigate some of America’s anti-gambling laws.
The first fully electromechanical slot machine was called Money Honey and was developed by Bally in 1963. The new electromechanical approach meant that pay outs could be awarded without the help of an attendant. This made the machine very popular and led to the increasing predominance of electronic games.
How to Play
Pokies have continued in their popularity and today there are a huge number of different varieties of machine available to play.
The majority of games have a variety of winning combination of symbols, often posted on the face of the machine. The slot machine pays the player cash or some other sort of value, such as extra games, if a player matches a combination according to the rules of the game.
There are many different kinds of gambling Pokies in places such as Las Vegas and other casinos all over the world. In recent years one of the most popular types of poker machine is the video poker machine, in which players endeavour to gain a winning poker hand.
Since the 1990s poker machines with more than once payline have grown in popularity. Where there is more than one payline, symbols that are not aligned on the main horizontal line can be used to create winning combinations. Traditional poker slots using reels commonly have either three or five paylines, while video pokies can have as many as one hundred different paylines. Most video pokies are themed, with the themes depicted by symbols, graphics and music relating to the theme – often a television programme or film.
The main difference between video slots and reel slots is in the way payouts are calculated. It is only possible to win the maximum jackpot on a reel-based poker machine if the player plays the maximum number of coins per spin. With video-based Pokies, the fixed payout values are multiplied by the number of coins per line that is being bet. This means that it is to the player’s advantage to play the maximum number of coins available on a reel poker machine, but on a video machine, the advantage lies in playing as many individual lines as possible.
Another variation, particularly popular in Australia, is the video pokie that simulates the reel pokie. These are similar to the traditional reel machines in playing style, but they allow for up to 100 multiple lines to be played and up to 3,125 multiple ways to be played.
Larger casinos offer poker machines with a variety of levels of credit required per play, with some casinos providing machines requiring a hundred dollars per play. Pokies with a high denomination per play requirement are usually roped off from the rest of the casino into an exclusive \"High Limit\" area, often with a separate team of attendants to cater to the needs of the “high roller” players.
In recent years, poker machines have become more and more sophisticated, with new machines enabling players to choose the value of the stake they play from a list of options. The stake paid by the player buys a certain number of credits and this means that the player can play high or low stake games on any of these machines, removing the need to find a poker machine with the correct denomination of credit necessary to play.
It is possible to win a Bonus in some poker machine games. Theses bonuses are awarded when a pre-ordained set of symbols appear in a winning combination. Different games offer different bonuses, with some, the bonus rounds are a number of free spins. In other games the player is offered to choose from a number of symbols, each of which represents a number of credits, revealed once the player has made their choice.
The light on the top of a poker machine is called a Candle. This light is used to alert the operator of various things, such as a need for change, or a potential malfunction of the machine.
The grouping of a number of Pokies, typically in a circle or oval is called the Carousel.
Each poker machine has a built in container which holds coins that are immediately available for pay outs. This container is called a Coin hopper. The hopper is mechanically operated, rotating coins into the coin tray when a player wins. When the coin hopper reaches a pre-determined capacity any remaining coins in the machine automatically get diverted into a drop bucket or drop box.
Both reel and video poker machines have an LED display showing the remaining credits in the machine. These displays are known as credit meters.
In circumstances when a player’s win exceeds the amount allowed in an automatic payout by the machine, a payout can be made by an attendant. This is known as a Hand pay.
Some Pokies are designed to be played while sitting at a stool. These machines are known as Low level or Slant top machines. Stand up or Upright poker machines, are, as the names suggests, designed to be played while standing.
Players using the optimal strategy in a skill-based poker machine will get a payback percentage known as Optimal play.
The line of identical symbols in a straight line or zig-zagged across the line of reels is called a Payline. The number of paylines vary between traditional spinning cylinder or reel machines and more modern video machines. Video Pokies can have up to a hundred paylines while classic reel machines generally only have up to nine.
At the point at which a player has a win, most poker machines will play loud sounds or music while the players winnings are counted out. This celebratory process is termed a Rollup.
In the event of a machine making a payout which is less than the player is due, termed as a Short pay, the player can collect the remainder of their winnings as a hand pay.
Many machines are programmed to pay out small sums of money occasionally in order to entice a player to remain playing the game. This small amount of money is called a Taste.
Older Pokies had what was termed as a Tilt switch which was used to fix any technical faults in the machine. Modern machines no longer have tilt switches but the term Tilt has remained to cover any kind of technical fault with poker machines.
Every poker machine in Australia has a table that shows the player what he will win if a certain combination of cards are shown. On older machines, the pay table is usually displayed on the face of the machine, above and below the wheels, while on modern video machines display the pay table when the player presses a corresponding button, or touches pay table on the screen.
Prior to the introduction of video pokies, all pokies used spinning mechanical cylinders to display and determine wins. The older style poker machine used five reels, but the use of three reels quickly became standard because of their increased reliability and ease of use.
These three reel machines were limited because there were only 1000 possible combinations of symbols. This meant that the rarest combination could still come up every 1000 plays, meaning that it wasn’t possible to give out huge jackpot prizes
Later models increased the number of symbols on each reel, thus increasing the number of possible combinations, but possible outcomes and jackpot sizes were still very limited.
In order to combat the randomness of combinations, poker machine manufacturers started to weight certain symbols using electronic devices in their machines. This reduced the odds of a win by making losing symbols appear on the payline more often.
A device called the Electronic Gaming Device Utilizing a Random Number Generator for Selecting the Reel Stop Positions was patented in 1984 by Inge Telnaes. The patent stated "It is important to make a machine that is perceived to present greater chances of payoff than it actually has within the legal limitations that games of chance must operate." The patent was bought by the International Gaming Technology IGT meaning that all poker machines using the device must licence the patent from IGT.
Wherever there is gambling there will be people trying to cheat the system. There were a number of ways to cheat the old style mechanical poker machine. One of these was to spin a coin with a small piece of plastic wire. The coin would be accepted and credits awarded to the player, but the spin on the coin led to it being spun into the pay out tray.
In the age of computerisation Pokies cannot be cheated in this way. Modern poker machines are all controlled by computer chips and in many casinos, no longer accept coins. A lot of the new machines are made to accept paper money or credit cards. These machines are designed with sophisticated anti-cheating and anti-counterfeiting devices, making them very difficult to defraud.
In the early days of computerised Pokies, a cheating device called the slider or monkey paw were often used to defraud the machines. This device was inserted into the machine and used to trip the pay out switch and was used by notorious poker machine cheat Tommy Glenn Carmichael. Once the manufacturers adjusted the machines to counter the device, Carmichael invented a tongue shaped device which would add credits to the machine to be collected as cash.
With more sophisticated poker machines, the method of cheating them also became more sophisticated. Poker machine cheats have been known in recent years to use microwaves to affect the machine’s computer chips or to manipulate the machine’s software in order to gain an advantage.
The laws regulating the use of gaming machines in Australia are governed by State law and so vary between States.
Pokies can be found not just in casinos in Australia, but also in pubs and clubs, depending on which state or territory you are in. The first Australian state or territory to legalise Pokies was New South Wales, when in 1956, they were made legal in all registered clubs across the state. Some have suggested that the rise of poker machines was directly related to an increase in the level of problem gambling, but the truth of this matter is still open to interpretation.
A report from the Australian Productivity Commission in 1999 said that the country had around 180,000 poker machines, and that New South Wales was home to over 50 per cent of these. That figure meant that Australia owned over a fifth of all gaming machines in the world, with around five times as many as America. This brought in revenue of over AUS $2million, more than half of the gambling revenue collected by state and territorial governments.
Rules and payouts differ between states and territories. For instance, in Queensland, Pokies must provide a return rate of 85 per cent in pubs, and 90 per cent in casinos.
In Victoria, the minimum return rate is 87 per cent in both pubs and casinos, and this state has also banned machines with support for $100 notes, except at Crown Casino, where a high-roller who has a VIP loyalty card can still insert $100 notes. A similar rule (and exception) surrounds the use of the auto-play button.
The strictest rules are in Western Australia, where Pokies are only found in Burswood casino, and even permit only certain types of machine.