Whatever you call them – pokies, slots, one-armed bandits or fruit machines – we’re talking about the most popular gambling machines out there. Pokies make up about 70% of the business of most casinos.
Pokies are especially popular here in Australia, where they have found a home in sports, social and RSL clubs. In 1999 the Australian Productivity Commission counted 180,000 poker machines in Australia (half of them in New South Wales) – that’s a fifth of all the pokies in the world!
Make a trip to the Liberty Belle Saloon & Restaurant in Reno, Nevada, and you can put your hand on the worn metal of the first of the pokies: Charles Fey’s Liberty Bell, the simple mechanical gaming machine that started something huge. He released his machine in 1887, and within a couple of decades there were similar mechanical gamblers in cigar shops, saloons and barber’s shops across America.
Fey’s machine featured five each of horseshoe, diamond, spade, heart and bell symbols on three drums that were set spinning by the action of the handle. The grand prize was ten nickels – for three bells in a row.
You can start to see where the names come from. The bandit is one-armed because of the lever on one side (and because he takes your money!). The slot machine is so called for the simple currency detector that takes your coin.
They became fruit machines when the Bell-Fruit Gum Company used the same mechanism for their product’s vending machines (the melon and cherry symbols, still popular today, first made their appearances in these gum vending machines).
Here in Australia we call them pokies after the generation of poker machines that followed Sittman and Pitt’s first five-drum machine, developed in Brooklyn in 1891. Instantly popular, the poker machines let players make a poker hand from the symbols on the five drums, with the house paying prizes that varied according to the player’s hand.
Interestingly, it wasn’t the machine that paid out, but the venue, and so the prizes changed from bar to club to cigar shop – a pair might get you a beer in one place, and a royal flush could see you walking out of the cigar shop with a box of Cuba’s finest.
The trouble with the five-reel machine was that it was much less reliable than the three-reel. The problem with the three-reel is that the possible outcomes are cubic: that is to say that with three reels featuring ten symbols each, the number of possible results is ten times ten times ten – one thousand.
With only a thousand possible outcomes, the machine would not make any money for its owner if it featured any more than a single winning combination of 1000 times the bet. That gives you a machine with a small prize that comes up once in a thousand spins.
It’s not just a bad bet, but a boring game, too. The solution came with ‘virtual stops’, developed in the eighties, when pokies went electronic. With as many as 256 virtual stops on a wheel, the odds of a win were reduced, and the prizes offered by gaming companies rocketed accordingly.
The long-standing record for a single-dollar pokies win is $65,093 (in Reno in 1973), but with bigger bets and progressive machines, prizes of more than a million dollars have been around since 2001.
With the advent of microprocessors, pokies have continued to grow in sophistication, and started to include extra features – games within the game – that let players double up their winnings.
Even more than computerised gaming machines, online gambling has transformed pokies: online casinos now offers hundreds of pokies to suit all tastes and budgets, and they have continued to innovate as aggressively with their pokies as they have with every other aspect of the online gambling experience.
Whatever your preferences might be, there is an online pokie out there for you. Even better, the margins can be tighter on an online pokie, so they will typically feature less of a house edge.
So, our first tip for winning at pokies is this: play pokies online. Your chances of winning something on a given spin will go up from about 90% to as much as 97%, depending on the game and the casino. Because of the enormous range of pokies available out there, the rest of our tips will be general.
Each online pokie will be different (it’s a competitive market!), and online casinos provide all the information you will need. Here we’ve given you a run-down of the basic factors, to help you root out the games that are right for you:
Online casinos have come a long way in a few short years – there is a more massive choice online for gamblers than there has ever been, and gamers in Australia are perfectly placed to take advantage of the newest games and the best offers.
The online casinos have been quick to recognise the popularity of pokies in Australia, and there is no shortage of sites that cater specifically to customers here. Because of the wide choice of pokies available, we recommend this: take a little time to find an online casino that suits you. You want to be gambling in a well laid out, safe and convenient online environment. Below we’ve listed three of the best sites we’ve come across: you could do much worse than give these a try...
Spin Palace Online Casino is an online gambling venue that has been around since 2001, and their experience shows in every aspect of the site. Powered by Microgaming, this is a site that looks great and that runs the newest, glossiest pokies smoothly.
You’ll find hundreds of pokies, including the new and very impressive Lord of the Rings pokie: The Fellowship of the Ring, and the progressive hit, Mega Moolah. All the games are well supported on the site, and Spin Palace offer live technical support 24 hours a day, every day.
Also impressive is the Spin Palace loyalty scheme: the rewards for working your way up to a Platinum membership are considerable, and you earn loyalty points with every game you play.
Head over to Jackpot City Online Casino for a really tempting sign-up bonus as a new player – the casino will match as much as AU$500 on your first couple of deposits.
Once you’re signed up, you’ll find an enormous range of some 400 pokies to choose from, with some truly huge jackpots on offer, too, across a range of a dozen of the biggest progressive pokies around. We liked their leaderboard feature for pokies players that lets you see just how well you’re doing, compared with players from all around the world.
And, with transactions going through the DataCash group, Jackpot City is one of the safest places to gamble online. You can handle all your deposits and collect all your winnings in Aussie dollars to avoid unnecessary currency charges, and a variety of cards (VISA and Mastercard amongst them) are welcomed.
At the Gaming Club Online Casino, gamblers in Australia will find a well established, slick operation that meets all of their needs and more. There is a wide range of casino games here, and hundreds of pokies to suit all tastes.
Gaming Club will match your first deposits, and they run an excellent loyalty scheme, too. Live customer support is available if anything goes wrong, but we found this to be one of the most reliable sites out there. Best of all are the weekly, monthly and special events that give players a chance to compete for credits, free pokie spins or cash prizes. This is a complete online casino experience – well worth a visit!
The casinos above offer you a taste of the venues available for online gamblers in Australia – you won’t ever be short of choice for pokies online. Be picky – you can afford to shop around for the games that offer you the best chances of a big payoff, and for the games that you enjoy playing.
Remember that there are new and innovative pokies hitting the market all the time – look out for the newest games, and for special offers on them. For instance, the Power Spins range at Jackpot City is incredibly popular, and the newest addition, Sonic 7, features a jackpot of AU$100,000.
Play progressive pokies for a chance at the biggest prizes out there. There are plenty of progressive pokies about, and a few of them offer jackpots in the millions of dollars. Someone will win the pot sooner or later, and it might just as well be you as anybody else!
It’s typically the case that you have to be playing all the paylines on a progressive pokie to be in with a chance of winning the jackpot, and that brings us to our next piece of advice: maximise your chances of winning.
The more paylines you have active, the more ways there are that you can win. But, make sure you know how much you’re betting: some pokies feature a multi-spin mode, and we recommend that you don’t commit yourself to betting more than you’re absolutely comfortable with. Pokies are supposed to be fun!
Pick the pokies that you like – no-one can tell you what you’re going to enjoy online, but when you find it, you’ll know. There’s so much choice out there that you shouldn’t have to pay to spin a pokie that you’re not having a great time playing.
Feel free to play pokies for free before you play for real. Most of the online casinos offer a chance to open just-for-fun accounts that let you get a feel of the site and its games before you deposit any money. When you do, you should make the most of new player incentives that match your first deposits, effectively letting you play on the casino’s dollar.
We’ve saved our best online pokie tip for the end, and it’s an easy one: play the double-up features on online pokies to make modest wins into big ones.
Your chances of hitting the big jackpot are quite small (that’s why the jackpot is so big!), but there’s no reason why you can’t turn ten dollars into twenty, or two hundred into four hundred, with one of the many simple double-up bonus games that online pokies offer you. Just remember that it’s about having fun, and walking away while you’re up is the best bit.