Five Drums and 50 Playing Cards

Before video poker became an ever-present in TABs across Oz, a pair of businessman from New York devised a machine housing five drums. On those five drums were printed 50 playing cards that stopped on various combos as the drums spun. However, it wasn't until four years later, in 1895, that the first machine emerged which resembled, in part, today's pokie machines.

The Liberty Bell Arrives

The Liberty Bell was developed by Charles Fey, whose three-reel machines featured similar playing card symbols on its reels as well as the golden Liberty Bell symbol. The Bell is a mainstay of pokies to this day. Fifteen years later, Fey upgraded his machine by bringing out the Operator Bell, and the machine features many of the fruit icons that you still find on pokies today.

Cherries, lemons and plums were all featured on the original machine, and in fact, the presence of fruit symbols was down to prohibitive laws in the USA. With gambling frowned upon, machines paid out flavoured chewing gum instead of cash, depending on what fruit symbols you lined up on the reels.

Pokies Hit Australia

After Australia legalised pokies in 1956, NSW pubs saw an influx of pokie machines and they soon spread across the country. NSW still boasts the largest number of pokies in Oz.

Aristocrat Leisure was formed in NSW in 1953 to provide pokie machines across Oz. Aristocrat still produces land-based and online pokie games, and in 205 the Aussie firm took over American manufacturer Video Gaming in a deal worth $1.3 billion. In the process, Aristocrat tripled its pokie machines tally in North America.

The Rise of Electromechanical Machines

The next developmental leap in the history of pokies came in the early 1960s with the arrival of Money Honey, a machine featuring a motor and electronic “hopper” which allowed for bigger prize payouts. So big were the jackpots paid out by Money Honey, and its younger sister, Big Bertha, that a human attendant had to sit by the machine overseeing payouts.

Big Bertha, as the name suggests, was a two-tonne monster that sat in the lobbies of major Vegas casinos. It cost $150,000 to build and featured 160 (yep, 160!) symbols on its eight reels.

Video Pokie Machines Arrive

Australia's first legal casino offering pokies was opened in Tasmania in 1973, and two years later the arrival of the first video poker machines signalled a new revolution in games for the world. Fortune Coin featured a video screen so players could see the symbols on-screen, and the game also included the world's first Random Number Generator.

However, it wasn't until the 1980s when first, IGT's Megabucks introduced the idea of progressive jackpots to the world, and their Wheel of Fortune pokie gave gamblers the chance to win huge bonus jackpots on the spin of a wheel. Bally later joined the party with video pokies featuring bonus rounds and free spins.

The Birth of Online Pokies

Microgaming launched the first online pokie for real money in the mid-1990s. Based on classic three-reel pokies from Vegas casinos, the game meant that players could enjoy pokies from the comfort of their own front room. The game only had a Spin button and a slider to choose your stake, but it wouldn't be long before major players like Playtech and Cryptologic were developing their own Internet pokies.

Fifteen years is a long time in online gambling. In 2014, players in Oz can now enjoy everything, from the most basic classic three-reel pokies based on big land-based machines to the latest i-Slots which give players a more interactive experience.

Big-movie tie-ins with firms like Marvel feature video cutaway sequences, multi-layered bonus features, and massive progressive jackpots gathered from bets across multiple casinos.

It means the jackpots seen online today can eclipse those seen in your average Aussie land-based casino. Anonymous winners sitting in their pyjamas at home can take down jackpots worth millions of bucks, all without leaving their home.

And because online casinos don't have the overheads of their big land-based counterparts, the RTP (Return to Player) percentages seen on online pokies is often far better.

The Future of Pokies

Online gambling in Australia is governed by the Interactive Gambling Act (2001). It became illegal for Internet gaming sites to offer real-money gambling to Aussies. However, many overseas rooms continue to offer pokies and other games without prosecution.

However, with Australia boasting some of the highest pokie-per-capita rates in the world, and crackdowns on problem gambling across the country being waged in various states, the future of pokie machines in Oz is definitely not certain.

Related pages

Learn more about pokies online below