Origin of Pokies

The Pre-Cursor to the Pokie Machine

In 1891, a New York based company, Sittman and Pitt invented the pre-cursor to the pokie machine. The game was based on poker, consisting of five drums and using 50 playing cards (a deck of cards with the ten of spades and jack of hearts removed). Players inserted money into a pokie and pulled a lever to begin the drums spinning. The aim was for the cards to land on a good poker hand. There was no payout system in these machines and payments would depend on the establishment where the machine was, for example, you may win a free beer or cigars.

The First Pokie Machine – The Liberty Bell

In 1895, the first pokies machine was invented. Charles Fey, a car mechanic from San Francisco invented the machine which he called the Liberty Bell, as a reference to the symbols on his reels. The Liberty Bell consisted of three reels, each containing ten symbols. These symbols were the horseshoe, spade, heart, diamond and liberty bell. Players inserted a coin into the machine and pulled the long lever that began the reels spinning. A payout was made if any of the same symbols lined up and the largest payout was achieved if three liberty bells lined up – a payment of ten nickels.

The Operator Bell

The Liberty Bell machine became hugely popular and Charles Fey continued to produce them himself. In 1907, Herbert Mills an arcade machine manufacturer from Chicago, developed the Operator Bell. These machines were based on the Liberty Bell and were the first machines to use fruit as symbols.

Bell Fruit Gum Pokie Machines

A number of pokie machines were developed that used fruit as symbols. Many of these awarded prizes of fruit-flavored chewing gum as a way to avoid laws against gambling that were already present in many states of the US. An early logo from the Bell Fruit Gum company was the BAR and this symbol can now commonly be found in more modern pokie machines. Cherry and lemon symbols that are commonly associated with pokie machines are derived from these pokies.

Electronic Pokie Machines

In 1963, Bally, a pinball machine manufacturer, produced the first electromechanical pokie machine. This machine was powered by electricity and contained sound effects. It was also the first machine to contain a hopper – the holder into which coins are paid out. For the first time an assistant was not needed to help operate the machine. In 1970, they created a machine with a hopper that was large enough to hold dollar coins. This was the beginning of large payouts. Around this time, Bally also hired a computer programmer named Inge Telnaes to create a program that could increase the payouts to the player without reducing the profits for the company. He designed the random number generator (RNG) which is still used widely today. The RNG rotates through numbers on imaginary reels in a random fashion.

In 1975, video pokie machines were first introduced in Las Vegas. These original machines did not prove to be as successful as they might have been as patrons simply did not trust the technology. If they couldn't physically see the reels spinning, they felt they were being cheated. It was not until the 1980s that the video pokie machine began to become popular and their popularity has grown immensely since then.

The Modern Pokie Machines

Modern pokie machines are based on the concept of the original pokie machines, but new technology has allowed for far more opportunities. Today's pokie machines also consist of reels with symbols that need to line up in particular combinations in order for a player to win. Players insert their coins into the machine and instead of pulling the lever, they press the button to start the reels spinning. Modern pokie machines are based on themes and the symbols displayed on the reels support these themes. You can find themes about anything from super heroes to casino games, ancient worlds to cartoons. Typically you can find three reel or five reel games, although seven reels are not uncommon. You also find wild symbols, multipliers, bonus symbols and more. With modern technology, pokie machines can be linked within a casino or even between casinos making the jackpots from progressive machines bigger than ever. Software developers are coming up with newer and more exciting pokie options all the time.

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