Poker machines, commonly referred to as the diminutive pokies out of misplaced affection, are as ubiquitous in Australian pubs as bad cover bands, ATMs with obscene surcharges and regulars with alcoholism.
They were previously known as one-armed bandits; however, due to changes in their design, this term is now an anachronism, because they no longer have an arm, not because they’ve stopped robbing punters.
Despite the name, they bear little resemblance to the game of poker except in that they’re also a means of rapidly losing money.
Poker machines were first legalised by New South Wales in 1956, when they were placed in RSL clubs, to thank those who fought for their country by giving them the chance to lose the money they’d earned doing so. They also appeared in other registered clubs, as a means of assisting them in achieving their social benefits in an extremely antisocial manner.
Pokies were later made available in all pubs after the government deemed that venues where patrons consume beverages that reduce their capacity for reason and increase their impulsiveness were the perfect location in which to place gambling machines.
By 1999, New South Wales had roughly 10 per cent of the world’s gaming machines, according to the Productivity Commission, a statistic that caused much shock across Australia. As a result, other state governments were inspired to catch up. A few years later, governments nationwide were earning several billion dollars a year from pokies, making them the ideal bodies to regulate gaming machines.
Pokies are now available for use across much of Australia, except Western Australia, which coincidentally has a two-thirds lower rate of problem gambling.
Following innovations in game and machine design, poker machines are arguably the only computer-related field in which Australia now leads the world. The leading Australian manufacturer, Aristocrat, has been particularly successful at helping many thousands of Australians join the underclass.*
There is now approximately one poker machine per 100 people in Australia, and in recent years the industry itself has begun to acknowledge that there is a significant gambling problem in society. However, they see the problem as stemming entirely from the widespread availability of offshore internet gambling, which they want to be more tightly regulated, lest it continue to lure away their customers.
* Just so Aristocrat can’t earn even more money from a defamation suit, the Productivity Commission estimated in 2010 that there were 115,000 problem gamblers across Australia, while Aristocrat recently became the world’s largest poker machine manufacturer, so, clearly, many thousands of problem gamblers have played their machines. It’s a real Aussie success story, except for most of its customers.