As simple as it may sound, the phrase pokies derives from the original name for slot machines, ‘poker machines.’ Taking the ‘pok’ from ‘poker’ and adding a bit of that affection and sense of humour that Australian and New Zealand slang is known for, the games quickly became known as pokies, which has stuck in this part of the world.
Despite other theories as to why pokies are called pokies, it is simply down to phonetics. It is interesting that the original name for a game that was clunky, heavy, and only played in certain bars of 19th century America has survived in slang form in this age of electronic gambling, online casinos and online pokies gaming machines.
In this article, we look at why pokies are called pokies, the etymology of the term pokies, and the history of gambling and slot machines.
The slot machine has seemingly been referred to as a pokie in New Zealand for as long as it has been around, with advertising from the 1900s referring to games as pokies all the way back then. The popularity of the games grew and grew, and so, the terms pokie, pokies, and online pokies have well and truly embedded themselves in the everyday vernacular of gambling slang.
The very concept of slang and slang terms will always fascinate linguists and the general public alike, as humans across the world seem to naturally have a knack for tweaking the English language to make it feel a little more unique to whatever region they live in.
Whether it’s Scots, Jamaican patois or, in this case, some good old-fashioned Kiwi slang, variants in language play a part in making national or local cultures beautifully diverse. In fact, New Zealanders referring to themselves as Kiwis is slang in itself, deriving from the country’s national bird.
Since it is not universally known that NZ pokies were once called poker machines, there are, of course, a couple of wayward theories as to how the term pokies came about.
For example, if you have only known slot machines to be played since the electronic versions entered pubs, clubs and bars in the 1960s and beyond, the act of pressing a button with one finger to spin the reels - or poking a button - could be your first thought as to why slot machines are ‘pokies.’
As you might have guessed from the history lesson above, there is no difference between pokies and slot machines. Apart from the name, the game format is exactly the same, with all variants of slot machines being known as pokies and all variants of pokies being known as slot machines in other regions.
Online pokies have come a long, long way since those days of San Francisco taverns, cigars and sticks of gum.
The history of slot machines is pivotal to the etymology of the phrase pokies.
The first slot machines emerged in the late 1800s in the United States of America via San Francisco. Charles Fey is widely regarded as the inventor of the first slot machine. His creation was known as the Liberty Bell, a very simple variation of a pokie that was set up in bars, saloons and taverns.
In those days, the prizes were a little more humble than the online casino jackpots you might see playing pokies today, with just a free drink at the bar or even a cigar being the prizes on offer. The game would evolve from a simple variant of a card game played in a machine, operated manually, to the famous fruit machines that came along during prohibition times.
Due to alcohol being illegal, the prizes would be candies, often fruit flavoured, with the corresponding fruit being displayed on the pokies rather than cards.
Slot machines did not arrive in New Zealand until 1987. Being commonly referred to as pokies, they were mainly placed in hotels and bars for their early years in the country.
Today there is a wide range of pokies that you can play online, each with its own unique set of graphics, storylines and, if you know where to look, big jackpot prizes to be won. Check our article about pokies on Guts to see a full rundown of the kind of online slot machines you can find info about our best pokies on Guts or else the best pokies providers of NZ on Guts