Why Are Pokies Called Pokies And Not Slots?

"Slot Machines” (Image credit: casinocenter.com)
“Slot Machines” (Image credit: casinocenter.com)

If you’ve ever been to Australia, or just been browsing around an online casino site, you’ve probably heard or seen the term ‘pokie’ thrown around.

If you weren’t able to figure out what the hell that means just from the context…you might be alone. Even so, we put together this guide explaining what a pokie is, isn’t, and the history of why exactly those crazy Aussies say such a thing.

What It Isn’t

For once, taking a look at UrbanDictionary when you don’t know a word isn’t going to help you here (unless you scroll way down the page). When Aussies say pokie, they, in fact, aren’t using a slang word for ‘jail’ (you can probably imagine why some people call it that), a female body part, cigarette, or for nipples poking through a shirt.

In our case, ‘pokie’ is something you shouldn’t be ashamed to say around your mother (unless perhaps she’s not a gambling fan…)

What Is A Pokie?

Ready? In Australia and New Zealand, a pokie is a…slot machine! The term is guessed to come from the pok in “poker machine” and has evolved (or devolved depending on who you ask) into the slang word, ‘pokie.’

Like gaming machines in many other places in the world, most of the pokies in Australia use video screens as opposed to actual spinning reels nowadays. In addition to casinos, pokie action can be found in Aussie pubs and clubs.

Where The Name ‘Pokie’ Came From

Since you might know that Australians seem to abbreviate everything already (good day into g’day, Australia into ‘Straya, mosquito into mozzie, etc.), it probably makes sense for the long-to-say ‘poker machine’ to be shortened into ‘pokie’. But why were these machines ever referred to as “poker machines” despite being more similar to slot machines than video poker games?

It can’t be known for sure–it’s one of those things that seemingly has just ‘always been.’ Advertising as far back as you want to look even refers to them as pokies. One theory is that in the early days of Australian casinos (around the 1900s), one of the first games was in fact a poker ‘machine’ (what they might call video poker elsewhere in the world). But as soon as slot machines started to gain popularity and be situated next to these machines, it just became easier to refer to all the gaming machines in the room as ‘pokies.’

The term has obviously stuck and even has carried over to online gambling, where all online ‘slots’ and video poker games are also called pokies.

Pokie Vs. Slot

There’s really not a big difference between pokies in Australia and New Zealand and ‘slots’ in most other places in the world (no, they aren’t strictly machines you ‘poke’ to make them spin).

That said, you might get some funny looks if you show up in Vegas or Atlantic City and start asking people things like “Where can I get a good pokie at?” or “What’s your favorite pokie to get lucky on?” On the flip side, you could probably get away with asking about slots in Oz, assuming who you are asking understands your accent and doesn’t think you are on the hunt for a similar word.

It’s hard to argue that pokie isn’t a lot more fun to say than ‘slot,’ and with the amount of Australians travelling on gap year seemingly in every corner of the world, we wouldn’t be surprised if the term started to catch on in parts, not Australia.

Other Slot Slang From Around The World

While a deck of cards is the same no matter where you go in the world, humanity has for whatever reason loved coming up with different names for electronic gambling machines. In addition to ‘slots’ and ‘pokies’, well-heeled travellers might also discover that in England these gaming devices are sometimes referred to as ‘fruit machines’; as ‘puggys’ in Scotland; and as ‘one-armed bandits’ anywhere there are people that love good old-fashioned colloquial slang.