Poker Vs Pokies Is Biggest Barrier to Aussie Online Poker

Pokies and poker are two different things.

Pokies refer to slot machines, games of pure luck, whether played online or live. Poker, on the other hand, is a traditional game of cards wherein players compete against each other. There is no house edge in poker, and there is more of a level of skill in determining the outcome than with most casino games.

This distinction is very important. Of course, gamblers and online casino players should know the difference. But in a larger sense, lawmakers in countries like Australia should know that pokies and poker are very different games. Clarity on the subject is likely the key to eventually legalizing online poker for Aussies.

Origins of Pokies

The urban dictionary defines “pokies” as a slang term used in Australia for gambling slot machines. Dictionary-dot-com defines a pokie as an informal short term for a poker machine.

A poker machine (shortened to pokie) is a slot machine, a coin or token-operated gambling machine. Real money online pokies are simply the electronic version of pokies.

Originally, slot machines were created in the late 1800s. They offered a way to play the traditional game of poker on a device. The compact machine could sit on a table or a bar and contained 50 of the cards in a deck. Players would pay a penny or a nickel to pull a lever that spun the reels. When they stopped, and if they showed a good poker hand, the patron in a bar would receive a free drink. But to give the house (or bar) an advantage, they used only 50 of the 52 cards. The game was based on pure luck.

Eventually, slot machine makers used different symbols: fruits, bells, bars, sevens, and sometimes horseshoes. The move gave an opportunity to present a unique product but also to appeal to players who didn’t know the makings of a good poker hand. In addition, the use of such symbols made it less obvious that the house had an edge.

Over time, as slot machine popularity increased around the world, people began to nickname them. The term “one-armed bandit” referred to the gambling nature of the machine. Some cultures assigned nicknames simply for ease of reference. The British called them fruities, Scottish called them puggies, and Americans referred to them as slots.

Players from Australia and New Zealand called them poker machines, or pokies for short. Even after the card suits had long disappeared in favor of other symbols – and the machine no longer tried to create a poker hand – the nickname stuck: pokies.

Knowing the Difference

People who regularly play the game of poker know that it is very different from any slot machine. There is no house edge in the card game, as players compete against each other. This enables them to use skills from bluffing to calculating odds to gain an edge over opponents. And it is why most people around the world have come to realize that poker is a game of skill.

However, when Aussies continue to use pokies to refer to slot machines, the differentiation between those machines and actual poker becomes blurred. It has become blurred.

Poker machines and pokies have become interchangeable terms with slot machines and slots. The actual card game of poker, then, becomes a part of that categorization. Online pokies and online poker become almost indistinguishable.

Pokies Prevent Online Poker Legalization

When Aussie lawmakers hear the term online poker, the majority of them think of online pokies. That is an immediate no from them – no to legalizing online slot machines – and they stop listening. Any proposed legislation for online poker is dead before the proposal even hits their computer screens.

We know this because public relations expert Joseph Del Luca has said as much. He has served as a mediator between lawmakers and online poker supporters in efforts to carve out online poker from the current online gambling ban via the Interactive Gambling Act. He has worked with Communications Minister Paul Fletcher for years to devise legislation to do just that.

Del Luca revealed an interesting piece of information last year, though, when appearing on the PMA Podcast. One of the primary difficulties for Del Luca in discussing online poker with legislators was “actually explaining to members of Parliament what poker is.” He continued:

“I can tell you, of probably 100 different members of Parliament that I’ve spoken to about this issue, easily over 80% of them thought when I was talking about online poker, I was talking about online pokies or poker machines or slot machines. Because being the only country in the world that calls them poker machines, there’s the correlation between the two in a lot of people’s heads, where we know them to be very, very different.”

Del Luca found that he had to start by explaining the basics to lawmakers, He laid out how poker is actually a peer-to-peer game, not one played against the house. As opposed to being a game that is mathematically programmed to lose, poker is a skill-based game in the long term. Skilled players will overcome the luck factor over time, if not most of the time.

From there, Del Luca had to explain the benefits of online poker. But the first hurdle was the most significant one, the hurdle of talking to people who didn’t know the difference between online poker and online poker.

Online Poker Advocates May Have Given Up

Over the past year or so, the pandemic has been the primary focus of lawmakers. With that in mind, there has been no progress with relation to discussing online poker legislation with members of Parliament.

A long-running thread on the Two Plus Two forum about Aussie online poker has diminished in activity over the past year or so. Those who held out some hope that Del Luca – or anyone – would make progress with pro-poker legislation seem to have given up.

It appears that anyone who chooses to fight for Australia-regulated online poker must first be willing to educate lawmakers  – and possibly the general public – about the difference between poker and pokies. Whether with a handy pamphlet or flyer, or an official document combined with an online poker proposal for Parliament, advocates will need to start the process from an elementary level.

The first lesson must be: Poker is a game of skill, and a poker machine is a gamble.


Rose Varrelli avatar
Rose Varrelli
Senior Casino & News Writer

Hi there! I’m Rose, and with nine years behind me in the iGaming industry, I craft engaging narratives at CasinoAus. My education in Communication across Europe has sharpened my skills in fintech, casino legislation, and digital marketing. Backed by a strong foundation in SEO, storytelling, and cross-cultural communication, I’m passionate about creating content that resonates globally and educates our audience.

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