Poker vs. Pokies – Aussie Online Poker’s Biggest Stumbling Block?

By Matilda Karen

Pokies Compared to Poker – What’s the Difference?

Perhaps nowhere else in the world would there be such a confusion regarding the differences between so-called ‘pokies’ and poker than Australia and New Zealand. This stems mainly from the long standing tradition of gamblers in both countries referring to the garden variety slot machine as a ‘pokie’.

This stands in stark contrast to the game of poker – the former is a slot game of chance, whereas the latter is a card game based on skill. However, those are not the only differences between the two games.

With the game of poker, we’re talking about a game that requires at least some learning and understanding of rules and gameplay. Anyone can have a go at a pokie, as there are virtually no intricate gameplay factors to take into consideration, other than knowing how the pay table works, what can trigger a bonus round and so forth.

Something else worth considering is that the game of poker does not feature a ‘house edge’, whereas pokies have a built-in house edge, usually rather substantial at that. In case you don’t know, the house edge of ‘house advantage’ is the built-in odds of the house winning – the higher the percentage, the more chance that you’ll lose.

The distinctions between poker and pokies with regards to skill levels and house edge factors are very important. Especially when it comes to those making laws in countries like Australia or New Zealand (perhaps to a lesser extent). Lawmakers need to know the differences between these two game types if Australians (in particular) have any hope of seeing online poker becoming legal.

So, Where Does the Term ‘Pokies’ Come From?

The name pokies is as old as the hills, and is essentially a colloquial or ‘slang’ term referring to slot machines. The reason for this has to do with the very first slot machines that were introduced to Australians back in the late 1800’s. These first slot machines were rather crude devices that used standard poker cards to determine wins and losses for players.

The machines were quite compact, and would usually sit on a bar counter or a table within an establishment, and contained around fifty poker cards in a ‘deck’. To play a game, a player would simply insert a penny into the machine and pull the lever to start the reels spinning. Once the reels had come to a complete stop, the player would win if the machine displayed a ‘good poker hand’. Prizes usually consisted of a free drink at the bar, free items such as cigars and so forth.

You may have noticed that the machines only contained 50 of the 52 poker cards. This was to give the establishment or ‘house’ a slight advantage over the player, hence the ‘house edge’ mentioned earlier. However, it is important to note that the game was based on pure luck of the draw (so to speak) and required no skill to play whatsoever. The fact that these early machines made use of standard poker playing cards gave rise to the name ‘poker machine’, which Aussie players eventually shortened to just ‘pokies’.

Poker vs Pokies – The Stumbling Block for Lawmakers

The distinction between the game of poker and pokie machines is very clear – poker requires skill to play, does not feature a house edge (therefore less of a ‘gamble’), and is played against other players. Pokies require no skill at all, contain an often significant house edge, and are thus riskier.

However, since Australians continue to refer to casino slot machines as pokies, the difference between the legitimate game of poker and slot machines becomes blurred. This presents a significant stumbling block towards Australian lawmakers legalizing online poker. Since Aussie lawmakers have taken a firm stance against the legalisation of online slot machines, when they hear the word ‘poker’, they immediately confuse the two, assuming that they are one and the same. As long as this trend continues, the chances of online poker being granted legal status is dead before it even gets out of the starting blocks.

The issue has been backed up by those in the know, such as public relations expert Joseph Del Luca, who confirmed this idea on a recent PMA podcast, saying: “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.”

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