Here a Pokie, There a Pokie, Everywhere a Pokie-PokieBy Ken Adams, CDC Gaming ReportsAugust 2, 2018 at 7:38 pmIn Australia slot machines are called Pokies. The name is derived from poker machines, although the name predates gaming machines that actually offered poker. In 1953, Len Ainsworth started to use his dad’s company and machinery to manufacturer slot machines. The company was called Aristocrat. Ainsworth’s process was more efficient than other small manufacturers. He offered to make the games for them and many accepted the deal and in time Ainsworth was distributing games under five or six different names. The company no longer builds games for other companies, but it continues to produce its own games. Today, Aristocrat is the largest manufacturer and distributor of gaming machines in Australia, and Australia is a good place to sell pokies.Australia only has 24 million people, but it has 196,000 pokie machines and 183,000 of those machines are in clubs and pubs. The clubs are an important part of Australian culture. They support professional sports and they are big business for slot manufacturers; clubs associated with the Australian Football League reported $100 million in pokie revenue in 2017. The Australian situation is unlike most other countries and it has led to the development of a unique game type – the multi-line, multi-coin game. Australians visit their club or pub many times a week, sometimes daily. Because of the frequency of their play, regulars become bored with any game very quickly. That situation forced Aristocrat and other slot companies to continually develop new games; each new generation of game had to provide a higher level of excitement. Since the first multi-line, multi-coin pokie was first introduced in the 1990s, the games have become ever more complex, allowing bettors to place multiple wagers on a matrix of possibilities. Pokies, driven as they were to provide more excitement, betting options and speed of play, have become the center of an ongoing controversy in Australia.Pokies are lightening rods for public criticism. No story about gaming in Australia is complete without a reference to the terrible addicting power of pokies. The stories often claim both Australians and their governments are addicted to those exciting, fast action and lucrative games. Pokies are not the only place Australians go to place a bet; Australians probably gamble more per person than any other people in the world. Horse racing, lotteries and casinos do very well and provide the individual states and the national government with very healthy tax revenues. In general the national and local governments have been very supportive and encouraging to new casino developments. But the proposals and discussions are nearly always high jacked by opponents of pokies. One politician in particular, Nick Xenophon, has made a career out of opposition to pokies and by association, any other form of gambling. “Anti-pokie Nick” and his supporters in the media are fond of citing some dismal facts and anecdotes in support of their argument. Some examples are: “Australia has 0.3% of the world’s population but 6% of its conventional gaming machines and 18% of its poker machines; Victorians have recorded a loss of almost $2.7 billion on pokie machines in the last financial year; Mr. Van Duinen, a builder and father, took his own life after losing hundreds of thousands of dollars and binging for one 13-hour stint playing poker machines at the Northern beaches venue.” The continual stream of stories is beginning to have an impact.The Guardian reported that pokies have become an election issue in Victoria. It stated that the Greens party would be using the issue as leverage in parliament’s negotiations with the Liberal party. The story, like the others of its kind, makes it sound as if pokies could be a deal breaker in close parliamentary voting and it well may. However thus far, the press and opposition leaders are the only ones that are giving the issue that much importance. Still, it is probably only a matter of time before pokies truly become a national issue. The industry has existed for a very long time, but as the games become more sophisticated and profitable, opposition is sure to gain strength. The situation might be comparable to the pachinko games in Japan and fixed odd betting terminals (FOBTs) in England. In both of those countries, as the games became more popular and profitable, opposition increased. And in both, the voices of dissent, which included a very vocal press and minority political parties, grew strong enough to turn the tide. Both countries have recently imposed stricter controls on the games and limited wagering.In Australia, Japan and England other forms of gambling are accepted, even embraced by the national government and the general public. Even the press and opposition parties find very little to criticize as casinos cater to a broad national and international market and lotteries and horse racing are limited in nature. It is only when a form of gaming that targets local citizens, particularly when those citizens can be characterized as poor or at risk, that serious opposition surfaces. Pokies, pachinko games and FOBTs are victims of their own success. If the games weren’t so good, so compelling and so profitable, no one notice or complain. And they never would have become a national political issue powerful enough to cause the majority and ruling party to take action against them. Len Ainsworth was just too successful and his company sold too many games to avoid the adverse scrutiny.