Most casino games find their way into pop culture when they are referenced in songs, movies, plays, or television shows. This is also the case with pokies. However, the opposite can also be observed here - pokies machines based on elements of pop culture.
In 1997, International Game Technology (IGT) started the trend towards pokies based on pop culture themes. The Wheel of Fortune machines were developed and licensed with reference to the popular American game show of the same name, with images and sound from the show appearing in the bonus game. In addition, celebrities are also used in license - such as a series of Elvis pokies launched in 1998.
Casino pokies all over the world make reference to popular elements from celebrity culture. After Wheel of Fortune, more pokies came on the market based on game shows like Jeopardy, American Idol, Amazing Race, Price is Right, Who Wants to be a Millionaire or Deal or No Deal. Movies also serve as the basis for pokies games, including various titles such as Forrest Gump, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Sex in the City, Scarface, Star Trek, Star Wars, Legally Blonde, Rocky and Avatar. Numerous celebrities have followed Elvis onto the pokies machines, including Marilyn Monroe, Elton John, Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson, Andre the Giant and Bruce Lee. Italian jockey Frankie Dettori and his seven winning rides in one day at Ascot served as the inspiration for the "Frankie Dettori Magic Seven" pokies machine. There are Hulkamania pokies, pokies featuring "The Hoff" (David Hasselhoff) and pokies themed around talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.
Pokies Machine Technology
Traditional Mechanical Machines
From their invention at the end of the 19th century until the early 1960s, all pokies machines basically worked in the same way. First, the player inserted a coin. This coin unlocked the lever on the side of the machine. Next, the player pulled the lever, whereupon the reels began to spin. Eventually, those reels that had images of a series of symbols on them came to a stop in order. (An early innovation caused the reels to stop in order, from left to right. This showed the player that the reels were spinning independently and increased the suspense before the outcome). Inside the reels were perforated discs that matched the symbols. When these stopped on a winning combination, the perforations lined up in a way that triggered a mechanism that paid out the winning amount in coins.
The standard three-reel pokies machine originally had ten symbols on each reel. Thus, 1,000 different combinations were possible. (10 times 10 times 10.) Another innovation in the early days was the reel with 20 symbols. Because of the 20 positions in which the reels could stop, there were 8,000 different combinations (20 by 20 by 20) for a machine with three reels. This in turn meant a much wider range of winning combinations and payouts.
During the 1960s, Bally Manufacturing began introducing pokies machines with electronic features (first in 1963 with a pokies machine called Money Honey) and other manufacturers followed suit: random number generator (RNG) instead of manually operated spinning reels, also multi-coin play and multi-line play, and video screens. Virtually all machines, including those that appear to have spinning reels, now use this more precise technology. After putting coins into the machine (or, more likely, bills or a ticket with a monetary value in the form of credits), the player sets the number of credits he wants to play for. When the player presses the button on the machine (or uses the lever that some machines have), the game processor translates the random number generator (RNG) numbers into symbols that appear on the reels.
Once the symbols appear, whether on the video screen or on the mechanical reels that stop according to the result of the random number generator, the machine pays out the applicable winning combination.
The electronic machines have renewed the pokies as a whole, although the ceremonial and tradition to which the game owes its popularity have remained the same. Firstly, despite the use of the random number generator, which immediately outputs the result, the program can imitate the look and also the sound of a conventional machine. Secondly, the random number generator enables billions of combinations and allows manufacturers to offer gigantic payouts on progressive multi-coin pokies machines (like Megabucks in Nevada, USA). Third, coins are increasingly being relegated to the background in favor of TITO (ticket-in, ticket-out) technology. This means that players no longer have to carry around coin rolls, buckets, gloves and sanitizer, but can insert tickets into the machines, which represent cash or credits. The pokies machine then adds up the credits and pays out depending on the game result. When players finish playing, they receive redeemable tickets for the remaining credits.
Legendary pokies Jackpots
The first famous pokies machine was Liberty Bell by Charles Fey in the 1890s. The maximum winning payout occurred when hitting the "Liberty Bells" on all three reels; it was 20 coins. In 1900, the machines designed by Herbert Mills allowed winning payouts of up to 100 coins, which were dispensed one by one through a tube. In 1963, the first modern pokies machine, Money Honey by Bally Manufacturing, was launched and featured electronic components and a coin magazine ("hopper") that held 2,500 coins. The development of progressive jackpots in the 1980s further increased the popularity of pokies machines. Linking payouts between machines allowed for even larger pokies jackpots. The most popular progressive pokies machine, Megabucks from International Gaming Technology (IGT), was introduced in 1986 and resulted in some of the largest pokies machine payouts. If a player put in the maximum bet of three coins and each reel landed on the "Megabucks" logo, they won the accumulated jackpot.
$5,000,000 - on February 1, 1987, Terry Williams won the first Megabucks jackpot of over $5 million at Harrah's Casino in Reno, Nevada, USA.
$4,600,000 on Mirage opening day - On November 22, 1989, Steve Wynn opened the Mirage in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, making it the first new casino on the Las Vegas Strip in nearly two decades. On opening day, Elmer Sherwin won a $4.6 million Megabucks jackpot. This gave rise to the myth that casino openings are accompanied by big pokies machine jackpots. What the myth doesn't cover, however, is the incredible luck Mr. Sherwin had at Megabucks 16 years later. Namely, on September 19, 2005, he won his second Megabucks jackpot.
$27,000,000 - On November 15, 1998, a 67-year-old retired flight attendant at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, won the first Megabucks jackpot that topped $20 million - $27,580,879.60 to be exact. The same player had previously won $680,000 on a Wheel of Fortune pokies machine at Palace Station.
$34,900,000 - On January 26, 2000, cocktail waitress Cynthia Jay won a megabucks jackpot of over $34.9 million at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Six weeks later, she suffered serious injuries (and her sister died) in a car accident. This coincidence in turn established the myth of the "Megabucks curse."
$39,000,000 - on March 21, 2003, a 25-year-old software engineer from Los Angeles won a Megabucks jackpot worth $39,710,826.36 at Excalibur in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.
$21,100,000 Second Megabucks Jackpot - On September 19, 2005, Elmer Sherwin won his second Megabucks jackpot. (His first jackpot on the Mirage's opening day in 1989 was $4.6 million). At age 92, Mr. Sherwin won the jackpot at the Cannery Casino in North Las Vegas, securing another $21.1 million.
Various Facts About Pokies Machines
In Australia and New Zealand, pokies machines are sometimes referred to as "pokies". It is an abbreviation for "Poker Machines", although the term also includes pokies machines that do not have poker as their theme. Australia is home to about 0.3% of the world's population - but also to 20% of the world's pokies machines.
pokies machines are often called "fruit machines". The name came from the early days when the reels had fruit symbols (cherries, oranges, lemons and plums). Today, the name describes all types of pokies machines and is used especially in the UK and Europe. To break Charles Fey's monopoly on American pokies machines, Herbert Mills of Chicago, USA, developed a pokies machine in 1907 that was sufficiently different from the others to obtain a separate patent. In addition to some differences in mechanics, his machine used fruit symbols on the reels instead of the playing card symbols and colors that were common at the time. In the same era, pokies machine owners, when questioned about the legality of pokies machines, claimed that they dispensed gum. The fruit symbols supposedly represented the flavors that a player could win.
An American Tradition
In 1938, a Gallup poll showed that 23% of Americans had played pokies machines. It also showed that 29% of respondents played in church lotteries, 26% played "punchboards," 19% bet on elections, 13% bought lottery tickets, and 10% bet on horse races.
The term "one-armed bandit" as a name for pokies machines is attributed to various people. One version tells of American bank robbers John Dillinger and Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd, who invented the term while playing a pokies machine. Dillinger is reported to have said, as he threw the quarters into the machine, "If you get one of these things working for you, you won't need a gun to rob anybody anymore." Floyd pulled the lever and said approvingly, "And this bandit only has one arm."
On March 14, 2001, Kirk Tolman pulled the lever of a Megabucks pokies machine in Wendover, Nevada, USA, and strung together three Megabucks logos. Unfortunately, he got distracted by a friend and played with only two coins instead of the three coins required for the jackpot. He won $10,000, but he missed out on the $7.96 million jackpot.
On March 6, 2009, Marie-Helene Jarguel put €50 into a pokies machine at the Palavas-les-Flots casino in southwestern France. Her boyfriend Francis Sune pressed the start button for luck. After 12 unsuccessful spins, they lined up 7-7-7 and won the casino's €2,200,000 megapot. After Marie-Helene Jarguel received the winning payout, she was sued by Francis Sune. In December 2009, a court in Montpellier determined that Ms. Jarguel had to give 20% of the winnings to Mr. Sune. The judges noted that "there was no legal definition of the winner of a pokies machine game.
After the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, opened in December 1993, it had a progressive pokies machine called Lion's Share, for which 50 pokies machines were combined into a single jackpot. The machines aged and were replaced by other pokies, so the meager jackpot eventually became a problem for the casino. However, since the jackpot was made up of players' money, MGM Grand had to keep offering the machine. To top it off, there was only one Lion's Share machine left in the casino and it had to rely on parts from other machines to keep running. In 2012, the machine got its own Facebook page, with "followers" from all over the world. In early 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported on the machine's stubbornness and cult status. On Aug. 23, 2014, a New Hampshire couple vacationing in Las Vegas who learned about Lion's Share online played the machine. Walter and Linda Misco hit the jackpot and won $2.4 million. This meant MGM Grand could finally retire the old-fashioned machine.
Megabucks - Twice
The most lucrative pokies jackpot in the world is Megabucks, a progressive jackpot that combines machines from all over Nevada, USA. One player has won two multi-million dollar Megabucks jackpots. Elmer Sherwin hit a $4.6 million jackpot on the Mirage's opening day in November 1989. In addition, nearly 16 years later, at the age of 92, Mr. Sherwin won a second, much larger Megabucks jackpot (over $21.1 million) at the Cannery Casino.