Inside the Pokies

A modern poker machine is simply a computer that has been programmed to look and act like an old style machine. It's just like a computer game but you are playing with real money and there is no skill involved.

Nothing you do to the machine will improve your chances of winning. It's all down to chance, not skill or superstition.

What happens when I press the button?

  1. You press the button.
  2. The computer inside the machine completes a self-check to ensure that it's working properly.
  3. The computer starts "spinning the reels".
  4. The computer picks a "ball" at random out of a "bucket" that contains all the numbered balls for reel 1.
  5. The computer stops reel 1 at the number on the ball it pulled out of the bucket.
  6. It pulls a ball at random out of another bucket which contains all the balls for reel 2.
  7. The computer stops reel 2 at the number of the ball it pulled out of the bucket.
  8. It repeats this process for reels 3, 4 and 5 using separate buckets for each reel.
  9. Once all the reels are stopped, the computer works out if there are any wins on the lines you have gambled on.
  10. If there are wins, it pays them.
  11. If there are no wins, you lose and the computer waits for you to press the button again. All of the balls go back into their buckets for the next game.

How much money is returned to the player?

The 'Return to Player' (RTP) is the percentage of money played on a machine that will be returned over the total number of combinations on a machine. In South Australia, all new gaming machines must have an expected RTP of 87.5% or more. Don't be fooled by this. It doesn't mean that every time you play you will get 87.5% of your money back. If you could play enough games to get every possible combination of symbols (about 80 million combinations!), both winning and losing, then you could expect to get 87.5% of your bets back as winnings. The operator can count on at least 12.5% of your money.

The operator doesn't 'cheat' and the machines aren't 'rigged'. They simply have a built in advantage for the operator. Basically, there are many more losing combinations than winning ones.

Game features

Game features on a poker machine include free games, bonus feature or second screen games, scatters and substitutes. These features have been added to give you a feeling that you are getting something for nothing or a second chance to win. The thing is though, everything that happens on a poker machine is included in the calculations done by the maker of the machine. So when you believe you're getting free spins, you've paid for these through losses on the machine.

Double Up

Essentially, Double-Up and other "gamble" features allow you to quickly double your winnings or lost the lot. Unless you're prepared to lose your winnings quicker then it's best not to play Double Up. It just gives the machine another chance to take your winnings! The machine manufacturers know that many gamblers are willing to take the risk but unless you're prepared to lose the lot then think twice before you choose to Double-Up.


Jackpots are a special kind of prize that can be won on poker machines. In South Australian hotels and clubs, operators aren't allowed to link machines to offer large jackpots. 'Linked jackpots' are only available at the casino. 'Stand-alone' jackpots are smaller jackpots available on many poker machines. Stand-alone jackpot prizes increase as people play the machine. They can be won randomly, or as a result of a combination of symbols or other events. Keep in mind that jackpot prizes are not an added bonus, they're just another prize making up the 87.5% returned to players as winnings. Read more about how much is returned to the player.

Gambling strategies

Gambling on the pokies can be a fun form of entertainment as long as you stay in control and don't bet more than you planned, or more than you can afford. People gamble for many reasons and there are strategies you can use to make your experience safer and more enjoyable.

Playing to occupy time

Try playing a 1c machine that has free spins. Perhaps play as low a bet as possible. Take the time to understand the game rules. You could try playing a machine with free spins that are progressive – you earn the free spins during play, or a machine with retriggerable free spins.

Play for the excitement of second screen features

Try picking a machine with a second screen feature that's triggered often. Examine the paytable to find which machine suits you best. Often when the machine is idle it will demonstrate what the feature looks like.

Playing for the chance of winning a jackpot

On many poker machines, your chances of winning the jackpot are the same every time you push the button. Nothing will increase your chances of winning. Don't bet more because you think the jackpot is close to being won. It will probably cost you more in losses on the machine than you will get back if the jackpot does go off!

What are my chances of winning BIG?

To work out the probability of a winning combination of symbols on a pokie machine, we need to find out the probability of that symbol appearing each reel.

For our example, we look at the chance of getting the top prize (5 lighting) on our Best Bet game on page 13 of the Player Guide: Inside the Pokies (PDF 559.8 KB). Reel one from this game is shown on page 21 of the Player Guide (PDF 559.8 KB). This reel has 32 positions. On every spin there will be an equal chance of getting any of the 32 position. Many of the symbols are repeated on the reel because even though there are 32 positions, the paytable only has 12 types of symbols. That means most of the symbols will be repeated more than once on the reel.

Looking at the reel strip in the Player Guide (PDF 559.8 KB) there are two lightning on the reel strip. So this means there is a probability of 2 in 32, or 1 in 16, of getting a lightning on this reel on any spin. To find the probability of getting five lightning on any given spin, we need to know the probability of getting lightning on each of the reels. We then multiply these probabilities. Using the Best Bet game as our example, we would get a probability of 1 in 13,312,000.

That's why it is so hard to win the top prizes. The odds are clearly stacked against you: the player.

Your chances of winning the top prize on a poker machine are less than 1 in 10 MILLION. You have a better chance of being struck by lightning (1 in 1.6 million) or dying from a snake bite or sting (1 in 1 million)!

For more facts on poker machines visit the Gambling Odds, Myths and Facts page.

For more facts have a look at the Player Guide (PDF 559.8 KB) and the Pokies Booklet (PDF 102.7 KB).

Immediate help is available now. Contact the Gambling Helpline now for free and confidential support, 24/7

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