Pokies Facts: Everything You Need To Know Before You Spin


New Zealand only allows pokies in certain objects and for entertainment purposes. Many gamblers spend vast amounts of hard-earned money on pokies each year, and it is no wonder, since they are made exactly for that purpose.

This article will try to explain how impossible it is to beat a pokie machine; how each spin is totally random and independent from any preceding spins. Pokies are designed for the house to win. They are made to make a profit.

You Can Control Only One Thing When Playing Pokies — Yourself

Kiwis lost $941 million on pokies in 2003. Most of this money comes from poorer areas where machines are intentionally placed by the gaming industry. Many more unfortunate people are drawn to the machines hoping that they will change their lives.

About 90% of problem gamblers cite pokies as their main type of gambling. They claim that the wide availability, easy access, and low barrier to entry are all leading factors in their addiction.

The gambling industry operates behind an iron curtain, and it keeps details of the machines and the odds of winning hidden from the general public. However, in this article, we’ll try and shed some light on the workings of these machines.

But let’s start from the beginning.


When pokies were first invented, they were mechanical. Every symbol was an actual mechanical slot. Most of the older pokies had 20 stops (slots) per reel.

A problem with the older pokies is that there was a small number of combinations — around 8,000. This meant that the prizes would be relatively small, which meant that pokies weren’t that popular at their outset. Pokies were a really small percentage of the gambling tax back in those days — quite a large difference compared to today’s 50%.

The Electronic Era

When computer chips came along, the gambling industry pounced to figure out how to replace mechanical slots with digital ones. This offered them the chance to increase the number of possibilities, which also increased the value of prizes that could now be offered.

The Need For Speed


  • Today’s pokies are much much faster than its old mechanical counterparts.
  • Usually, the player can, at the very least, bet every five seconds. Regulations do not specify any minimal spin duration. However, there are murmurs of possible legislation specifying a 3.5 second spin duration.
  • If the player is wagering nine lines on a five-cent machine, and five credits per line, they’re wagering $2.25 every bet. While that doesn’t sound like much, it’s an illusion. If the machine is fast, it stacks up fast. $2.25×12 spins per minute times 60 minutes ends up at about $1620.

Betting Limits

  • Certain pokies allows you to wager as little as one credit or as much as 200 credits per spin. Depending on the type of pokie, players can wager as little as 1c or as high as $2.50. The current maximum bet in New Zealand is $2.50 on non-casino pokies.
  • Some pokies allow you to bet on multiple lines (up to 25 most of the time). If players are betting on multiple lines, they could be spending $2.50×25 per spin or much much more on casino pokies.

How Much Can I Actually Lose?

  • If you are playing on a 20c machine (which has a house edge of 5%) at the maximum bet every five seconds, you lose approximately $80/hr.
  • If you’re playing on average three hours per day, the expected loss is $240. If you play three times a week, this turns into $720; on a yearly level, that turns out to be $37,440.
  • This is compounded if you play on casino pokies, where the maximum wager can go higher than $2.50.

What You See When You’re Playing Pokies

Most of these examples are based on three-reel pokies, which tend to be rare these days. However, they’re a good example on how the whole thing works.


The Centre line pays the following way:

Three Bars 5,000
Three Cherries 1,000
Three Plums 200
Three Watermelons 100
Three Oranges 50
Three Lemons 25
Any Two Cherries 10
Any One Cherry 2

The Reels

A typical pokie has 22 symbols . However, newer pokies can have up to 90 symbols. When you press the spin button, the game plays a “reel spin” animation, but in reality, this has no effect on the result. The result is determined by the software, and the animation is purely for aesthetical enjoyment.

What You Don’t See When You’re Playing Pokies


Unlike the original mechanical pokies, new pokie machines use virtual stops and virtual reels. Furthermore, these stops and reels are stored in the software of the pokies, and they determine the number of stops that are assigned to each symbol.

Furthermore, the number of stops doesn’t actually match the number of symbols on the reels that are actually visible.

A standard three-reel pokie has 64 virtual stops per reel — the 22 symbols on the video display are actually an illusion.

Newer machines can have up to 512 virtual stops per reel. These virtual stops allows the gambling industry to program the number of stops for each symbol on each individual reel. Therefore, different reels are programmed with a different number of winning symbols.

The Infamous RNG

Pokies have a random number generator (RNG) that is calculating combinations all the time, with thousands of possibilities being generated each second. The very instant you pull the lever, the RNG has already determined the result.

For a three-reel pokie, the RNG picks three numbers; these numbers are then divided by the number of virtual stops. For example, 64-stop reel divides the number by 64.

Virtual Stops

Symbol Reel 1 Reel 2 Reel 3
Bar 4 3 1
Cherry 5 4 2
Plum 6 4 3
Watermelon 6 5 4
Orange 7 5 6
Lemon 8 6 6
Blank 28 37 42
Total 64 64 64

This basically means that the different reels have asymmetrical chances.

Reel 1 Mapping Example:

1. Bar 17. Watermelon 33. Orange 49. Plum
2. Cherry 18 Blank 34. Lemon 50. Plum
3. Blank 19. Lemon 35. Plum 51. Lemon
4. Orange 20. Orange 36. Lemon 52. Orange
5. Blank 21. Blank 37. Blank 53. Blank
6. Lemon 22. Bar 38. Blank 54. Watermelon
7. Blank 23. Blank 39. Orange 55. Blank
8. Blank 24. Cherry 40. Watermelon 56. Cherry
9. Cherry 25. Bar 41. Blank 57. Blank
10. Blank 26. Lemon 42. Blank 58. Blank
11. Blank 27. Blank 43. Lemon 59. Blank
12. Plum 28. Plum 44. Blank 60. Blank
13. Bar 29. Orange 45. Watermelon 61. Cherry
14. Blank 30. Blank 46. Blank 62. Blank
15. Blank 31. Blank 47. Lemon 63. Orange
16. Watermelon 32. Watermelon 48. Blank 64. Plum

Reel 2 Mapping Example:

1. Plum 17. Blank 33. Plum 49. Cherry
2. Blank 18 Blank 34. Blank 50. Blank
3. Blank 19. Orange 35. Blank 51. Orange
4. Orange 20. Blank 36. Blank 52. Blank
5. Blank 21. Blank 37. Blank 53. Blank
6. Lemon 22. Lemon 38. Blank 54. Blank
7. Blank 23. Blank 39. Orange 55. Plum
8. Blank 24. Blank 40. Watermelon 56. Blank
9. Blank 25. Orange 41. Lemon 57. Blank
10. Blank 26. Blank 42. Blank 58. Lemon
11. Blank 27. Blank 43. Lemon 59. Blank
12. Cherry 28. Watermelon 44. Blank 60. Watermelon
13. Blank 29. Blank 45. Blank 61. Watermelon
14. Blank 30. Orange 46. Blank 62. Blank
15. Blank 31. Blank 47. Blank 63. Blank
16. Blank 32. Bar 48. Lemon 64. Blank

Reel 3 Mapping Example:

1. Cherry 17. Blank 33. Blank 49. Cherry
2. Blank 18 Blank 34. Orange 50. Blank
3. Blank 19. Orange 35. Watermelon 51. Blank
4. Bar 20. Blank 36. Watermelon 52. Blank
5. Blank 21. Blank 37. Watermelon 53. Blank
6. Blank 22. Lemon 38. Cherry 54. Blank
7. Lemon 23. Plum 39. Blank 55. Blank
8. Watermelon 24. Blank 40. Lemon 56. Blank
9. Blank 25. Watermelon 41. Lemon 57. Lemon
10. Plum 26. Blank 42. Orange 58. Blank
11. Blank 27. Blank 43. Blank 59. Plum
12. Blank 28. Bar 44. Blank 60. Blank
13. Blank 29. Blank 45. Cherry 61. Orange
14. Bar 30. Blank 46. Blank 62. Blank
15. Orange 31. Blank 47. Blank 63. Blank
16. Blank 32. Blank 48. Plum 64. Lemon

What Happens When You Pull The Lever?

After you pull the lever, the RNG picks three numbers. These numbers are then divided by the number of virtual stops (64 in this case), and the divided number is the one that will be used in the spin.

Let’s say the RNG got 20 for reel 1, three for reel 2, and 23 for reel 3. The program then uses the mapping patterns of the reels to determine the symbols.

Spin Reel 1 Reel 2 Reel 3 Result
1. Randomly Generated Number 20 3 23 0
Symbol Orange Blank Blank

Let’s do a couple of more spins and go through this again:

Spin Reel 1 Reel 2 Reel 3 Result
1. Randomly Generated Number 20 3 23 0
Symbol Orange Blank Blank
2. Randomly Generated Number 5 12 46 0
Symbol Blank Blank Blank
3. Randomly Generated Number 26 8 19 0
Symbol Lemon Orange Cherry
4. Randomly Generated Number 32 19 49 2
Symbol Watermelon Orange Cherry

Out of those, only the fourth spin won any money, and it only won two credits. At this point, many players may start thinking illogically, start to think they’re going to be on a streak, etc. This small win is then reinvested by almost all gamblers back into the game in hopes of achieving an even bigger one.

How the Mapping Program Actually Works

The mapping program is set up in a way that, over a long period of time, all possible combinations will be hit the same number of times. This, in tandem with RNG, which picks thousands of numbers randomly each second, truly makes it possible. These two systems working together is what players see after they spin.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term

It is extremely important to realise that, in the short-term, results will vary. They can vary from paying out frequently to not at all. It is also important to realize that the pokie is never ever “due” to pay out any larger prizes. Furthermore, over a long period, results reflect the way the machine was programmed. This means that a machine is never closer to paying out one of the larger prizes whether it was spun once or a million times.

A common gambler’s fallacy is to assume that if the machine is rarely paying out, the chances that you’ll win increase. This means that no matter how long you’re playing, your chances of winning will stay the same. Because of this, there is a certain tendency in gamblers to continue playing the same machine for a longer period of time even though your chances are actually the same.


All of the aforementioned components combined with the themes, graphics, sounds, and other features created to keep players gambling longer, make pokies a highly effective and popular form of gambling — so it is not surprising why pokies account for so much of the gambling revenue.

How Are Payouts Calculated?

For a three-reel, 64-stop machine, the total possible number of results is 262,144 (64x64x64). The payout is calculated by multiplying each possible result for each winning combination by the appropriate payoff.

Let’s take three bars as an example. There are four stops on reel 1, three stops on reel 2, one stop on reel 3 (4x3x1), divide that by the total number of results (262,144) times the payout of $5,000, which equals 22.89%.

Non-casino pokies offer smaller maximum payouts, which are capped at $500 on standalone machines or $1,000 for jackpot/linked machines.

Take, for example, this “Machine A”:

Symbol Reel 1 Reel 2 Reel 3 Number of Winning Combinations Total Possible Results Winning Payout Payout Rate Odds of Results 1 in:
Bar 4 3 1 12 262,144 $5000 22.89% 21845
Cherry 5 4 2 40 262,144 $1000 15.26% 6554
Plum 6 4 3 72 262,144 $200 5.48% 3641
Watermelon 6 5 4 120 262,144 $100 4.58% 2185
Orange 7 5 6 210 262,144 $50 4.01% 1248
Lemon 8 6 6 288 262,144 $25 2.75% 910
2 Cherries 2312 262,144 $10 8.82% 113
1 Cherry 40312 262,144 $2 30.76% 7
Blanks 28 37 42
Total 64 64 64 94.55%

A simple change in the programing can dramatically decrease or increase the house edge. However, these types of changes do not necessarily improve your odds. Even though “Machine B” looks identical to “Machine A” to the naked eye, in reality, “Machine B” has a completely different number of assigned stops for many of its symbols.

Machine B:

Symbol Reel 1 Reel 2 Reel 3 Number of Winning Combinations Total Possible Results Winning Payout Payout Rate Odds of Results 1 in:
Bar 1 1 1 1 262,144 $5000 1.91% 262144
Cherry 5 4 2 40 262,144 $1000 15.26% 6554
Plum 1 1 1 1 262,144 $200 0.08% 262144
Watermelon 1 1 1 1 262,144 $100 0.04% 262144
Orange 5 5 4 100 262,144 $50 1.91% 2621
Lemon 15 16 17 4080 262,144 $25 38.91% 64
2 Cherries 2312 262,144 $10 8.82% 113
1 Cherry 40312 262,144 $2 30.76% 7
Blanks 28 37 42
Total 64 64 64 97.69%

Even though Machine B has a smaller house edge than Machine A, the chances for winning the top prizes are severely reduced, while the number of times you win $25 have been greatly increased.

“Machine C” is a good example of how pokies with large jackpot prizes work:

Symbol Reel 1 Reel 2 Reel 3 Number of Winning Combinations Total Possible Results Winning Payout Payout Rate Odds of Results 1 in:
Bar 2 1 1 2 2097152 $750000 71.54% 1048576
Cherry 4 4 2 32 2097152 $1000 1.53% 65536
Plum 4 4 3 48 2097152 $200 0.46% 43691
Watermelon 3 4 5 60 2097152 $100 0.29% 34953
Orange 4 4 5 80 2097152 $50 0.19% 26214
Lemon 8 7 7 392 2097152 $25 0.47% 5350
2 Cherries 4000 2097152 $10 1.91% 524
1 Cherry 155744 2097152 $2 14.85% 13
Blanks 103 104 105
Total 128 128 128 91.2%

These types of changes could be made to any particular stop. There are many, many different payout programs (30+), and the gambling industry determines which programs are used on which machines.

So What Are Your Actual Odds?


The way non-mechanical pokies are set up makes it hard to figure out what your actual odds of winning are due to the fact that there are reels you can and cannot see. The displays can over-rate the gambler’s chances of winning the top prizes and can under-rate the chances of winning small prizes. In addition, the spinning reel animation gives you a false impression of possible game outcomes.

The player can have a lot of smaller wins, but over time, these wins will not cover the amount spent. In addition, pokies do not provide you with any information on your odds of winning; for example, the odds of winning the highest prize can vary from 1:40,000 to 1:33,000,000.

Additional Programmed Features

Because all of the results are preprogrammed into the virtual reel, this also includes near misses — which is when winning results almost line up on the reels, but the player still doesn’t win. These misses are a tactic used by the gambling industry to foster longer playtimes. They use the “frustration theory” — when you almost fulfill a goal, but still fail, you start getting frustrated, which pumps you up and results in longer playtime.

These machines are also programmed in a way to trick the player into thinking there is skill involved. Furthermore, encouraging the player to be an active participant when playing increases the illusion that your choices mean anything, rather than it just being pure chance.

Pokies and their environment are specifically designed to make you play longer. Using red lights in casinos instead of blue due to their soothing effect. Dim lights to make you focus on the machine’s flashing lights instead of socialising (causing you to take a break from the machines). Satisfying sound effects when you win to activate your dopamine, etc.


Basically, just remember this:

Pokies are entirely random.

There is no skill involved; there is no system that works; it’s all about whether Lady Luck smiles down upon you.

The best thing you could do is know on which pokie you’re playing, what are its odds, and most importantly, when to quit.

So remember — have fun and enjoy yourself but always be responsible!

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