Are Pokies on the Way Out?

For anyone of a certain age, pokies are part and parcel of our daily life. In the same way that adverts for the Lottery are integral to our national consciousness, the presence of pokies in the hallways of bars, clubs and hotels is something we just grow up taking for granted.



But increasingly, what for many would have once have been unimaginable is now an all-too glaring reality – Pokies are disappearing.

Official Department for Internal Affairs figures show that in 2013 pub and bar (not club) pokies contributed $NZ 249 million to good causes out of a total take of $NZ 594. Pokies are not just something that twinkles away in the quieter corners of those establishments, they have become part and parcel of the way the whole economy functions.

But government statistics released in July of this year show that the number of pokies in New Zealand have been in steady decline. Since their number peaked in June 2002 at 25,221 the number of licensed machines has been showing a slow but inexorable month-on-month decline. As of July this year, the figure stood at 16,579. That represents a reduction of almost 35%.

The reasons for those disappearing pokies are, inevitably not straightforward. A lessening in the trade passing through pub doors is bound to be one significant factor. More energetic drink driving enforcement is only one of the factors currently seeing the overall numbers of pub goers decline. Fewer punters equate to lower revenues and insufficient players to justify the necessary grade 4 gaming licence fee.

Digital upturn

But despite the diminishing presence of physical pokies machines there is an upside to the story. For all that punters are being denied access to real-life machines, there is a flourishing industry providing pokies-style games online. Even though they are far less conspicuous than the pub and club-based machines, and without the ubiquitous advertising of the lottery, players are increasingly turning to get their kicks online.

Whilst some of this may be seen as a matter of simple translation – of players moving from the real-world to cyberspace – there is evidence that the online offerings are winning over a new audience altogether. In part this is because at a single sitting a player can enjoy access to literally hundreds of different games. Barely a week goes by without a new game being announced by one of the several providers operating in the New Zealand marketplace. Such providers include online-casino, kiwi and

Choice and jackpots

As an example of the range of gaming options available it is possible play online slots on 32Red, and by selecting from a range of no fewer than 320 different games. Not only do those games differ in terms of their presentation – colourful and engaging themes are very much part of what has become an accepted gaming genre – they also differ in terms of their level of complexity and the size of their jackpots. Rather than simply being restricted to at most one or two different machines with quite modest pay-outs, online players are able to play for prizes that run to hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the time of going to press the 32Red site shows a ‘big winner’ having collected £82,494 from a slots game – equivalent to $NZ 1,897,000.

Fuelled by the rise of the smartphone, the boom in online slots is part of a wider trend that is seeing all forms of online gaming enjoy a sustained surge in growth throughout the developed world. As a whole the online gaming industry has shown double digit growth rates for the past decade, and that growth is predicted to continue well beyond 2020. That’s quite a contrast to what’s happening in bars and clubs up and down New Zealand.

Of course, playing online does not have quite the same physical sense of engagement that playing on a pokies machine generates. Who hasn’t stopped to see what the next symbol on the wheels might be at some point or other? And there remain those who are wedded to the all-too tangible sensation of pushing a chunky button or even pulling on a lever, just as there are those for whom the sound of coins clattering out into the pay-out tray out represents the essential sound-track to a good night out. But increasingly the pokies experience is migrating away from its traditional home in bars and clubs. Pokies as we know them may not be such a taken for granted part of the landscape for much longer.