How To Play And Win The Pokies

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Pokie machines are gambling terminals (physical) or programs (digital) that usually allow players to select and gamble on the desired game. 

Understanding the different types of slot machines, game fairness, origin, features, and mechanics allows you to choose the best games even when tens of thousands are presented as choices. We are here to help you learn how to play pokies, how they work, and ultimately, how to potentially win big. 

How to Play Pokie Machines: Rules Explained

To start playing pokies, you’ll first need to choose the platform – land-based casinos, game floors, pubs, and entertainment centres have physical pokie machines while online casino websites offer games in a digital format. We’ll elaborate on the differences between the two shortly. 

Unless you’re playing ticket-in slots or penny machines at your local pub, you’ll likely need to become a member of the casino you want to play in. In land-based casinos, check in at the reception table for more info. Online casinos always feature streamlined registration forms that you can fill out online. Furthermore, online casinos allow players to practice on demo slots risk-free before playing for real money. 

Lastly, you should understand how to choose the “right” pokie machine to play. If you’re not too familiar with which games are available, below are some key factors you may want to consider:

Game provider:
some of the most trustworthy pokies developers powering both brick-and-mortar and online casinos are Pragmatic Play, Hacksaw Gaming, Habanero, and NetEnt
Game category:
3-reel and 5-reel classic slots are the easiest to jump into. Other notable categories include jackpots, megaways, tumbler pokies, bonus buy slots, “book” slots, and more
Wagering limits:
if you’re playing on a budget, “penny slots” are ideal since they accept bets under NZ$ 20. High-limit pokies usually work with wagers up to, if not higher than NZ$ 200
the return-to-player score provides a theoretical approximation of the cash you’ll win. Note that RTP testing occurs over thousands of spins and doesn’t accurately portray (theoretical) returns for shorter sessions

You’ll need “credits” to place wagers. Casinos previously used “coins” but now even land-based venues have gone digital. Deposit at the cashier cage or online, and you will be able to use the money in your balance to place wagers at slot machines by using “coin” and “bet” sliders. The former increases wager costs and payouts while the latter increases bets per active payline. 

Are Brick and Mortar Pokie Machines Different from Online Pokies?

According to a 2020 report by PGL, roughly 60.03% of New Zealanders partake in gambling. With the rise of digital casinos, pokies have become more accessible than ever and are soaring in popularity among both casual and professional bettors. 

Modern casino software developers tend to supply both land-based and digital casinos with the same casino games, meaning that you can encounter the same games with the same gameplay mechanics and payout rates in both formats. 

Some brick-and-mortar pokie machines, especially the ones collecting dust in basements of old pubs, may lack modern games, and the ones available were likely not RNG-tested. 

In other words, the oldest pokie machines and games supplied by shady vendors are different from what’s typically available at legit, more established casinos. They may be untested, or even possibly rigged, not to mention dated graphics and bland themes. 

Different types of pokie machines

Reel Machines

The “vintage” slot machines with three reels, possibly modelled after the infamous “Liberty Bell”, are the simplest pokie machines. They can be found at certain land-based casinos. Players need to insert a coin and pull a lever to spin the reels. 

Reel machines typically contain 7-8 paying symbols with different payouts, and if matching symbols appear on every reel, the player wins. Hugely popular even today, many developers have created digital adaptations of classic reel machines, which are available in online casinos. 

Multi-line Pokies

Embodying the “evolution of reel machines”, multi-line pokies have 3, 5, or more reels, but more importantly, they have multiple “win lines”. 

Classic multi-line pokies can have 9, 15, or 20 lines while the modern “megaways” slots can have upward of 243. 

Megaways slots fall in a special category of multi-line pokies because a random number of paylines is selected before each spin. Ruby Play’s proprietary “Infinite Ways” line of pokies, for example, is famous for having 10,000 potential paylines.

Video Pokies

Slots with virtual animations are called video pokies. Gameplay-wise, they may fit into either reel machine or multi-line pokie categories. The main appeal of these slots is in the exciting graphics and audio effects, especially when bonus features are triggered. 


Pokies with especially high “main prizes” that can be triggered either by chance or by drawing special symbols are called jackpot pokies. All slots have a predetermined “top win”, which will instantly block all excess winnings once achieved. Jackpots are known for having significantly higher winning thresholds. 

If the size of jackpot prizes rises with every game in which a jackpot hasn’t hit yet i.e. where the jackpot increases incrementally as players contribute to a pooled prize with their bets, those pokies are called “progressive slots”. Pragmatic Play is renowned as one of the best jackpot pokie development studios with various popular hits like Gates of Olympus and Big Bass Bonanza

Pokies with Multipliers

Some games boast unique “multiplier” features, either as bonus symbols or as a mechanic triggered by certain circumstances. Multipliers typically multiply the winnings of the line they are a part of. 

When multiplier symbols persist throughout multiple spins, they are called “sticky multipliers”. If they affect all winnings, then they are “global multipliers”. 

Buy Bonus Pokies

In most pokie games, bonus features are triggered by drawing or connecting “scatter” or “bonus” symbols in a single spin. Some slots allow players to spend credits to essentially “purchase” available bonuses. 

This works by paying the required amount, typically expressed as a multiplier of the current bet, to guarantee the minimum amount of triggering symbols on the next spin. Hacksaw Gaming is famous for offering not only pokies with diverse bonus mechanics but also a standalone Buy Bonus feature for each. 

Pokie Machines Features Explained

Below is a detailed breakdown of all the features a pokie machine can have. We strongly recommend familiarizing yourself with these terms to better understand our content, paytables & rules in slot games, and how to win at pokies. 

1. Reels

Vertical lines of symbols that spin when the game is played. Penny slots and classic pokies usually have three while modern games typically feature five or more reels. 

2. Paylines

Paylines are lines connecting adjacent matching symbols into a winning combination. In terms of quantity, classic pokies may have 1 to 3 paylines; modern “basic” slots can have 9, 15, or 20 while “megaways” pokies can reach up to 117,649 different ways to win. The latter is unique because the number of active paylines changes with each spin. 

Some pokie machines may feature selectable paylines, allowing users to play with a reduced number of lines (reducing the winning odds but increasing payouts), although most modern pokies have fixed paylines. 

3. Symbols

  • Regular (paying) symbols: standard icons, usually representing poker cards (10, J, Q, and K) and main characters of the game’s theme (e.g. Poseidon, Octopus, and Dolphin in “Book of Poseidon” Pokie). They award payouts when drawn on an active payline or form blocks in “cluster pay” pokies. 
  • Wild symbols: symbols that substitute for all non-bonus symbols. In certain games, they sometimes carry multipliers, can “stick”, or move to adjacent reels. 
  • Scatter symbols: special symbols that trigger a bonus feature, usually Free Spins, Bonus Rounds, or Jackpot Rounds. They typically only need to be drawn in the same spin, not on an active payline. 
  • Multiplier symbols: they can be either unique symbols or embedded in “wilds with multipliers”, increasing the payout of winning combinations they are part of. 

4. Bonus Rounds

Special game rounds are typically triggered by drawing scatter or bonus symbols. They often provide free spins and may improve certain features, or even introduce unique reels and game mechanics (e.g. Changing Worlds feature in “Geppetto’s Toy Shop” slot activates when Wagons and Book symbols are drawn). 

5. Free Spins

A feature normally triggered by drawing scatter symbols. Players receive free spins, often in proportion to the number of bonus symbols that triggered the feature. Free spins can be re-triggered in certain pokies. 

6. Re-Spins

Re-spins are similar to free spins in that the player doesn’t pay the wager cost, but different circumstances usually trigger them. Some reels are typically held in place during re-spins, usually the ones that triggered the feature. 

7. Wheel of Fortune

A bonus round available in certain pokie games comprised of a wheel divided into several sections with rewards proportionate to the player’s wager. Simpler WoF features award only one prize while progressive wheels may feature “level up” positions, triggering a re-spin with increased prizes. 

8. Jackpots

  • Fixed jackpots: offers 1-4 jackpot prizes (e.g. Mini, Minor, Major, and Grand) with a pre-determined maximum win. 
  • Progressive jackpots: jackpot payouts increase every time the game is played and the jackpot isn’t won. 

9. Gamble Feature

An optional feature that allows players to stake their last win in a double-or-nothing minigame, typically a card-guessing game. If the gamble is won, the player can withdraw doubled winnings or continue gambling, usually until reaching up to 32x or 64x of the initial stake. 

10. Autoplay

This feature enables players to set the machine to automatically play through the desired number of spins (at the same wager). 

11. Multipliers

Unlike multiplier symbols, some pokies have multiplier features (e.g. Pragmatic Play’s “Candy Blitz”) that apply multipliers on all wins rather than specific winning combinations. 

12. Cascading Reels

Pokies with cascading or “tumbling” reels have a unique gameplay mechanic that triggers a free re-spin if at least one winning combination is achieved. The winning symbols are removed and typically replaced by the ones directly above, resulting in “cascading” wins. 

13. Retriggering

Certain pokie features may be retriggered, typically by fulfilling the same conditions, such as drawing scatter symbols. 

14. Expanding Wilds

Wild positions typically cover a single position on the playing grid. Expanding wilds make these symbols larger, usually covering the entire reel. 

15. Stacked Symbols

In certain slots, some symbols may appear stacked on the reels when drawn, helping players score additional winning combinations. Both regular and wild symbols (as well as scatters, but rarely) can come in stacks. 

16. Walking Wilds

Typically triggered by a bonus feature, walking wilds will move to adjacent reels between spins, becoming “sticky” until they leave the left or right-most reel. 

17. Cluster Pays

Some pokies have no paylines and instead utilize the “cluster pays” system. In such games, wins are formed when identical symbols are clustered together, usually in blocks of at least 5+ symbols. These games tend to have an expanded playing field (e.g. 7×7 instead of the classic 3×5). 

18. Pick-me Bonuses

Interactive bonuses where players tap symbols/objects to reveal instant prizes. 

19. Nudges and Holds

Features that tilt or hold certain reels, typically triggered under specific circumstances or in a bonus round, manipulate the reels in the player’s favor.

20. Win Both Ways

In most pokies, lines pay from left to right. Slots based on the “win-both-ways” system ignore this rule and award payouts on either side of active paylines. 

21. Random Triggers

Randomly activated features that can trigger with any spin, such as spawning additional wilds or awarding multipliers. 

Risk of Playing Pokie Machines

Pokie machines are purposefully designed to be not only exciting gameplay-wise but also visually stimulating. The flashy lights and fanfare whenever a “big win” is scored are meant to inspire a sense of fulfilment as if you “beat the machine in its own game”. 

The interactive features such as the “pick-me” bonus are meant to keep players occupied by giving them more options than simply pressing buttons to spin the reels. 

This, sadly, poses a risk to people, even those who are not prone to addictions. Many pokies will consistently allow you to draw scatter symbols to “hook you” into playing until you finally draw enough to get to the bonus round. 

And then there’s the convenience of online gambling from the comfort of your home. People can enjoy their favorite music, grab a snack, and spin the reels in a leisurely setting, almost forgetting that they’re putting real money on the line and not simply “gaming”. 

Even though problem gambling is far from prominent in New Zealand (according to NZCT’s 2021 report), we still urge you to seek help from trustworthy authorities like Gambling Helpline NZ or the New Zealand branch of the Problem Gambling Foundation if you feel like you are losing control of your gaming habits. 

Tips for Winning on Pokie Machines

Below are some of the main “behind the scenes” pokie mechanics that explain how slots pay out rather than how they’re designed gameplay-wise. Use these tips to come up with a strategy that fits your playstyle, budget, and preferred pokie games. 

  • Look for pokie machines with RTP over 95%
  • One of the first things you need to understand about winning on pokie machines is how RTP scores (return-to-player) work. Reputable i-gaming studios test all games before releasing them by simulating countless spins at different bets and coin sizes. 
  • The industry’s average is currently 95% RTP, but it is important to understand that return-to-player scores are global and apply to all the money played by all players on that specific pokie machine. Theoretically, this means that if you invest NZ$ 1,000 in a single gaming session, 95% RTP suggests you should get NZ$ 950 back, but it is possible that you can lose it all because wagers from other people are also calculated. 
  • It’s imperative to understand that RTP isn’t calculated for each spin – you cannot place all funds in one spin and expect to get most of it back. Moreover, some games have varying RTP scores that change under different circumstances (e.g. it may be higher in the Bonus Round or lower if the Buy Bonus is used).
  • Learn how pokie machine volatility works.
  • The “volatility” of the game can be described as the proportion between payout consistency and size. Most i-gaming studios rate pokie machine volatility with numbers (or “thunder” icons) ranging from 1-5 or describe textually from “low” to “very high”. 
  • The lower the volatility score is, the higher the probability of winning is, but the lower the payout rates are. 
  • Low-variance pokies are ideal for players looking to make their bonus funds cashable by pursuing the so-called “rollover requirements” (by playing). High-volatility games are the polar opposite. You will achieve wins rarely, but when you do, the payouts are supposed to be massive. 
  • How to choose pokies based on paylines & winning odds:
    • Paylines are the only lines that will connect your symbols to a win. Theoretically, the more lines a game has, the higher the odds of scoring a win should be. This is easy to understand by comparing classic 1-line penny machines with the latest “Infinite Ways” slots with 10,000+ potential paylines. 
    • When playing 1-reel slots, the only way to win is to draw three matching symbols on a single reel. This is possible but very rare, as there are usually at least 6 other symbol types, and all it takes is for one of them to appear to disrupt the line. The payouts, however, should be massive. 
    • When playing multi-line pokies, you are almost guaranteed a minor win with every spin, although it will typically be a fraction of what you wagered. With thousands of paylines, the same symbol can be used in multiple winning combinations. 
      The middle ground lies in modern variations of classic slots with 9-20 paylines. Wins are neither too rare nor too frequent, neither too huge nor pitiful. The best way to win in these pokie machines is by triggering bonus features. 

Common Myths and Misconceptions about Winning at Pokies

Many seasoned pokie players “develop” almost superstitious beliefs based on prior experiences. With the advent of the internet, local myths spread to the web like wildfire, and we’re here with a few most notorious ones. 

“Cold” machines are bound to pay out.

All pokie machines are, essentially, games of chance. Simply because a game hasn’t been paying out for a few hours does not mean it will give the next player a jackpot. 

Slots use RNG mechanics to deliver random results, but they are programmed to pay out a portion of all bets back (RTP). However, RNG tests are conducted over hundreds of thousands if not millions of spins, meaning that a cold machine may remain cold for a few more hours if not days. 

Casinos can flip a switch to manipulate payouts.

Rigging slots is nearly impossible. If you ever visited a land-based casino, you may have noticed some people tuning pokie machines – they are programmers tasked with testing the performance of the system, ensuring RNG algorithms run smoothly. 

Designing a “button” that could interfere with an almost fool-proof system based on “calculated randomness” is something modern technology has yet to discover. 

Pokie Machines at the end of the row pay the best/worst.

Some players have their preferred pokie machines, but again, they don’t like them because the games on these terminals magically pay better or worse – it is simply a habit reinforced with a subjective feeling of “luck”. All pokie machines are meant to provide equal gambling chances, although some terminals may have different games (with different RTP scores). 

Do all pokie machines use a random number generator?

Yes, all slots use RNG algorithms to generate symbol combinations and ensure fair play. Modern pokie machines are nearly impossible to rig because these random number generators are too sophisticated to be manipulated toward consistent results (in any direction). 

Do pokie machines pay out at certain times?

No, this is a long-debunked myth dismissed by players who understand how “hit frequency” works. The payout potential or winning probability is a mathematical expression of a payout chance obtained by dividing the total number of possible outcomes by possible winning combinations. 

Are online pokie machines as safe and fair as physical machines in casinos?

In short, online pokie machines developed by reputable studios are as fair and secure as physical ones in land-based casinos due to extensive RNG testing and strict licensing regulations. As mentioned, many studios supply both online and physical casinos with their games, in which case both platforms would provide identical levels of fairness and safety. 

Are Pokie winnings taxed in New Zealand?

Pokie players who enjoy gambling as a hobby are not required to pay taxes on their gambling winnings. While this is not expressly addressed in the 2003 Gambling Act or the 2007 Income Tax Act, both legislations differentiate between recreational and professional occupations and set it as the main metric for gambling tax eligibility. 

Professional gamblers earn a living by playing pokies and participating in slot tournaments. They are obliged to declare their pokie winnings in their annual tax return and are taxed based on how much they’ve earned:

  • Winnings up to NZ$ 14,000 are charged at 10.5% 
  • Winnings from NZ$ 14,001-48,000 are taxed at 17.5%
  • Winnings from NZ$ 48,001-75,000 are taxed at 30%
  • Winnings from NZ$ 75,001-180,000 are taxed at 33%
  • All winnings exceeding NZ$ 180,000 are taxed at 39%

Domestic businesses and corporations operating in the i-gaming sector are also obliged to pay company-specific taxes outlined in the Goods and Services Tax Act 1985 while offshore brands currently need to pay 15% Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Marko J

As a former Senior News Writer and Editor at Ultimate Guitar, the premier guitar site attracting over 25 million monthly visitors and boasting a community of more than 15 million registered users, I have a wealth of experience in content creation. My work has been featured in prestigious outlets such as Bloomberg, Washington Post, NY Times, Market Watch, Yahoo News, and Vsauce. I am adept at covering a wide range of topics, including in-depth analysis of casino and gambling industries.