What We Didn’t Know about History of UK Casino Terminology

The world of gambling is incredibly huge and diverse, and it’s only getting bigger. Whether you’re gambling online or offline, there’s so much to it that it can be quite overwhelming for beginners. Part of the reason why gambling can seem intimidating is that there are all sorts of phrases and terms used that may well be unfamiliar to many. For pretty much every casino game, there’s a set vocabulary that you should master if you want to better understand how the game works and play it with more confidence. There are also terms associated with bonuses and promotions, such as no deposit bonus codes, free spins, bonus money and cashback, to name a few.

You’ll come across loads of different terms when playing casino games, many of which are quite inventive and creative. But where did they come from? Some of them in particular have quite interesting origins. Here’s a look at some gambling terms and a bit of the history behind them.

One-armed Bandits

Before online slots came around, if you wanted to spin the reels of slots, you had to make do with slot machines. The earliest versions of these were entirely physical and had a large drum with the reels on it. You would spin the reels by pulling a large lever on the side of the slot machine. These machines came to be known as one-armed bandits: the ‘one-armed’ part of the name refers to the lever, and the fact you pull it with one arm; the ‘bandit’ part came about because slot machines had a reputation for emptying players’ pockets and leaving them with no money.

Fruit Machines

Speaking of slot machines, you’ll often find them referred to as fruit machines. The reason for this is that the earliest slot machines usually had various fruits as symbols on the reels. These would include things like cherries, plums, oranges, lemons and watermelons. Fruit machines usually had three reels and pretty much no bonus features – they were all about spinning the reels and hoping for a win. You can still find fruit machines in many land-based casinos. A lot of online slots are inspired by fruit machines: they have fruit-themed symbols, three reels and few, if any, bonus features.


If you’re an underdog, it means you’re not expected to win a race or sporting event. Bets placed on the underdog tend to pay out more than bets on the favourite to win, since it’s believed the underdog has less of a chance of winning. The term dates back to the 19th century when dog fights were often held. Two dogs would be made to fight each other, with the winner the top dog and the loser the underdog. It was first used in America, though it became much more commonly used after being used by British newspapers.


In Australia, slots aren’t referred to as ‘slots’ all that often; instead, the term ‘pokie’ is used. It can refer to both physical slot machines, as well as video slot machines and online slots. The origin of this term isn’t known for certain. However, there are some ideas as to how it became so widespread. Some believe that the term originated over a hundred years ago. Around the start of the 20th century, land-based casinos were growing in popularity in Australia. Poker machines were among the first games Aussies played – poker machines were basically physical versions of online video poker games. These games were referred to as pokies. Slot machines soon became popular and were often positioned next to poker machines. It’s, therefore, assumed that people referred to slot machines as pokies simply because they were beside games already known as pokies.


If you’ve played card games at land-based casinos before, you may well have seen a shoe being used. A shoe is a device designed to hold more than one deck of cards. Most shoes can hold as many as eight decks at one time. Many casinos use shoes for card games because they reduce the amount of time between shuffles; they, therefore, allow for more hands to be played per hour. The shoe was invented in the 60s by Vegas magician John Scarne. He tried to make it legally required for casinos to use shoes, though legislation for this was never actually passed. The reason this device is called a shoe is because the earliest versions of it resembled a woman’s high-heeled shoe.


uk jackpot

If you win a jackpot, you win a game’s highest cash payout. Most games have a jackpot with an upper limit, i.e. you can’t win any higher than the set amount. For other games, however, the jackpot doesn’t have an upper limit and grows every time someone places a wager – these are known as progressive jackpots. The term ‘jackpot’ is believed to have originated in the 1870s with the poker game Jack Pots. In this game, a player would need a jacks or better to open the betting; if no one qualified, cards would be dealt again and the game’s payout would grow. The term’s made up of the words ‘jack’ (referring to the card) and ‘pot’, which is the sum of money to be won.


The term ‘pony’ is used in various British gambling communities to mean a sum of money totalling £25 in value. It’s a fairly common term that tends to be used more for sports betting than any other kind of gambling. The exact origins of ‘pony’ aren’t known for certain, though there are two theories as to where the term came from. One puts forward the idea that British soldiers returning from India would refer to £25 as a ‘pony’ since the Indian 25 rupee note had a picture of a pony on it. There’s also the theory that the origin of the term is linked with wedding carriages and horses. Many years ago, £5 notes were white and the cost of hiring a pony and wedding carriage was approximately £25. People would say they would ‘pay for the pony in white’, meaning they’d use white £5 notes to cover the costs of a wedding, including hiring a pony. Eventually, a pony came to refer to five white notes, or £25.


If you have a ‘monkey’, you have £500 on your person. This term is believed to have similar origins as the term ‘pony’. It’s thought that British soldiers who had returned from India referred to the sum of £500 as a monkey since the Indian 500 rupee note had a picture of a monkey on it.


One of the most widely played casino games is blackjack, the card comparing game where you have to get closer to 21 than the dealer without going over 21. The game was initially known as 21. American casinos wanted to promote the game to casino goers and decided to offer some bonus payouts. One of these paid out if a black jack (i.e. a jack of spades or clubs) was dealt along with an ace of spades. Even though the bonus payouts were dropped once the game became popular, the game eventually became known as blackjack and the name stuck.

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