'One-Man One-Man': How Slot-Machines facilitate Papua New Guineans' Shifting Relations to Each Other

Anthony J. Pickles

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Before colonisation, plantations and indentured labour, Papua New Guineans did not gamble. When in 1907 indigenous peoples were found to have begun adopting the practice, it was made illegal (Australia Commonwealth 1907). Colonial authorities applied paternalistic arguments against the capabilities of ‘primitives’ to exercise self-control in the face of this exogenous vice (see Murray 1925). From that time, through independence in 1975 and until the present, most forms of gambling have remained outside the law. 1 In 2009–2010, when I conducted 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Goroka (a Highlands market town), it was Papua New Guinea’s self-confessed gambling capital: 73 per cent of people over the age of 16 gambled, mostly illegally, at cards. 2 Since their introduction, card games have remained the most pervasive and the paradigmatic form of gambling. Card gambling swept through the country with the money economy, became indigenised, morphed and transformed, turning into a daily activity for many. In this chapter I focus on slot machines, which have been operating since a private member’s bill called the Gaming Machine Act passed through the National Parliament in 1993. This piece of legislation brought Papua New Guinea’s first authority on gambling – the National Gaming Control Board – into being, and allowed them to grant a maximum of four operator’s licences (each initially giving up 50 per cent of their revenue in tax), and any number of permits to keep and run gaming machines (though these permits were subject to provincial censure). Following Australian nomenclature, slots became known locally as ‘pokies’. During my fieldwork there were five ‘pokie joints’ (a handy Australian gloss for the Tok Pisin pokie pies) dotted around the centre of Goroka, and pokies were distinguished by Gorokans against the backdrop of ever-present card gambling in interesting ways.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationQualitative Research in Gambling
Subtitle of host publicationExploring the Production and Consumption of Risk
EditorsRebecca Cassidy, Andrea Pisac, Claire Loussouarn
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9781134445851
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2013



Cite this