History of Gambling in New Zealand

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Melike

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Last update: 14 Dec 2023, 15:02

History of Gambling in New Zealand

New Zealand is among the most popular markets for gambling these days. The true casino experience and thrill are a sight to behold. This comes as no surprise considering the fact that its history of gambling begins way back in the era of the indigenous people. 

As a way to help you get more familiar with these games and the industry, we decided to travel back in time and provide you with a small history lesson. Not only will we trace back the beginnings of gambling in New Zealand but we’ll also take a look at what the future holds. 

Indigenous Practices: Māori Culture and Traditional Games of Chance

The practice of playing these games starts with the Māori, indigenous Polynesian people in mainland New Zealand. History tells us that they arrived in New Zealand sometime between 1320 and 1350. Games have always been a big part of their culture as they helped them develop new skills. 

These people even have a god that personifies enjoyment – Rēhia. Descendants of the Māori still enjoy these games to this day and they constantly claim that they help them stay connected to their ancestors. 

As time went on and the world was getting closer to each other, European explorers had their first contact with the Māori somewhere around the 18th century. Their contact allowed the Māori to benefit from various trades and technological tools. 

One of those tools were the European games. This is when the indigenous people first learned about the gambling industry. Now, gambling back then was not as advanced. There were just a few classics 

Evolution of Gambling Culture

One of the explorers that ventured into adventures in the Pacific was James Cook. His story is subject to quite a lot of debate as some would claim that it is a violent one. Cook is known as the first person to make a successful circumnavigation in New Zealand.
One of the things that he shared with the indigenous people in New Zealand was actually related to gambling. However, it was not connected to casino games. Instead, Cook shared information on horse racing and its importance to the industry itself.

1770 – Cook and his endeavour arrive at Cape Turnagain and completed the circumnavigation of the North Island. This is when the explorer confirmed that the North Island is not part of Terra Australis Incognita.

1814 – After Cook introduces the world of horse racing, people started taking horses in New Zealand because they started seeing their potential. The Māori were among those people and they became involved in ownership.

1841 – The first race was held on January 25, 1841. Four horses participated in a hurdle race for a price of around NZ$20.

1842 – On January 5 and 6, 1842, New Zealand had its first-ever race meeting. It was held in Epsom, Auckland and that same year, a grand meeting also took place in Wellington. During this time, a Māori or a native race became a part of each programme.

1850s – By the start of the new decade, horse racing became so popular that people really dived into the culture. During the 1850s, New Zealanders started importing Thoroughbreds and thus, the breeding industry was born.

Lotteries and Fundraising

Over time, betting on various outcomes became a popular activity. New forms started emerging and this is when the history of gambling in New Zealand led us to the start of lotteries. At first, these lotteries were regional and hardly regulated. 

An interesting fact is that before the first lotteries in New Zealand appeared, people were actually betting overseas, illegally. One of the earliest known lotteries in the country was the National Art Union Lottery, which started operating around 1932. Its biggest drawback was the fact that the prizes were small. The main reason why the prizes were small was because these lotteries had one goal – fundraising.

The transition from Regional Lotteries to the National Golden Kiwi Lottery

Regional lotteries transitioned into the National Golden Kiwi Lottery. The first Golden Kiwi draw took place on December 12, 1961. A total of 250,000 tickets were sold within a day. The reason why the Golden Kiwi Lottery was established was to meet the increased demands for fundraising. 

Some 20 years later, the New Zealand Lotteries Commission was founded in 1987 and took the Golden Kiwi Lottery under its wing. In the same year, the Lotto was introduced to the public and that is when the popularity of Golden Kiwi started dropping down. In 1989, the Golden Kiwi Lottery was out of the picture and was “replaced” with the Instant Kiwi scratch card lottery. 

Emergence of Pokies and Land-Based Casinos

The emergence of pokie machines and legal land-based casinos was done in New Zealand much later than you might have imagined. Physical pokies hit the market in 1987, long after the rest of the gambling-developed world.

At the start, just a few charitable organizations used the pokies and they distributed them in just a handful of cabinets in some prominent bars, Returned Services Associations, and the lobbies of certain hotels. The legendary Aristocrat Gaming developer is the name that we connect with the first pokies in New Zealand.

Then, the breakthrough in the New Zealand gambling world happened – in 1989, the New Zealand parliament consented to the legalization of gambling organizations across the country. That meant that pokies now fell under official government regulations and were allowed to appear in casinos.

Christchurch Casino was the first land-based establishment in New Zealand and it opened in 1994. Nowadays, there are six casinos in total in the country:

  • Christchurch Casino – as mentioned, opened in 1994;
  • SkyCity Auckland – opened in 1997;
  • Grand Casino Dunedin – opened in 1999;
  • SkyCity Queenstown – opened in 2000;
  • SkyCity Hamilton – opened in 2002;
  • SkyCity Wharf – SkyCity acquired Otago Casinos Limited and rebranded the casino to SkyCity Wharf Casino in 2013

Transition to iGaming

Online pokies and casinos have been around for longer than you might have imagined. Microgaming introduced the very first online casino in the world in the mid-1990s, and that marked the start of a new era for online gambling.

In 1996, WMS Industries announced the release of the pokie Reel’ Em In – a game that opened a second screen for a bonus round, which was seen as a revolution in the iGaming world. 

Microgaming followed up again by introducing the first online jackpot pokie called Cash Splash – a game responsible for some of the biggest jackpot payouts in history!

This fast-paced evolution of the global online gambling industry and the widespread interest in it among Kiwis forced the government to intervene and regulate the market.

Legal Framework and the Gambling Act of 2003

We can say that the legal history of online gambling in New Zealand starts with the Gambling Act of 2003. This is a bill introduced in February 2002 which became the Gambling Act 2003 upon receiving Royal assent on 18 September 2003. 

The need for the Gambling Act 2003 was evident, and according to the Department of Internal Affairs, its purpose is to:

  • Control the growth of gambling in the country
  • Prevent problem gambling
  • Allow some forms of gambling 
  • Prohibit certain forms of gambling
  • Promote responsible gambling
  • Ensure the fairness of games
  • Limit criminal activities associated with gambling
  • Ensure that money generated from gambling benefits the community
  • Encourage community involvement in gambling-related decisions.

As one can imagine with government regulation, the Gambling Act 2003 is quite an extensive one, but we can break down its most crucial components into three main parts:

  1. Forms of gambling not allowed: all overseas lotteries, pokies websites, apps, casino websites, sports betting and racing websites.
  2. Lotto NZ and New Zealand Racing Board (TAB) – the only operators authorized to offer online gambling services in the country.
  3. Licenses – no companies based in New Zealand can offer online casino services.

There is no legal framework that stops Kiwis from gambling at offshore online casinos, and that is how most residents in the country play online casino games. No one can stop you from accessing international gambling sites that accept Kiwis, but you do that at your own risk.

Since you are not protected by any specific New Zealand law, if something goes wrong, there is no way you can get protection. 

Thankfully, tons of international sites are licensed by trusted regulators and that accept Kiwis, so as long as you choose such a site, you have nothing to worry about!

Predictions for the Future of Gambling in New Zealand

You might be surprised, but not much has changed in New Zealand’s iGaming scene since the introduction of the Gambling Act 2003. Therefore, one cannot help but feel that New Zealand is left behind when it comes to online gambling.

Experts in the industry warn that a change in the Gambling Act is critical, since gambling has changed so much since the release of the legislation. 

It is no longer fit to its purpose and we now see other countries moving much faster in their response to the evolving iGaming scene – most notably to prevent problem gambling. Moreover, we now see several aspects of the online casino developing that no one could have foreseen, such as:

Since the benefits of a regulated and tight online gambling scene are well-known, we sincerely hope that the New Zealand government listens to the experts and starts drafting new legislation! Until then, Kiwis can play their favourite online casino games on quality online gambling sites.

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Importance of Responsible Gambling Practices Amidst Industry Growth

Some refer to it as Safer Gambling, responsible gambling represents a set of social-responsible initiatives that promote awareness of the harms that can come with excessive gambling. In a nutshell, to gamble responsibly means to:

  • Take regular breaks;
  • Not use gambling as a source of income;
  • Gamble with money you can afford to lose;
  • Set limits

As the iGaming industry rapidly develops, it is vital for everyone – operators, regulators and punters,  to facilitate some healthy habits. The habits we mentioned above can ensure that online gambling remains a harm-resistant activity and will contribute towards your:

  • Financial protection
  • Emotional well-being
  • Social Stability

Just some of the organizations that facilitate responsible gambling in New Zealand are:

  • Problem Gambling Foundation
  • The Salvation Army
  • We Care Community Trust Limited
  • Tui Ora
  • Ministry of Health

If you feel that you are losing control over your gambling activities, then we strongly recommend that you contact any of the organizations listed above to receive comprehensive guidance on how to deal with gambling problems deal with it!

Conclusion

All in all, we can say that New Zealand’s gambling industry as a whole has come a long way, but we cannot ignore the fact that it is still a bit less than other developed countries.

There are no laws prohibiting Kiwis from betting on offshore operators, and therefore the government does not have enough statistics on how locals gamble and whether they need to be careful

One thing is for sure – the country needs new legislation, but until that happens, there are tons of options for Kiwis’ favourite online casino games! Almost all reliable operators in the world, except for New Zealand players, and the government does not prevent you from betting there!

FAQ

Is gambling legal in New Zealand?

Yes, gambling is legal in New Zealand, and you must be at least 20 years old to access land-based casinos in the country. Currently, there are more than five land-based casinos in the state.

What is the most popular form of gambling in New Zealand today?

Statistics show that lottery tickets, online scratchies and pokie machines are the most popular forms of gambling in New Zealand. When it comes to online casinos, just by looking at the games offered by offshore online casinos, it can be said that online pokie and live dealer games are popular with Kiwis

Can New Zealanders legally gamble online?

Gambling in international online casinos is no longer illegal. However, only Lotto NZ and the New Zealand Racing Board are licensed to offer online betting services within New Zealand borders.

Melike

As an engineer herself, Melike loves doing research and find fresh casinos offering sweet bonuses and promotions. She is also very keen on analytically reviewing brands and games. At her corner, she shares her experiences with casinos and slot games to our fellow Casino Bee readers.

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