Gambling in the forms that we know it today came to New Zealand with the first European settlers, and during the colonial period gambling was commonplace. However, the Gambling Act of 1908 meant that the only gambling that could take place legally in New Zealand was at a racetrack. This did nothing in reality, however, to dampen the country’s enthusiasm for a punt, and betting continued to thrive both on and off course.
Racetracks remained the only venue for legal betting in New Zealand until the introduction of the TAB in 1951. This has been followed by increased liberalisation of the laws surrounding gambling and its availability, including the introduction of a state-sanctioned lottery and pokies, the opening of casinos and, finally, in the early years of this century, the advent of online casinos.
Much of the gambling activity in New Zealand takes place under the auspices of the Department of Internal Affairs, and all public gambling returns a portion of profits to the community. However innovations in technology have seen a reduction in the stranglehold the government has over the industry.
There are five major forms of gambling in New Zealand:
Racing began in New Zealand in 1835, and today is controlled by the NZ Racing Board and New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing. The country has 52 courses with over 3000 races held annually, including 145 Group & Listed races and prize money of over $50 million. Jumps racing also thrives in New Zealand and continues to be an integral part of the racing calendar. New Zealand’s Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) became the country’s sole betting operator in 1951, and pioneered off-course tote betting worldwide. A percentage of each TAB wager is returned to the racing industry.
New Zealand’s first lotteries began in 1933, but were relatively small until the introduction of the Golden Kiwi Lottery in 1961. Although more substantial, this was eventually replaced in 1987 when the New Zealand Lotteries Commission was formed, which introduced Lotto. Lotto remains popular and there are a number of variations of the game for players to choose from, such as Powerball and Big Wednesday, with tickets available online since 2008.
Pokies first appeared in New Zealand in 1991. They are operated by charitable foundations and are generally located in pubs and clubs. As of October 2014, there are 16,814 pokies in New Zealand (excluding those in casinos) located in around 1,300 venues.
New Zealand has five licensed casinos, in Christchurch (the first in the country, opened in 1994) Dunedin, Hamilton, Queenstown and Auckland (the largest). Skycity is the country’s biggest casino group and in 2013 signed a deal with the National-led government to increase the number of poker machines and gaming tables at its casino in Auckland in exchange for the building of a $402 million convention centre in the city.
In 2013, New Zealanders wagered $520 million in casinos, a quarter of the total sum bet during the year.
Despite the fact that it’s illegal to operate an online casino from within the country, it is nevertheless perfectly legal for New Zealand-based players to play at one if it’s located offshore, as is made explicit in the Gambling Act 2003: “It is not illegal for someone in New Zealand to participate in gambling over the Internet if that website is based overseas.” In addition, winnings are exempt from income tax.
That gambling remains an important part of the New Zealand psyche is evidenced by the latest available figures, for the year ended 2013, when New Zealanders spent $2.1 billion on betting, a 0.3% rise on the previous year. However, when adjusted for inflation, these figures actually show a decrease of almost 19% from the peak in 2004, with only spending on Lotto ($432 million) showing an increase in real terms on the 2004 figures.
These numbers are most significant, however, for the figures they omit, as they do not include the amounts for offshore internet-based and mobile phone betting. The latest report suggests there were about $110 million in losses in 2013 (overall wagering figures are not noted) and that 174,000 Kiwis are thought to have gambled with an offshore operator in this time.
That there has been a marked decrease (in real terms) in both the overall amount of money gambled by New Zealanders, as well as a drop in the actual dollars wagered on pokies (outside of casinos), down 0.3% from $854 million to $826 million, would seem to be accounted for by the increased betting that now takes place in offshore casinos, with online pokies now taking a substantial share of the wagers that once went to their land-based counterparts.