The History of iGaming in New Zealand

Gambling is a popular entertainment choice among Kiwis. Although online casinos cannot operate locally, players have hundreds of offshore sites from which to choose. Technology fueled the gambling evolution from brick-and-mortar casinos to iGaming. Thanks to internet casinos, gamblers in New Zealand can bet on a wide variety of games almost anywhere. You only have to find the right gambling site, and you can easily wager on pokies, classic casino games and live dealer titles. The current gambling scene also offers the convenience of mobile games. Operators offer mobile casinos in the form of native apps or optimised websites.

Whatever your gambling needs, you can be confident a casino out there has the perfect solutions for you. provides a quick look at the various gambling options available in the country. However, it took time for the New Zealand gambling scene to get where it is. As in many countries, gambling in NZ goes back a long way. Understanding the sector’s history offers better insights into how far it has come. The following is a highlight of how different industry segments evolved.

Where It Started

Gambling in New Zealand can be traced to the early 1800s when Europeans settled into the country. Billiards, cards and dice games were the chief gambling options among the white settlers. The British brought with them the gambling culture to the colony, which was adapted across different classes. In the early settlements, gambling was popular among the male elite, the Chinese with their cultural games, like fan-tan and pakapoo, and the gold miners. Over time, people discovered that they could wager on more than games of chance.

From the early 1840s, men bet on boats, dinghies and waka that were out whale hunting. Bookmakers would set odds, while bettors staked money on the results. During whale hunting, other contests took place on the shore. These included sack racing, running, skittles and feats of strength. Gamblers could wager on these shows, as well. As colonial sporting contests increased, so did the gambling opportunities. The thriving sector attracted gambling entrepreneurs, mainly bookmakers.

Horse Racing

Betting on horse races is one of the oldest gambling markets in many countries. New Zealand is no exception. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, horse races were the biggest wagering options. Initially, horse racing betting was available of course using bookmakers. Bettors could place wagers with their preferred bookies and collect their winnings if their predictions won. In an attempt to control the industry, the government banned bookmakers in 1910. On-course betting was the only way bettors could stake money on horse races. This wagering option was available until the government introduced the Totalisator Agency Board (TAB). A totalisator is an automatic betting machine that

eliminates the need for bookies. However, even after its introduction, bookmakers continued to operate underground. They eventually run out of business as the TAB grew more popular over the years. The New Zealand Racing Board runs the sports betting organisation.


The first lottery held in New Zealand was an ‘Art Union’ in 1877. It was the Otago Art Society, which saw individuals and organisations come together to raise funds. Art Unions held draws with small prizes. Originally, the draws awarded winners with quantities of alluvial gold. By the 1920s, the industry moved to lotteries with a wide category of prizes, including houses, boats, animals, cars, and buggies. In 1935, the Golden Treasure Art Union had 200,000 tickets and a top prize of £2,000.

However, the lottery saw low returns, which led to a rise in the illegal purchase of tickets to overseas lotteries. Art Union sales continued to decline, forcing the Second Labour government to review the lottery market in the 1950s. In 1961, Kiwis got their first government lottery – the Golden Kiwi. The formation of the New Zealand Lotteries Commission enhanced the sector’s legitimacy. Lotto was the agency’s first product. It later added Instant Kiwi scratch cards, Keno, and another Lotto version called Big Wednesday. By 2008, gamblers could buy Lotto tickets online.

Pokies and Casino Games

Slot machines or pokies are the most common gambling games globally. In New Zealand, the machines were introduced in 1987. They were placed in hotel lobbies and bars to serve as entertainment. By 2008, operators were seeing a turnover of more than $10 billion from the games. In 2009, the country had a total of 19,749 machines across 1,501 venues. Since July 1, 2009, the government required pokies to include player Information Displays to encourage players to take breaks by showing them how much they spent and how long they have been playing. Christchurch was the first casino to open in New Zealand in 1994.

Industry Criticism

Gambling, even in the early ages, drew a lot of criticism. In New Zealand, it was mostly from evangelical protestants. The industry’s growth saw a surge in anti-gambling sentiment. Christians advocated for moral purity and painted gambling as morally corrupt. Women’s groups were particularly vocal in campaigning against gambling. Over time, anti-gambling movements received support from broader social and ideological sources. Chief Justice Stout and trade unionist J.A. McCullough are examples. These campaigns partly contributed to the banning of bookmakers in a bit to suppress and control the sector. Critics and tote supporters portrayed bookies in a bad light – as ‘unclean’ and dishonest. However, with time views towards gambling relaxed, especially with the introduction of housie, a game similar to bingo. Housie became popular among women, hence shifting an industry that was predominantly masculine. The government funded the Compulsive Gambling Society in 1988 to help players who fell into gambling addiction.

New Zealand might not have laws to govern the online gambling market, but that doesn’t mean it is not available to players. Due to the absence of legislation prohibiting offshore casinos, Kiwis can access numerous international gambling websites. Players must be careful, though, to use only licensed and registered online casinos. The Department of Internal Affairs oversees all gambling activities in the country.

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