Like in most Western countries, gambling was part and parcel of society as far back as in the 19th century when residents of New Zealand would take bets on athletic competitions and card games. As expected, the most popular thing to bet on was horseracing with the first event held in 1835, held in the Bay of Islands.
This, however, all came to a halt when met with opposition from the Protestant churches, leading to increased restrictions and a complete ban on bookmakers taking wagers on the sport. By 1910, punters would have to attend a horse-racing event if they wanted to place a bet. During this time, the game of two-up was popular among the armed forces and pakapoo among the Chinese community.
But it was later in the 1950s that the TAB was established and betting on horses was reintroduced, with 1961 marking the year that the Golden Kiwi lottery was launched. It was however in the 1980s that gambling activities really experienced a boom in New Zealand with the Lotto being introduced and electronic gaming machines or pokies, making its debut.
New Zealand Racing Board – 1950s onward
The New Zealand Racing Board (NZRB) was established by the country’s Racing Act 2003. However, the NZRB’s history actually stretches as far back as 1951. During this landmark year, the Totalisator Agency Board, or TAB as it’s more frequently referred to, was established as the then sole betting operator in the country.
What makes it so significant is that the TAB was the very first off-course totalisator service in the world at this time. The pace of the growth of the TAB as a business set records that remain unbeaten still today proving itself not only to be successful at its launch but still a powerful force at present. For decades, the TAB provided Kiwis with a fun form of betting that could also prove to be lucrative for lucky punters.
Important dates in the TAB’s history include 1967 when it took bets on the Melbourne Cup for the first time, 1981 when off-course Greyhound betting is introduced, 1992 when it starts broadcasting on television and 2009 when TAB TV is launched.
In 1996 the TAB introduced Sports Betting to New Zealanders, which today plays a major role in gambling as we know it. This has allowed Kiwis to place bets on both domestic and international sporting events, supporting grass roots sports throughout. The only reservation? Punters can only place bets on sports that are represented by National Sports Organisations, which have been approved by Sport New Zealand.
This has resulted in 32 National Sports Organisations benefiting from a percentage of turnover on levies charged. Which sport has benefited most you may ask? If you thought it was rugby, you’d be close. It’s in fact basketball, followed closely by rugby as you might’ve suspected. Today, the NZRB is primarily responsible for governing and promoting the racing industry, while running a profitable betting business to benefit racing in the long run.
Lotto – 1980s onward
On 22 July 1987, New Zealanders were found queueing at outlets to buy their very first Lotto ticket. Their motivation? A chance to pocket $360,000 in the inaugural lucky draw, likely worth double that amount today. And this was just the start of a ‘gambling’ trend that had Kiwis investing approximately $249 million in the first year alone.
Research would reveal that a third of the ticket buyers would pick their lucky numbers while the rest would be happy to take their chances with computer-generated numbers. It also showed that the bulk of the tickets were purchased on Saturdays, during the two hours preceding the draw. In September 1989, Instant Kiwi was launched, with Lotto Strike following in 1993 and Daily Keno in 1994.
By the year 2000, around 67% of the country’s population were regular partakers in the Lotto while the live draw on television attracted around 400,000 viewers. Ten years after the Lotto kicked off, over $3.75 billion had been paid out to 63.4 million winners of which 345 had cashed in on a lucky $1 million or more. Since then Powerball has also been responsible for turning 80 players into millionaires, while Strike has delivered 9 millionaires.
The biggest single payout to date? A whopping $36.1 million via the Big Wednesday jackpot, paid out in June 2009. As with other Lotteries around the globe, a percentage of the money generated by the sale of tickets go back to charities and various community, sports, film and arts organizations. In New Zealand, the amount is 20%, and the total returned to benefit these projects reached a staggering $3 billion by 2011.
Electronic Gaming Machines – 1980s
Some call them pokies; others refer to them affectionately as ‘one-arm-bandits.’ Whatever you prefer to call these electronic gaming machines, they certainly made a name for themselves after being introduced at sports clubs, hotels, chartered clubs and Returned Services Associations in 1988.
Land-Based Casinos – 1990s
It was only after the introduction of pokies machines that the New Zealand Parliament finally approved the introduction of land-based casinos in 1989. The legalization of these businesses created a whole new platform of gambling entertainment to the nation, and by the year 2003, six major land-based casinos were introduced, including two casinos in Queenstown as well as one in Christchurch, Auckland, Hamilton, and Dunedin respectively.
Not only do these casinos play host to pokies, but also to various other gambling games including table varieties like Blackjack, Baccarat, Roulette, and Poker as well as Keno and other unique games. With loyalty programs, promotions, competitions, gaming events and tournaments on the menu, these casinos have had a substantial following since.
Internet Betting – Mid-1990s
The introduction of the first online casino in 1994 changed the face of gambling worldwide. And players from New Zealand could also cash in on this easily accessible gaming platform which allowed them to place bets on pokies, scratchies, and table games online. All a player needed to do was to register an account at one of the internationally operated online casinos, log in with their unique details and then make online deposits to fund their casino accounts.
Allowing players from all corners of the globe, especially those living in remote areas, to access casino games from the comfort of their own homes or offices, meant that literally anybody could play, granted they were of the legal age. Today this has grown into a global $20 billion industry, proof that it’s a gambling recipe that works.
The Future of Gambling in New Zealand
By the year 2000, statistics showed that gambling was spread across the different avenues as follows: 35% on electronic gaming machines, 26% at casinos, 21% on Lotteries Commission games (including Daily Keno, Instant Kiwi and Lotto) and 18% on sports betting and horse racing. In economic terms, the future of this lucrative industry seems bright.
While it’s been responsible for creating jobs, it’s also making a contribution to the country’s GDP and has proven to boost the country’s tourism industry. With strict industry standards in place, New Zealand’s land-based casinos, TAB, Lotto and other legal gambling avenues are towing the line to give players the best possible experience and choice all around.