The History of Gambling

Given that knowing your gambling history won't necessarily help you do any better at the slots or the casino tables, you may well wonder why we recommend brushing up on it. Well, if nothing else, it's useful for getting an outline of the legality of gambling for Kiwis so you can figure out where you can legally play for real money.

More than that, though, we think it can be useful to know a little more about this type of history. Gambling is a time honoured tradition in New Zealand, and a better understanding of what led us to this place can help you understand things like why certain types of real cash gaming are more popular than others that actually have better odds.

Armed with a bit of background knowledge of gambling history, you can step confidently into the world of online gambling with insider information that other players may be completely unaware of.

Various forms of gambling became popular in New Zealand ever since the first European settlers brought some card games along as a form of informal entertainment and people started betting money on the outcomes of the games. All of the games played for cash remained mainly unregulated until the Gambling Act of 1908 was passed.

Gambling was closely associated with drinking and prostitution in the early days and seen as a threat to public morality. As a result, the Gambling and Lotteries Act 1881 banned public betting even though private betting continued. Women’s groups and churches were the main opposition and from 1898 church leaders formed anti-gambling leagues in the main cities to try and ban gambling. By 1907 gambling was confined to racecourses and the Gambling Act of 1908 formalised this situation.

This is how the various forms of legal gambling further developed over the years:

  • Although informal betting took place earlier, betting on horseracing started formally in 1835 and this continued popular until the Gambling Act of 1908 was adopted. In 1910 an amendment to the Gambling and Lotteries Act 1881 banned bookmakers from racecourses and other sporting events. This meant drive off-course gambling underground until the creation of the Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) in 1951. The TAB still remains the only legal agency for betting on horse races and today it also allows online betting on the races via the Internet. The Racing Act 2003 governs all sports betting and racing.
  • Gambling through lotteries in New Zealand started in 1877, when the Otago Art Society held an ‘art union’ in New Zealand as a fund-raising mechanism. The concept of art unions came from England where it allowed people to invest a modest amount to be in the draw to win works of art. The idea was soon copied to raise funds for other causes than art. Meanwhile, informal lotteries were run by various sport clubs, businesses and others. Prizes in the 1920s included cars, boats, animals and even ‘gold nuggets’ which were actually paid out in cash. Many well-known sports facilities were financed by these lottery draws. Because the idea of gambling was not widely approved, the name ‘art union’ was also used for these lotteries, even if they had little to do with art. In 1932, the government appointed of Hammond and McArthur Company Ltd to run all lotteries on behalf of the state. These were still called art unions and profits were distributed to worthy causes. However, because the New Zealand lottery prizes were small compared to international lotteries, many people illegally bought purchased tickets in foreign lotteries and art union ticket sales dropped. A review of the system led to the establishment of the Golden Kiwi Lottery in 1961. This lottery and it was later replaced by the National Lottery in 1987 (generally known as the Lotto) and is today still run by the New Zealand Lotteries Commission (NZLC). Since 2008, Lotto tickets may also be bought online.
  • Slot machines are known informally as pokies in New Zealand and also in Australia. They were first introduced in New Zealand in 1991 and today more than 16,000 machines operated by charitable organisations at more than 1300 venues. The fact that pokies appeared several years before legal land-based casinos goes some way towards explaining why slots are so popular on the web with Kiwi players. Don't be afraid to buck that trend and go for games with better odds like roulette, craps or blackjack!
  • New Zealand’s first legal land-based casino opened in 1994 in Christchurch. Currently there also casinos operating in Auckland, Hamilton, Queenstown and Dunedin – all offering gambling and general entertainment. Casino licence applications and renewals are determined by the Gambling Commission.
  • Online casinos are not allowed to operate in New Zealand ever since the first international online gambling sites started operating in the 1990s. Nevertheless, New Zealanders over the age of 18 may legally gamble at online casinos registered overseas.

The Future of New Zealand Gambling

Now we know a little bit of Kiwi gambling history, it's probably a good time to talk more about what's next for the gambling landscape in New Zealand. Thanks to relatively recent changes in the law, there are only a few land-based casinos operating in New Zealand – with SkyCity being one of the biggest names in NZ offline gambling – but we suspect that this will change in the coming years.

While it's pretty unlikely that New Zealand will ever be able to compete with gambling meccas like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, it is very likely that more land-based casinos will be built within the country's borders. It's also a distinct possibility that, provided the construction companies behind these casinos are able to work together peacefully, we may see entertainment complexes that boast multiple casinos as well as restaurants, nightclubs, movie theatres etc. spring up.

We also believe that, given steps have already been taken to make it easier for New Zealanders to enjoy online gambling at venues based outside of the country's borders, it will eventually be possible for casino sites to set up shop within New Zealand. It may be that these sites will be authorized and regulated by the government, or it could be that a central regulatory body will be set up by a third party enabling the government to distance itself from the ever controversial subject of online gambling.

The fact of the matter is that gambling, both offline and on, represents much too lucrative an industry for countries to ignore or try to sweep under the rug. That's why we think you can look for lots of growth in the next 10 or 20 years, both in New Zealand and beyond.

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