Facts About the History and Current Gambling Climate in New Zealand

New Zealand Horse Racing and Country Seal

Not only is New Zealand one of the most beautiful places in the entire world, but it’s also home to a unique gambling culture.

The tale of gambling history and where New Zealand gambling culture is today is a compelling one, to say the least. It involves the influence of European settlers intermixed with the culture of indigenous New Zealanders.

Here are three significant facts about the history and current gambling climate in New Zealand.

Europeans Brought Horse Racing and Gambling to New Zealand

When European settlers landed in New Zealand, they brought with them their love for horse betting and playing cards.

In 1835, at Bay Islands, the first bets were made on a horse race in New Zealand. Early horse races in New Zealand were held at the military garrison in Auckland. Meetings were held by soldiers at Onehunga and Auckland where they used their own horses to race while officers played the role of officials at these events.

January 5th, 1841 marks the date of a meeting at Epsom that was held by citizens of Manukau and Auckland. Between 1842 and 1849, officers of the militia controlled the races at Auckland. Also, in January of 1841, the first anniversary of Wellington was celebrated and a hurdle race took place on day 3 of the anniversary celebration. Henry Petre won this race riding his own horse named Calmuc Tartar.

Vintage New Zealand Horse Racing

On October 20th of 1842, there was a meeting on Peyton Beach that ended with Calmuc Tartar losing to an imported horse named Figaro. This was a 10-guinea sweepstake run that was over a mile and a half.

At the first anniversary of the settlement of Nelson, there was a hurdle race that was significant in the establishment of horse racing in New Zealand. Four miles from Nelson, there was a horse racing course in Stoke where Thoroughbreds were imported for breeding and racing. The first race at this course took place on February 3rd, 1845.

Another significant event was a meeting in Wanganui that took place on December 28th, 1848, where militia officers organized a big horse race which was also significant to the introduction of horse racing in New Zealand.

Horse racing then went through a period of growth where different committees made their own rules for each race. Eventually, the need to have one body govern over horse racing as a whole in New Zealand became very apparent.

On July 12th, 1883, the Hawke’s Bay Jockey Club set up a subcommittee which consisted of Captain W.R. Russell (who became the very first president of the Racing Conference), C.B. Winter, and R.U. Burke.

The objective of the subcommittee was to establish the New Zealand Racing Association, which would put uniform rules in place. Turf registration, registration of colors, and the publishing of a race calendar were also suggestions made by this subcommittee.

The 1980s Were a Pivotal Time for the Gambling Industry in New Zealand

Economic reforms in the 1980s led to a period of liberalization of regulatory and marketing regimes.

During this period, restraints on gambling were lifted and thus, the stage was set for the beginnings of a booming gambling industry in New Zealand.

The first electronic gambling machines were introduced to New Zealand in 1991. These caught on rather quickly and were very popular at places with liquor licenses such as clubs and bars.

In that first year alone, these machines made up about 19% of the gambling spent in New Zealand. Although this all seems well and good, it led to gambling becoming a normalized part of modern life in New Zealand, which led to an uptick of problem gamblers among the populace.

New Zealand Electronic Casino Games

Up to this point, mainly older men made up the portion of the population that could be called problem gamblers. However, during this time of lifting restrictions, New Zealand began to see younger citizens and women start to develop patterns of problem gambling.

So, people were seeking help and treatment for their addiction and services that address problem gambling. Programs were funded through an organization known as the Problem Gambling Committee. They also track how many people use these services.

In this way, they are able to assess the severity of problem gambling in New Zealand. In recent years, it seems more older individuals are gambling away their life savings on the use of electronic gaming machines.

Also, in the 1980s, lotteries were introduced in New Zealand. And, in 1987, the New Zealand Lotteries Commission was established. Aside from the original lotto, New Zealand now has daily keno, a lotto variant by the name of Big Wednesday and Instant Kiwi scratch cards.

Starting in 2008, Lotto tickets could be bought via the internet. Lotto continues to be very popular and a part of daily life in modern New Zealand.

There Are Currently Six Land-Based Casinos in New Zealand

Just like many other places around the world, online gambling is on the rise in New Zealand.

Sure, online gambling is extremely convenient and allows you to play some fun casino games in the luxury of your own home on your personal computer or mobile device. But no matter how good the graphics are on a particular online casino, you are never going to get the experience a real live casino gives you.

Land-based casinos are pretty new in New Zealand, and there are currently only six of them; however, you can be assured that they are top-notch.

SKYCITY Entertainment Group owns most of these casinos and has been a major player in the gambling industry of New Zealand since 1996. They cater to Asian tourists, as they make up the majority of gamblers that come to New Zealand looking to try their luck inside a real casino.

The very first casino to open in New Zealand was Christchurch Casino in 1994. Close to Christchurch Airport, the Christchurch Casino is open 24 hours a day and is home to the New Zealand Poker Championships.

In the city of Dunedin is the Dunedin Casino. This is a pretty small casino but nonetheless provides top-notch service. There are close to 200 slot machines and great table games which include baccarat, Tai Sai, roulette, and a money wheel.

Dunedin Casino in New Zealand

Another 24-hour casino is SKYCITY Auckland which is located at the bottom of the SKYCITY Hotel in Auckland. With eight bars and nine restaurants, the SKYCITY Auckland also has two hotels that feature more than 300 rooms. Within this casino complex is also a swimming pool, a theatre, a health club, and a convention center.

On the gambling floor, there are over 1500 slot machine games and over 100 table games that include roulette, poker, blackjack, and baccarat. SKYCITY Auckland was actually the second casino built in New Zealand.

In Queenstown, you will find the Wharf Casino which holds over 70 slot machines. They also offer table games such as mini-baccarat, blackjack, and American Roulette. This casino resides within the Steamer Wharf Complex and has an amazing lakeside view.

SKYCITY Queenstown is open from noon to 4 AM daily. Along with 12 table games and over 80 slot machines, there is also a hotel and an excellent restaurant at SKYCITY Queenstown. This was the fourth casino to be opened in New Zealand.

In Hamilton, you will find the SKYCITY Hamilton that is open from Sunday to Wednesday, 9 AM to 3 AM. For extended gaming action, they’re open 9 AM to 5 AM from Thursday to Saturday. As far as games go, there is an 80-seat bingo hall, over 20 table games, and over 300 slot machines. SKYCITY Hamilton resides within Hamilton’s Riverside Entertainment Centre and also features a 10-lane bowling alley.


Whether you want to visit great casinos or just simply play real money slots (also known as “pokies”), New Zealand has no shortage of options when it comes to gambling.

New Zealanders love to gamble and as the world of online gambling gains popularity, New Zealand will have to find ways in which it can be successfully be regulated.

As of now, New Zealanders are gambling online via sites that are not based in the country.

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