New Zealand Gambling Legislation Guide

Gambling on sports or in the casino is essentially legal in New Zealand but like many countries around the world, the practise is highly regulated. It all comes under the control of the Department for Internal Affairs who have worked hard to apply tough rules over the course of history.

So, for those that are resident in NZ, what do you really need to know if you are looking to place a bet, either online or in the physical world?

A Brief History

In general terms, the New Zealand government has worked hard to regulate gambling, recognising that its citizens will enjoy a bet and that the practise has the danger of going underground if it isn’t legalized in some form.

As with many countries, the practise began when the first European settlers arrived and it continued from that point. For decades it as considered illegal until the first set of regulations came in with the Gambling Act of 1908 which had to be introduced in order to combat the rise in gambling across the two islands.

The act sought to regulate a lot of informal betting but it only made gambling legal at race meetings up and down the country so much of the practise continued to remain underground for much of the first half of the 20th century.

Act Addressed

In 1920, with illegal gambling somewhat out of control, the government in New Zealand outlawed all forms of bookmaking. For the next four decades, the situation remained unchanged but there were concessions made elsewhere.

In 1933 for example, the first state run lottery was introduced and these were rather oddly referred to as Art Unions. This remained the only method in which residents could legally have any form of bet but once again, these rather stiff regulations were merely driving the practise of gambling even further underground.

Finally, in 1961, the TAB – Totalizor Agency Board – made betting on horse racing widely acceptable across the country. In time, regulations were relaxed and sports betting as a whole came out into the open.

Betting on Sports

The four most popular sports in New Zealand are Rugby Union, Cricket, Football and Netball although it is tough for anyone to find a netball market no matter what bookmaker they use.

Regulations were subsequently relaxed to allow betting on these, and other sports, in physical outlets from 1961 onwards and the next big change, as we will see, took place in 2003 when the government looked to regulate the significant rise in internet gambling.

Casinos

As of May 2017, there are just six land based casinos in the whole of New Zealand’s two islands. The first of these opened as recently as 1994 and that tells you just how strictly the process is regulated and how recently the rules have been relaxed in order to allow these premises to be built.

In the present day, four of these operations are run by Sky City and you can find casinos from Auckland in the north down to Dunedin in the south.

Pokies

Pokies – slot machines featuring poker games – have been popular in neighbouring Australia for decades but once again, they are a relatively recent addition to New Zealand’s two islands. The first such machine was introduced in 1991 and it is estimated that in the present day there are around 19,000 pokies in the country.

The most recent set of financial figures relating to their use comes from 2009 and they showed a slight decline in interest which, it would be safe to assume, is likely to have come from a rise in internet play.

From 2008 to 2009, there was a 5% drop in outlay although Pokies in New Zealand were still attracting revenues of $889 million. An interest in these machines is still retained around the country and that was evidenced as recently as 2013 when the Sky City Casino in Auckland was given permission by the government to install a further 230 pokies on its premises.

The Digital Age

The Gambling Act of 2003 outlines exactly where New Zealanders stand in these digital times: It was brought in as a reaction to the rise in online gaming but it also takes the opportunity to look at how things stand in terms of gambling in the physical world.

The law divides gambling into three classes and these are determined, depending on how much prize money there is on offer. These categories are as follows:

  • Class 1: Prizes up to $500.00
  • Class 2: Prizes above $500.00 but not exceeding $5000.00
  • Class 3: Prizes above $5000.00

The regulations get tougher as the government works through those categories and the higher the prize, the more rules there are for the operators involved. In theory, anyone offering a prize up to $500 does not need to apply for a specific license but they still have to comply with all the rules of the 2003 Gambling Act which covers all operators, no matter what class of gaming they happen to fall under.

As for New Zealand’s citizens, they are free to gamble at an online casino or sportsbook provided that the operator in question is based outside of the country. You cannot trade online in any gambling form and have a NZ address that provides services to your fellow citizens.

Players must be 18 and, there is no tax on any winnings as this is considered as profit from a hobby. The government figures that any profits are offset by losses elsewhere and, tax revenue is brought in from the operators.

So, in summary, it is legal to gamble in New Zealand but it’s not exactly a practise that is welcomed by the authorities. In the physical world, there is a very small set of casinos while the Pokies are more prevalent in bars up and down the country. As for online play, this is also acceptable but subject to strict rules once again and you can only gamble with an operator who is licensed outside of the country.

There may be a lot to take in for residents but, as long as you abide by the rules and only play with licensed outlets, you are legal and protected when it comes to having a bet.