It’s no secret that people in New Zealand have a whopping appetite for gambling. However, online gambling has become a game-changer in the way punters in the South Pacific nation go about finding a flutter.
What makes New Zealand different from the rest of the world is that resident online gamers can turn to any playground, provided it’s offshore. With so many merchants operating on the global circuit, it’s wise for players to be able to not only recognize legal platforms but also trust their instincts. No one wants to trip on the legal wires.
Here’s the A to Z on the New Zealand gambling laws to ensure authorities don’t catch you straying offside, especially when you let your fingers do the walking on the internet.
In an era when just about anything is at your fingertips when you reach for your cell phone in the pocket or handbag, it pays to know that online gambling laws are different and can be confusing when compared with other countries.
That is, it’s illegal to set up online gambling sites in New Zealand without the strict approval of authorities that issue licences. That means online gaming companies on New Zealand soil are prohibited from operating as bookmakers and angling their promotions to lure players living in the country.
However, that doesn’t mean its residents cannot put a wager via apps on personal electronic devices. While no one polices online gambling in New Zealand, people are allowed to play on approved overseas sites.
For that reason, the Gambling Act 2003 becomes the bible for players and operators. Section 9 (2) (b) of the Act prohibits what it calls “remote interactive gambling”. It defines such engagement as a person who is gambling by interacting with a communication device from a distance. Communication devices include computers, telephones, radio, and other electronic gadgets.
It’s important to understand that you’re playing online games at your own risk. New Zealand laws don’t provide protection from foreign operators. If you become a victim of fraud, your fate will rest in the jurisdiction of the country that the online gambling company operates from.
The Department of Internal Affairs, which lays down the boundaries of gambling in the country, ensures that operators within New Zealand follow the Gambling Act 2003 guidelines. The department also, via the Act, gives the thumbs up to Kiwi punters to engage with casino games and online lotteries offshore without falling foul of the New Zealand laws.
The Racing Act 2003 followed on the heels of the Gambling Act 2003 to provide a legal foundation for racing and sports betting. The Gambling Amendment Act 2015 had injected the necessary updates to the Gambling Act 2003. More significantly, the Amendment Act offers the department an avenue to make further changes to any legislation that may help bring in line the growth of online gambling, as it sees fit.
The department offers the New Zealand Racing Board and the New Zealand Lotteries Commission powers to authorize online gambling platforms, activities as well as issue online gambling licences.
In a country where families watch the winning numbers of the multi-million-dollar Lotto roll out live on national TV from the comfort of their lounge on Saturday nights, New Zealand children are exposed to the thrills of gambling at an early age. When mum and dad jump up and down, clutching a first-prize Lotto ticket, the kids know they’re in for a treat, if not a life-changing experience.
Consequently, the Gambling Act 2003 makes it abundantly clear that any form of wagering will be subjected to age restrictions. The legal entry point differs, depending on what kind of games an individual plays. Racing, sports betting, and lotteries are the key categories of online gambling deemed to be legal.
The Totalisator Agency Board (TAB), a subsidiary of the New Zealand Racing Board (NZRB), administers online gambling. The NZRB — which runs and promotes thoroughbred, trotting and hound racing — operates the only licensed racing and sports betting agency in New Zealand.
For online gambling, though, it’s illegal to engage in lotteries and sports betting until you turn 18 years old. However, offshore casinos have the power to uphold the laws of their land. That equates to some countries imposing an age limit of 21.
In a remote landscape, online gambling operators tend to have stringent checks and balances to ensure no underage players enter their domain. They tend to ask for proof of identity, such as a passport or driving licence with photo identification.
Underage individuals can find loopholes to gamble online on offshore platforms. It’s usual for some operators to offer players free games. That means any individual interacting technically may not be breaking New Zealand laws because no money is changing hands.
However, such introductory offers from operators often come with clauses that bind players to commit to spending. It’s human nature not to read the fine print of many things — such as insurance policies and warranty of white goods — but Kiwis are advised to read the online gambling operators’ terms and conditions to ensure they are reputable.
The law-abiding operators adopt a zero-tolerance policy for underage players. They reserve the right not to pay out any wins to any ineligible individual who infiltrates their platform.
In New Zealand, the penalties for anyone taking part in unauthorised gambling is clearly outlined. Fines of up to $50,000 can be imposed on organisations and up to $10,000 for individuals. This includes anyone engaging in remote interactive gambling and those who conduct the activities. Underage gamblers face a fine of $500 and operators $5,000.
To show it means business, the Department of Internal Affairs had prosecuted an Auckland man, An Yi Lin, $NZ12,000 plus costs on August 30, 2004, for operating an illegal casino. He was among seven people and a company charged with a range of offences. It was the first conviction of its kind under the Gambling Act 2003.
Advertising overseas gambling in New Zealand also is prohibited. Anyone caught breaching that rule can face a fine of up to $NZ10,000.
On the flip side, many online gambling operators from overseas accept players from New Zealand.
The freedom that New Zealand residents enjoy gambling abroad is prompting lobby groups in the country to demand that lawmakers should protect vulnerable communities.
While the Department of Internal Affairs has a blanket law to cover the entire nation, it gives the municipal authorities the power to determine where and how many gambling outlets should be allowed to operate within their boundaries. Keeping the number of gaming machines (pokies) and TAB venues in check comes under city and district council policies. It includes regulating internet gambling.
However, the Pacific Island community (Pasifika) is calling for more stringent laws to protect its people. The ethnic groups account for 21 per cent of all people seeking treatment for gambling in New Zealand.
In another twist, the SkyCity Entertainment Group launching its online casino gaming site — skycitycasino.com — through a Maltese subsidiary in 2019 has reignited the debate on amending the Gambling Act to control the industry within New Zealand. SkyCity owns four of the six authorised land-based casinos in the country.
Not only will the domestic control of online gambling provide better protection to New Zealand players, but it’ll also enable lawmakers to regulate home-based gambling ventures. Revenue from taxes can be ploughed back into the community.
Put in a nutshell, the amount of money involved dictates what category of law is applicable to levels of gambling in New Zealand.
The value of prizemoney and the before-tax income businesses earn put them into four different classes.
Essentially, they all fall under the umbrella of the Gambling Act 2003 although the Racing Act 2003 regulates sports betting in the country.
Class 1 (social activities): Gambling cannot have a prize or income that is greater than $NZ500. All the proceeds from gambling (including interest) must be paid to the winners. Only individuals can conduct gambling in this class. No licence is required.
Class 2 (charitable/fundraising activities): At this level, the prizes must not exceed a total value of between $NZ500 and $NZ5,000. The potential turnover from the gambling must be above the $NZ500 threshold but below $NZ25,000. A licence is not required, but non-profit organisations — such as societies — must conduct the activities for the purposes of raising funds.
Class 3: Prizes in this category must have a total value exceeding $NZ5,000. A gambling licence is required and only companies are permitted to engage in this class.
Class 4: Gaming machines come into play here. Companies that conduct gambling in this class must have valid licences. The land-based casinos, slot machines and such, fall in this category.
Primarily, the New Zealand gambling law tries to ensure the proceeds from the four classes are ploughed back for communal benefits. Its other main objective is to minimise the harm of wagering. Consequently, activities of chance outside the casino premises are only permitted if the funds raised are for an “authorised purpose” — that is, mostly for charitable causes, as outlined in Class 2, or if it involves smaller stakes in social gambling.
The home of the mighty All Blacks rugby team, the Black Caps world champion test cricketers, and the holders of the holy grail of America’s Cup yacht racing, it comes as no surprise that New Zealand is a sports-mad country.
Throw in the chanting soccer (football) mobs as well as the champagne-sipping horse racing faithful, and the picture becomes sharper on why online sports betting is going to grow even more in this country. The Melbourne Cup horse racing meeting in Australia, which “stops two nations”, draws a frenzy of betting in New Zealand. The English Premier League (IPL), the NBA basketball in the United States, and the NRL Rugby League in Australia, also have a popular following here.
Yes, it’s legal to wager on sporting events in New Zealand. The TAB is the only authorised home-based body that can take bets from within New Zealand — at its outlets scattered around the country. It’s the sport and racing corporation for the Kiwi Government. Online sports betting comes under the Racing Industry Act 2020.
Nevertheless, punters can place bets with offshore sports betting sites on the internet, such as Ladbrokes, William Hill, Betway, and Bet365. Live betting is also permissible via mobile apps and the internet. The overseas operators tend to offer a better variety of sports, betting odds, and introductory offers such as bonus packages, redemptions, money-back guarantees as well as fast, hassle-free payouts.
While some countries use the fraction odds system (2/1) or the American plus/minus format (+ for underdogs and – for favourites), the New Zealand online sites tend to use the decimal 4.0 approach. That is, a stake of $100 will earn punters a return of $NZ400 … if their team wins.
For New Zealand players, entering online casinos must feel like an upgrade to first-class travel on an airline. The pampering begins with some online casinos offering basement budgets, starting at $1. That means your average Jane and Joe Blogg can have a flutter, regardless of their grasp of the game or the state of their personal bank accounts.
While the internet can become a “cowboy territory”, the top online casinos come with the endorsement of gambling licenses and certifications of legitimate operators — the likes of the UKGC, MGA, GBGA. Promoters aren’t shy to recommend their top-rated sites.
Not only do some online operators offer generous bonuses, but they also have instant withdrawals through safe payment methods in New Zealand dollars, minus costly exchange fees. The recommended payment methods include Paysafe, PayPal, Poli, Bitcoin, and Bank Transfer.
New Zealand online casinos resemble classic internet clubs offering games with live dealers, table games, and pokies.
However, like any game of chance, online casinos have their share of pitfalls. Gambling addiction is ever-present, so online operators don’t offer adequate support. It’s easy to trip on loose guidelines.
It can be difficult to know which online casino reviews to trust. Picking an honest one will ensure engagement with a safe brand. Sometimes, online casinos offering low deposits tend to have high wagering demands to credit bonuses to your account.
It pays to know that nothing’s for free.
The online bingo sites — offering popular games ranging from Slingo (combining traditional bingo with online slot machines) to 90-Ball Bingo (community hall variety) — offer even casino table games.
They go the extra yard to offer chat rooms where players can create a community atmosphere. A social feeling leads to a larger network of players, thus boosting the prize pot and bumper jackpots. Not everyone is comfortable in a big crowd, so there’s the option to enter smaller independent bingo sites.
In New Zealand, queuing up outside outlets for the official weekly national lotto is becoming a thing of the past. That’s because it’s available online.
All you have to do is go to the Lotto website to create an account and select a payment method.
The lottery offers three types of games — the 6/40. Powerball, and Strike. Players pick six numbers from 40 in the first game. To turbo-charge a win, ticket buyers can add an extra Powerball number, from 1 to 10, to their six numbers. The Strike offers the chance to play a shorter game by selecting the first four numbers to roll out of the spinning ball for relatively smaller prize money.
New Zealand also offers other games — Instant Kiwi, Keno, Play Strike, and Bullseye.
For the avid gamblers, there’s always the lure of playing online the lotteries from more than 50 of the biggest ones on offer around the world. Massive jackpot prizes are up for grabs from sites such as the EuroMillions, EuroJackpot, SuperEnalotto, Mega Millions, and US Powerball.
Many of the offshore lotteries are confined to citizens in their own countries. However, New Zealand players can obtain tickets via sites such as Giantlottos, TheLotter, and Lottoland.
Online poker sites often provide “real money” and “free” options. The latter option offers New Zealand players the opportunity to hone their skills before gambling with real money. No doubt, the free games don’t offer any cash pay-out.
The sites that receive a New Zealand government thumbs up to operate in the country must pay back a percentage of profits to the Kiwi community. In return, the elite online sites, such as Jackpot City Poker, Betway, 888, give New Zealanders a broad choice of popular poker variants.
Like other online betting, players aren’t required to pay taxes on windfalls. Professional gamblers, for whom it’s their primary source of income, are required to pay income tax, but there doesn’t appear to be any authority that polices that.
The Gambling Act 2003 also laid the foundation for the birth of the Gambling Commission New Zealand in 2004. The commission is an independent statutory decision-making body that has the powers of a Commission of Inquiry. It hears casino licensing applications and appeals on licensing and enforcement decisions that the Secretary of Internal Affairs makes pertaining to gaming machines and other non-casino gambling activities.
The functions of the Gambling Commission include:
The Gambling Commission’s range of functions is outlined in section 224 of the Gambling Act 2003. In discharging those functions, the commission must follow those policies and procedures.
Any appeals from licence holders against the Department of Internal Affairs must be lodged within 15 days of the department’s decision. Anything lodged outside that window will be deemed “out of time”, although an application for an extension is permitted within those 15 working days. Failing that, any appeal lodged outside that time will not proceed and be dismissed.
The commission conducts hearings based on paper form applications. However, it reserves the right to stage oral hearings. It can hold hearings in public and/or privately.
Early European Settlers brought gambling to New Zealand shores. They tended to wager on card games and billiards as well as coin games and dice rolling. In the mid-19th Century, the Chinese immigrants, here for the gold rush, brought games such as fantan (beans number guessing game) and pakapoo (lottery of characters).
The first official record of betting is horse racing. The meeting was staged at the Bay of Islands, on the north-eastern coast of the North Island of New Zealand, in 1835.
However, the Protestant churches in the country were up in arms over the practice, keeping a stranglehold on betting activities through to the early 1930s. They saw gambling as encouraging alcoholism and prostitution. It was during that period that bookmakers had been banned from horse racing meetings.
The invention of the totalisators (automated betting machines) towards the late 19th Century was a major factor in making bookmaking an illegal practice. The government-run TAB had driven the final nails in the coffin of bookmakers in the early 1900s.
In the mid-1960s, the Kiwi women had begun their own gambling revolution. The “housie”, with its origins linked to bingo, gave countless women a flutter during housie nights.
Sports betting roots also go back to the early 19th Century. Men had often raced whaling vessels, waka (Māori canoes) and dinghies while bookmakers collected wagers on the odds of the outcomes. The former British colony inhabitants weren’t shy about taking risks for rewards on athletics, skittles, and even sack racing, among other physical feats.
The lottery had made a more subtle entry into the punters’ mind stream. Gambling enthusiasts would pay to “art unions’ to go into a draw to win a piece of artwork.
The desire to raise funds in the early 1900s saw the Colonialists drive raffles through organisations that offered lucrative prizes, such as cars, boats, houses and livestock. Realising the need to whet the appetite of its population’s gambling habit, the then government had established its first regular state-run lottery — the Golden Kiwi — in 1961. The major prize of 4,000 pounds had been an attractive lure in those days.
The government had passed the Racing Act 1971 to legalise horse and greyhound betting. Six years later, private entities had started to establish gambling businesses.
The introduction of the Lotto in 1987 had enticed a million Kiwis to buy tickets within six weeks of its launch. That had prompted the government to establish the New Zealand Lotteries Commission to manage the national game. Two years later, Lotto had sounded the death knell of the Golden Kiwi.
The Lotteries Commission had started to prove its worth. To raise funds for the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, it had launched the glossy Instant Kiwi scratch cards (scratchies). That had come on the heels of the government legalising the pokies for clubs and hotels, as well as licensed casinos.
In a country where people fork out close to $NZ2 billion a year for a flutter, the dream of becoming rich overnight can rapidly turn into a nightmare. The gambling addiction isn’t confined to just the players, but everyone else around them, including family, friends, and colleagues.
When the financial fallout kicks in, the “fun and games” begin for all concerned. Like alcoholics, problem gamblers also can have “aha” moments of clarity. Regrettably, some don’t discover it quick enough to sidestep ruination.
In New Zealand, the government imposes levies on onshore operators to fund problem gambling services. The Ministry of Health is saddled with the responsibility of the prevention of addiction. It also recommends treatment. The ministry co-ordinates the services and oversees the funding.
If you, or someone you know, is grappling with gambling problems then there are various organisations and services you can approach for support. The freephone, 24-hour Gambling Helpline Aotearoa is an ideal steppingstone. It offers an 0800 654 655 freephone number or receives free texts on 8006, within the country.
The Gambling Helpline Aotearoa website’s Resources Section offers a self-assessment tool, warning signs, and gambling triggers. It steers addicts towards professional consultation, counselling, and other related useful links.
The helpline offers specific services for Māori, Pasifika peoples as well as the youth. It throws in tips on how to handle a debt crisis owing to gambling.
The Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand also provides excellent guidelines for the vulnerable. The foundation’s services are free, professional, and confidential for problem gamblers and their loved ones.
It offers one-to-one counselling and a therapeutic platform for clients to write their experiences during their journey of recovery. Its website offers a Department of Internal Affairs’ ticking-clock data that shows money lost on pokies approaching the $NZ1 billion mark in 2021, compared with the $NZ810,951,666 in 2020.
The foundation can be reached on freephone 0800 664 262, or free text to 5819. Gamblers can email at email@example.com or engage in a live-chat site on its website.