Approximately 4 ½ million people live in New Zealand, so it is no surprise that gambling has become a big business there. In fact, an estimated 75% of the adult population engages in some form of gambling, and 40% gamble at least once a week. Slot machines, which are called pokies in New Zealand, just like in Australia, are extremely popular. They are also one of many forms of gambling available to Kiwis (New Zealanders) along with other types of electronic gambling machines, casino table games, lotto, scratch cards, horse and dog racing, sports betting, and bingo. The ready availability of many different forms of legalised gambling is another way in which New Zealand gambling is very similar to gambling in Australia.
Nevertheless, despite these basic similarities, there are fundamental differences in both the introduction of gambling and the present gambling practices of the two countries. The fact that gambling was widespread in Australia for several centuries set the stage for land-based casinos to be not only flourishing, but fully legal since the 1950s and online gambling to become available there, too, by the 1990s. In contrast, legal commercialized gambling was much slower to appear in New Zealand. Pokies were first legalised in 1991, but initially appeared as stand-alone games in places like pubs and bars rather than as part of a full service casino. The first major brick and mortar casino in New Zealand was not built until 1994, and even today, there are only six such casinos in the whole country. Furthermore, almost 90% of legalised gambling in New Zealand is closely regulated by the federal government as a non-profit activity with a substantial proportion of the revenue specifically earmarked for benefiting designated organisations in the community.
A third difference is that even the commercial casinos in New Zealand must adhere to strict regulations regarding the total number of pokies, the maximum amount of money players can feed into a machine at any one time, and the maximum bet per spin. These regulations were put into place in an effort to prevent players from betting more than they can afford and to minimise problem gambling. However, high rollers and others who wish to play for high stakes are free to play online pokies on foreign based sites, where no such restrictions apply. Hundreds of these sites welcome players from New Zealand, so any resident who is so inclined can easily find a place, register, and start playing.
During the 1990s, when land-based gambling first started becoming popular in New Zealand, except for the limited provisions of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1977 and the Casino Control Act 1990, gambling was largely an unregulated activity. That situation changed dramatically with the passage of the Gambling Act 2003, stipulating that all legal gambling in New Zealand would be licensed and regulated by the Department of Internal Affairs. Gambling Act 2003, which is still in effect, was designed to promote fair gambling practices, cut down on gambling associated crime, encourage responsible gambling, and increase the amount of gambling revenue that would directly benefit the community.
According to Gambling Act 2003, all gambling operators issuing prizes in excess of $5,000 must be licensed. Furthermore, with the sole exception of casino gambling, all gambling that is licensed and authorised in New Zealand must be conducted strictly for the purpose of raising funds for approved programs that will benefit the larger community. The Department of Internal Affairs provides licences to corporate societies to operate so-called Class 4 not-for-profit pokies in clubs, pubs, bars, and non-casino hotels under the close supervision of state appointed charitable organisations called Community Gaming Trusts. The amount returned to the community must be a minimum of 40% of the annual gaming machine proceeds in order for the venue operators to keep their licence.
The number of gaming machines any given non-casino venue can have is limited to 18 if the licence was issued before October, 2001, but limited to only nine if the licence was issued after October, 2001. Territorial authorities also set limits on the total number of gaming venues and pokies.
The Gambling Act 2003 is also very specific regarding the regulations that commercial casinos in New Zealand must abide by. One stipulation is that no additional commercial casinos could be built in New Zealand besides the six already existing casinos. While all of the existing casinos may stay open and have their licences renewed (unless they are found to be violating the regulations), with one exception, they have been expressly forbidden from expanding to offer more machines or gaming tables. The one exception was the largest casino, SKYCITY Auckland which was permitted to add 230 pokies in exchange for opening a major convention center.
Land-Based Pokies in New Zealand
The minimum age to bet pokies in locations other than casinos in New Zealand is 18. The minimum age to enter a casino in New Zealand and play any casino games, including pokies, is 20.
The number of licensed non-casino gaming machines in New Zealand, reached a peak level of 25,000 in 2003, just prior to when the Gambling Act 2003 took effect. The total number of machines has been decreasing steadily every year from 2007 through 2014 As of June, 2014, there were reported to be 3,509 such machines operating at 294 clubs throughout New Zealand and another 13,621 pokies in 1,027 other non-casino commercial venues (i.e., pubs and bars) for a grand total of 17,130 machines. The owners of these machines are entitled to recoup their operating expenses but not to profit from them personally. Their main benefit is attracting more customers to their place of business because of the entertainment the machines provide. Despite the decrease in the number of these machines, currently more than $200 million in annual revenue from them is being returned back to the New Zealand community.
Today a total of more than 28,000 pokies machines can be found throughout New Zealand. However, casinos only account for a small fraction of them. According to the Australian/New Zealand Gaming National Standards for pokies, all pokies machines must have a return to player (RTP) of at least 85%. In addition, in an attempt to reduce problem gambling in New Zealand, the maximum bet per spin has been lowered from $10 to $5. As a further attempt to limit the time and money spent at a machine, a law was passed in 2009 requiring pokies to have a Player Information Display showing the amount of time a person has been playing and how much money the player has lost. Pokies in casinos are set up to take only up to $20 in currency at a time from most players. However, VIP players can play in member only areas of the casino and insert up to $100 into a machine.
The six land-based casinos that are currently operating in New Zealand are as follows:
• SKYCITY Casino
SKYCITY has four separate locations including the capital city, Auckland, Hamilton, Queenstown, and Wharf. The Auckland facility, which opened in 1996, is the largest land-based casino in the country with 1,600 slots and video poker gaming machines. It is also the only casino in New Zealand that is open 24/7. While the minimum bet on pokies is only 1 cent, the casino has received permission to raise the maximum bet for VIP players over the customary limits in order to attract more action from high rollers.
• Christchurch Casino
Christchurch Casino has 500 pokies in denominations ranging from 1 cent to $2.00. The casino is open from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Monday.
• Dunedin Casino
This casino, located in the Southern Cross Hotel, has 180 electronic gaming machines in denominations from 1 cent to $1.00. The casino is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Online Kiwi Pokies for Real Money
Online gambling is defined in New Zealand as “remote interactive gambling.” It is illegal for Kiwis to play on New Zealand based sites unless operated by an organisation with the authority to offer online gambling to residents. Currently, there are only two such organisations, the Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) and the New Zealand Lotteries Commission. Residents can use these outlets to bet sports and horses and the lottery online, but not pokies. Individuals or organisations attempting to conduct or participate in unauthorized New Zealand based gambling websites run the risk of incurring substantial fines (up to $50,000 for organisations and up to $10,000 for individuals). However, there are no laws forbidding residents from using foreign based websites that accept their play (and most legitimate sites do) and from engaging in any form of online gambling they wish, including betting on online pokies.
While the New Zealand Government will not intervene if a player encounters a problem with any of these sites, by limiting activity to recommended sites that have been in business a while and using highly regarded provider like Microgaming or Playtech, you are unlikely to go wrong. For example, Royal Vegas, powered by Microgaming and operating since 2000, and Casino Tropez, powered by Playtech and operating since 2001, both offer hundreds of games and are just two examples of many excellent online casinos that are popular with New Zealand pokies players. In addition to offering generous Welcome Bonuses to new players along with other incentives like a loyalty rewards programme and special promotions, you can play 24/7, either at home on your computer or on the go on any browser or on your phone or tablet. Best of all, playing online, you will never have to settle for a machine returning just 85%. The average RTP for pokies in reputable online casinos is at least 95%.