The interesting history of casino culture in New Zealand


Gambling has been a part of life for New Zealanders for centuries and has simply evolved to keep up with the times. What started as ancient cultural traditions turned into a form of entertainment for modern society and led to the establishment of casinos as we know them today. 


We will take a walk through New Zealand’s love-hate relationship with gambling and examine how liberalisation around the industry eventually led to the formation of online casinos in New Zealand


The pre-casino era in New Zealand 


Gambling is nothing new for the people of New Zealand. In fact, it has been a prominent form of entertainment since the 19th century when bets were placed on cards and athletic events. An even more popular form of gambling was betting on horses, with the first recorded occurrence dating back to 1835. 


Māori gambling predates the arrival of European settlers with two popular traditional games that communities used to place bets on. One was an ancient ball game and the other a board game similar to checkers. Instead of betting actual currency, the ancient Māori would bet their personal belongings and other resources, such as grain and rice. 

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Strong opposition from religious institutions led to heightened restrictions that led to gambling being essentially outlawed until the 1980s. Until this point, the only real gambling that was legal was the national lottery and betting on horses.  


Legalization of casinos 


In 1961, the Golden Kiwi lottery was initiated, but it only really began gaining momentum in 1987 when the weekly draws were underway. By 1988, several electronic gaming machines were legalised for use in sport bars, chartered clubs and hotels. This was very well-received by the public, which eventually led to the government approving the official introduction of casinos to New Zealand in 1989. 


Around the same time, the government also relaxed its restrictions around sports betting, opening up the pastime to include rugby, cricket and other popular sports. 


New Zealand’s first legal casino, Christchurch Casino, was officially opened in 1994. Today, the 4,000 square metre establishment operates 500 slot machines and 34 tables. 


Evolution and growth of casino culture 


By the early 2000s, there was rapid development in the sector, with many new casinos opening up their doors. In fact, by 2003, there were six fully operational casinos. Their most popular game? Slot machines, or pokies, as the locals refer to them. 


Casinos also began to evolve as they became more a part of society. Influenced by international trends, casinos transformed from purely gambling venues to holistic entertainment venues. Emphasis was placed on opening bars, restaurants, cinemas and theatres that would create entire entertainment complexes similar to those we see in Vegas and Monte Carlo. 


Impact of online gambling on casino culture 


The transformation didn’t end there. With the advent of the digital age and technological advancements, online gambling was introduced, which brought Kiwi’s favourite casino games into the comfort of their own homes. 


Online gambling meant players could suddenly play slots or blackjack anytime and anywhere. There was no longer any need to travel into town to a physical casino and to be limited by their operating hours. 


In recent years, online gambling has evolved further with the introduction of live dealer games where real-world card dealers live stream the game via platforms that enable live interaction as if you were really sitting at the table. 


A move towards mobile applications for online casinos and modern payment methods has made online gambling portable, enabling those in even the most remote regions of New Zealand to enjoy one of the nation’s oldest pastimes. 


Current trends and future outlook 


We mentioned that New Zealanders have always been particularly fond of slot machines, but as times change, so do preferences. While there will never be absolutely no physical casinos around, many will shut their doors as more casinos move online to accommodate the growing preferences for virtual gambling. 


To support this evolution of iGaming, virtual reality (VR) gambling will become more prevalent to create immersive gambling experiences that simulate real-life casino interactions. 


People have also become far more accepting of gambling overall. It was once a very taboo topic and a pastime that was looked down upon. However, as mindsets have changed and the industry itself has undergone regulation, there is a much more relaxed attitude towards gambling. This sets the scene for widespread adoption of online gambling and an atmosphere that is more conducive to investing in the sector. 




It is quite fascinating to take a closer look at New Zealand’s longstanding relationship with the gambling industry. It has been evolving for centuries and that transformative nature is set to continue as it shifts once more to accommodate changing preferences and relaxed attitudes.


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