The Legality of Gambling in New Zealand: An In-Depth Analysis

Gambling Law in New Zealand

What are the regulations surrounding gambling in New Zealand? What is deemed legal and what isn't? Most importantly, can the average Kiwi gamble real money in offshore online casinos without violating the law? Let’s get into the details.

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TL;DR

Gambling in New Zealand is legal with conditions applied. Gambling at foreign online casinos is legal with no conditions applied.

Key Takeaways: NZ Gambling Law In A Nutshell

  • New Zealand's gambling landscape is largely land-based with online gambling restricted to lotteries and sports betting.
  • The minimum legal age for gambling is 18, but you need to be at least 20 to enter a land-based casino.
  • The Gambling Act 2003 is the primary gambling law in the country.
  • Currently, six state-owned land-based casinos legally operate on NZ soil.
  • New Zealand has not licensed any local online casino site yet and it is illegal for Kiwis to play at one.
  • Land-based pokies (slot games), poker, and housie (bingo) are legal only in licensed NZ casinos or when organised for charity.
  • Offline race and sports betting is legal under the Racing Act 2003 only if offered by the NZ Racing Board, which functions under the brand name Totalizator Agency Board (TAB).
  • TAB is the only legal sports and racing bets provider in NZ offering its services via retail outlets as well as an official website.
  • Only lotteries organized by the New Zealand Lotteries Commission or licensed societies are legal in the country.
  • All lotteries by the Lotteries Commission can be played offline via retail outlets or online via the official website.
  • Private gambling conducted at an individual’s residence for socializing or entertainment is legal.
  • Prohibited prizes include firearms, liquor, tobacco, protected New Zealand objects, and vouchers for commercial sexual services.
  • It is not illegal to play at foreign online casinos and sportsbooks in New Zealand.
  • It is unlawful for overseas gambling establishments to target Kiwi players with ads.

Understanding The Gambling Act 2003

To understand the legal landscape of gambling in NZ, let's start with the Gambling Act 2003, which took over from the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1977, and the Casino Control Act 1990.

Basically, it says gambling in New Zealand is a no-go unless:

  • It's allowed by the law, follows the Act, and complies with the licenses, game guidelines, and minimum standards.
  • It's allowed under the Racing Act 2003, and it sticks to that law and its regulations.
  • It's private gambling conducted in a resident’s house.

The Act aims to:

  • Manage how gambling grows in New Zealand.
  • Prevent and minimise gambling-related harm, especially problem gambling.
  • Allow certain types of gambling while forbidding the rest.
  • Promote responsible gambling.
  • Guarantee fairness and integrity in gambling games.
  • Minimise the chances of crime and dishonesty related to gambling.
  • Ensure gambling money benefits the community.
  • Encourage community participation in decisions about gambling services.

For the uninitiated, the rules in the Gambling Act 2003 are strict and haven't been updated in a long time. There is no scope for new land-based casinos or betting sites to get licensed under the current laws.

According to the Act, bookmaking and promoting overseas gambling in New Zealand are against the law. Additionally, online gambling which the Act terms ‘remote interactive gambling conducted on the Internet or by phone/text messaging’ is prohibited, except in specific situations defined by the law.

Even though attempts have been made to make things easier, not much has happened yet. So, Kiwis will have to wait for any potential changes.

Classes of Gambling in New Zealand

The Gambling Act categorises activities based on money spent and the risk of problem gambling. Classes range from 1 (low-stake, low-risk) to 4 (high-risk, high-turnover). Casinos and lotteries by the NZ Lotteries Commission are separate classes in the Act.

Class 1

  • Prize and turnover limit of NZ$500
  • Conducted by individuals or societies
  • If conducted by individuals, money after costs goes to winners
  • If conducted by a society, profits go to authorised purposes
  • For games conducted in sessions, only one session per day allowed
  • No remuneration or commission to be paid
  • No licence required

Class 2

  • Prize valued between NZ$500 and NZ$5,000
  • Total turnover should exceed NZ$500, but not NZ$25,000
  • Must be run by societies (corporate or unincorporated) under the Gambling Act
  • Profits go to authorised purposes
  • Point of sale required for selling tickets or entry forms
  • No remuneration or commission to be paid
  • No licence required

Class 3

  • Licensed gambling
  • Run by a society (a corporate society if conducted regularly)
  • Prizes, in one go or a session, go over NZ$5,000
  • Non-cash prizes valued at retail price
  • No gaming machines involved, directly or indirectly
  • Ticket purchases via a communication device allowed
  • Profits go to authorised purposes
  • Operations must be financially viable with minimised costs and maximised returns
  • Examples: large-scale lotteries, housie (Bingo), instant games, and gaming sessions like casino evenings

Class 4

  • Involvement of non-casino gaming machines
  • To be conducted only by a corporate society
  • Must be for authorised purposes like community or non-commercial reasons

Casino and Lottery Gambling

  • Involves a casino venue licence and a casino operator's licence
  • Includes lotteries run by the New Zealand Lotteries Commission

Private Gambling

  • Happens at someone’s home
  • Mainly for socializing or entertainment
  • All the money bet goes to the winners
  • No remuneration or commission to be paid or received
  • Participation isn’t encouraged via advertisement and notice
  • No participation fee charged
  • In games involving a ‘banker,' role passes by chance or regular rotation without charge
  • Must offer equal chance of winning
  • Only participants can win
  • No fees or deductions from participants' money
  • Not a ‘Class’ of gambling per se
  • Must comply with the Gambling Act to be legal
  • Participants may face prosecution due to non-compliance

Legal Status of Various Gambling Activities in NZ

We will take into account the following gambling activities and discuss their present legal status in New Zealand:

  • Casinos
  • Pokies
  • Poker
  • Housie/Bingo
  • Bookmaking, Racing, Sports Betting
  • Horse Racing
  • Lottery, Raffle, Sweepstakes

Casinos

New Zealand got its first land-based casino in 1994. Since then, the country has permitted a total of six land-based casinos to run legally. Here is the full list:

NZ CasinoYear of Estd.OwnerLocationNo. of Games
Christchurch Casino1994Skyline EnterprisesChristchurch450+ pokie machines, 32 table games
SkyCity Auckland1996SkyCity Entertainment GroupAuckland2,100 gaming machines, 150 table games
Dunedin Casino1999Dunedin Casino LimitedDunedin180+ gaming machines
SkyCity Queenstown2000SkyCity Entertainment GroupQueenstown86 gaming machines
Wharf Casino2000SkyCity Entertainment GroupQueenstown2,500 gaming machines
SkyCity Hamilton2002SkyCity Entertainment GroupHamilton330 gaming machines and 23 table games

The fewer casinos in New Zealand is due to the Gambling Act of 2003 imposing a firm ‘No More Casinos' policy. The six existing casinos can continue operating and renew their licenses, but no new casinos can open nationwide.

Existing casinos also cannot increase the number of gaming machines or tables unless they balanced the addition of one with a reduction of another. But in 2013, SkyCity Auckland got a special deal from the parliament: 230 new poker machines and 40 tables for a NZ$402 million convention center.

Do note that no online casino has been licensed yet to run in the country. The New Zealand Gambling Commission handles casino licensing applications and reviews decisions made by the Department.

The day-to-day rules and standards, like minimum operations and game rules, are managed by the Department of Internal Affairs.

Fun fact: NZ land-based casinos are prohibited from opening on Christmas Day, Good Friday, or Anzac Day from 3 AM to 1 PM.

Pokies

First legalized in 1991, Pokie is the Kiwi term for slot games – the ones with reels and paylines. In the country, the majority of pokie machines are owned by charities (corporate societies) called Community Gaming Trusts and run via hotels, pubs and bars.

These venues hosting pokie machines are paid for by the societies. However, the payments needs to be controlled and limited. Venues, in return, must give all the pokie proceeds back to the societies who then spend it for authorised purposes.

The action being charitable, the maximum jackpots these games can offer are regulated. The rest of the pokie machines are available for real money play in the six land-based NZ casinos we mentioned earlier.

Since July 1, 2009, pokie machines in New Zealand must have Player Information Displays that tell gamblers about the duration of their gaming session and the money they have lost so far, so they are encouraged to take breaks.

You can legally play pokies online in New Zealand at foreign casino sites that are not subject to the country’s gambling laws.

Fun fact: All pokies in NZ must offer an RTP of at least 85%. The minimum stake is NZ$5. For regular pokie players, only up to NZ$20 notes are allowed. But if you're a VIP card holder playing in exclusive member-only areas of the casino, you may be allowed to use up to NZ$100 notes.

Poker

As per the Gambling Act 2003, organising real money poker games, tournaments and evenings is legal in New Zealand if the purpose is charity. The proceeds must go back to the community.

Making profits or commissions from poker tournaments is illegal unless they fall into any of the gambling classes – Class 1, Class 2, Class 3, or Private Gambling as defined in the Act. An exception to these rules is poker gambling organized in the country’s land-based casinos.

Also, poker events without money involved don't fall under gambling and are not covered by the Act. Furthermore, Kiwis can indulge in online poker gambling at offshore casino websites without breaking the law.

Fun fact: More than 17,500 poker machines exist in New Zealand and most of them are unregulated by the Government.

Housie/Bingo

The Gambling Act segregates real money Housie (the Kiwi term for Bingo) as Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3 gambling activity based on the money involved. In other words, Housie is legal in New Zealand, but only for charity, ergo the term ‘Charity Housie.’

Class 1 Housie games have a limit of NZ$500 on both the total turnover and the prizes payable. Societies can conduct only one Housie session per day if they stick to Class 1 gaming rules. No license is required for this. Individuals running Housie in NZ are rare in the country.

Class 2 Housie games have a limit of NZ$5,000 for the prizes and NZ$25,000 for the turnover. Only societies can organise these types of games. No license is required. Class 3 Housie games, the prizes can exceed NZ$5,000 in one go or in a session. Organising such games warrant a license.

Interestingly, almost all the six physical casinos in NZ have Bingo games on offer, which is by no way a charitable act. So, it’s safe to assume that if the game is available in a licensed NZ casino, it is legal. By the way, it is always termed Bingo and never Housie in the country’s offline casinos.

To play Bingo online, switch to any offshore casino that accepts Kiwi players. No law prohibits that.

Fun fact: Charitable Housie prizes in New Zealand must always be in cash. The coordinator of the game and their appointed caller cannot participate. Also, 100% of the turnover must be given away as prizes in Class 1 Housie games. For Class 2 and Class 3, it is at least 70%.

Bookmaking, Racing, Sports Betting

According to the Gambling Act 2003, bookmaking in New Zealand, including taking bets, arranging pool betting, connecting with gamblers, and setting odds, is illegal unless it is any of the following:

  • Private gambling
  • Casino gambling
  • Race and sports betting offered by the NZ Racing Board under the Racing Act 2003.

Operating under the brand name Totalizator Agency Board (TAB), the NZ Racing Board is the country’s only provider of racing (including horse race) and sports betting services. It offers its services via retail outlets and its official website: www.tab.co.nz.

TAB conducts totalisator and fixed-odds racing and sports betting nationwide as per its set rules. Under the Racing Industry Act 2020, it can even create new betting products. Because TAB New Zealand is deemed a regulator, it is subject to scrutiny by Parliament.

Betting on sports and races online is also possible at international sportsbooks and betting sites. By international, we mean the company must not be located in New Zealand.

Fun fact: TAB New Zealand runs a television service called TAB Trackside. It consists of two channels dedicated to horse racing and sports broadcasts.

Lottery, Raffle, Sweepstakes

Under the Gambling Act 2003, lottery in New Zealand is legal nationwide, but only when offered by the New Zealand Lotteries Commission. Established in 1987, this regulatory agency is a Crown Entity in the country and trades under the brand name Lotto New Zealand.

Among its current offerings is Lotto, its original and most popular lottery. Every ticket of Lotto comes with Powerball and Strike, the optional extras. Additionally, a daily Keno, a daily Bullseye, and Instant Kiwi online games (which are basically online scratchcards) are conducted.

Paper tickets can be purchased from authorised retail outlets or bought online on the official website: mylotto.co.nz.

Remember that the Gambling Act 2003 also includes large-scale lotteries under Class 3 gambling, which means such games can also be run by a licensed society. By large-scale lotteries, we mean the lotto games where the prizes in one go or session exceed NZ$5,000.

Such lotteries cannot jackpot and the profits generated must go to society’s authorised purposes. The Act also recognises raffles and sweepstakes as examples of lottery. However, the ticket sales in such games must not exceed $500 and all money raised must go to the winners.

Do note that Kiwis can take part in various international lotteries such as the US Powerball, Mega Millions, EuroMillions, EuroJackpot, and Mega Sena an offshore provider online.

Fun fact: The New Zealand Lotteries Commission offers the MyLotto App for Kiwi lottery players on the move.

Regulatory Agencies

These are the regulatory agencies in New Zealand that have a role in formulating the country’s gambling law.

  • Department of Internal Affairs
  • Gambling Commission
  • New Zealand Lotteries Commission
  • Ministry of Health

Department of Internal Affairs

Website: www.dia.govt.nz/gambling

The Department of Internal Affairs oversees gambling in New Zealand. They have a unit called Gambling Compliance, which enforces gambling laws and grants licenses for non-casino gambling (except under the Racing Act 2003).

Functions of Gambling Compliance involve the following:

  • Advising the NZ Government on gambling policy
  • Licensing Class 3 and 4 gambling (primarily large-scale lotteries and gaming machines)
  • Checking if certain individuals are suitable to work for gambling providers
  • Setting rules and equipment standards for all licensed gambling games
  • Setting minimum standards for operating and overseeing compliance in casinos
  • Monitoring and ensuring everyone follows the Gambling Act, regulations, license conditions, game rules and standards
  • Sharing information with and educating the public.

Gambling Commission

Website: www.gamblingcommission.govt.nz

The Gambling Commission is responsible for licensing casinos and hearing appeals against decisions made by the Department of Internal Affairs about both casino and Class 4 gambling.

Its functions include the following:

  • Setting, changing, and revoking the conditions for casino licensing
  • Reviewing applications to renew expired casino venue licenses
  • Approves agreements between casino operators and venue license holders and any changes in them
  • Handles appeals against decisions by the Department of Internal Affairs regarding regulation and licensing
  • Addresses complaints about how the Department handles Class 4 gambling complaints
  • Flexes the powers of a Commission of Inquiry as and when needed

New Zealand Lotteries Commission

Website: www.mylotto.co.nz

As already mentioned, The NZ Lotteries Commission is responsible for conducting lottery games in the country. The purpose is to raise funds for the community through the Lottery Grants Board.

The functions of the Lotteries Commission include the following:

  • Organising, conducting, and promoting lotteries in New Zealand
  • Setting the game rules
  • Maximising profits while minimising risks of problem and underage gambling

Ministry of Health

Website: www.health.govt.nz

New Zealand’s Ministry of Health funds and coordinates services for addressing problem gambling. The regulatory agency’s strategy includes the following:

  • Adopting measures to promote public health by preventing and reducing harm from gambling
  • Providing services to help problem gamblers and their families
  • Conducting independent scientific research on gambling

Legal Age for Gambling in NZ

The legal age for gambling in New Zealand is 18 years and older. However, you must be at least 20 or older to even enter a land-based casino.

Prohibited Gambling

Certain gambling activities have been specifically outlawed in the country under the Gambling Act 2003. These are:

  • Remote Interactive Gambling
  • Advertising Overseas Gambling
  • Prohibited Prizes

Remote Interactive Gambling

The Gambling Act 2003 defines remote interactive gambling as ‘gambling by a person at a distance by interaction through a communication device.’ Now, a communication device may be anything – a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, tablet, or even a radio.

For such activities to amount to illegal gambling, the participant must pay up something directly or indirectly and indulge in a game of chance that has a prize (such as money) on offer. Under this rule, setting up a casino website based in New Zealand and selling lottery tickets online is prohibited.

The exceptions, obviously are lotteries conducted by the Lotteries Commission and the sports bets offered by the Racing Board. Lotteries conducted by Class 3 operators are legal only till October 2024.

The penalty for breaking the law are fines of up to NZ$50,000 for organisations and up to NZ$10,000 for individuals. Interestingly, the Department of Internal Affairs in its Fact Sheets has clearly stated that the ban on remote interactive gambling in New Zealand does not extend to gambling conducted overseas.

So, we’d assume gambling at online casinos based and licensed outside New Zealand is legal.

For instance, if you are a Kiwi gambler exploring online casinos listed on passagen.se and you happen to come across one that accepts NZ players, it won’t be illegal for you to play on it as it is based overseas.

Similarly, if you check our recommended fast payout casinos in New Zealand, you will find that all of them are foreign casinos that welcome Kiwi players.

Advertising Overseas Gambling

Prohibited gambling activities under the Gambling Act 2003 also include advertising overseas gambling. This means, publicising and promoting gambling happening outside New Zealand or gambling operators located abroad is illegal.

Additionally, inducing Kiwis to gamble outside their country by any means of communication is illegal. The penalty for breaking this rule is a fine of up to NZ$10,000.

Exceptions are when such promotions are incidental. For example, it can be a tourism ad mentioning a certain casino in a certain city located outside New Zealand, a sales ad targeted at buyers of gambling equipment, or even an ad with a message to prevent, minimise or treat gambling-related harm.

Do note that such promotions are illegal when done not only within New Zealand, but also overseas. This means it is unlawful for overseas casinos to target Kiwi gamblers with ads about their services and offerings.

Nevertheless, some offshore casinos have found a way to bypass the rules by promoting their free-to-play gaming sites that look like their pay-to-gamble sites, placing the latter just a click away.

Prohibited prizes

Among the list of prohibited prizes for gambling, the Gambling Act 2003 mentions firearms, liquor, tobacco products, protected New Zealand objects, and vouchers or entitlement to commercial sexual services. These items and services cannot be given away as rewards for any kind of gambling activity in New Zealand.

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