Story: Gambling

Page 4. Lotteries and raffles

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The first lotteries

The New Zealand Company in London ran New Zealand’s first lottery in 1839. It asked punters to take their chances on buying a section of unseen land in Wellington. The company used similar lotteries in its other settlements.

Art unions

Colonial New Zealanders sometimes subscribed to British ‘art unions’ where they invested a guinea or more to be in the draw to win a work of art. New Zealand artists began their own art unions from the 1860s. It allowed art lovers a chance to procure a work of art that they could not otherwise afford.

By the 1870s lotteries were expanding in size and range, and were run by the likes of sports and recreational clubs, businesses and municipal authorities. However, the word ‘lottery’ had an unwanted whiff of gambling, so the term ‘art union’ was adopted as a euphemism.

These lotteries burgeoned in local communities, and 487 organisations applied to run them in 1897 alone. In July 1915 a group of businessmen ran the first national art union, with the profits going to assist wounded soldiers and their dependants. As cash prizes were banned the first prize was a £1,000 gold nugget.

During the 1920s lotteries to raise money for a wide variety of projects became a national phenomenon. Prizes included houses, cars, boats, buggies and animals. In 1925 Canterbury’s cricket and tennis associations ran the largest art union so far. The first prize was a ‘gold nugget’ worth £4,000. By then this was simply a euphemism for a cash payout. More than £20,000 was raised, funding the construction of tennis courts at Christchurch’s Wilding Park and many city cricket pitches.

Posting to Hobart

The Tasmanian Tattersalls Lotteries entered the New Zealand market in 1896. Because its prizes were bigger than those of local lotteries (first prizes in the 1900s reached £20,000) it found an enthusiastic clientele. However, due to lotteries’ illegality, euphemisms abounded. Tobacconists who sold tickets hung up the sign, ‘We post to Hobart’ outside their premises for decades.

Professional organisers

By 1930 nine or ten big art unions ran each year, each earning between £10,000 and £20,000. A key reason for their success was Neil McArthur, a young Wellington draughtsman, who had run a popular Wellington Aero Club lottery. Other organisations soon hired McArthur for his skill, and he persuaded employers’ advocate Bertie Hammond to do the books.

In January 1932 the government appointed Hammond and McArthur Company Ltd to run all national lotteries at a remuneration of £200 per lottery, with the state distributing the profits to worthy causes. It proved to be an agreeable formula, lasting 40 years.

Double bangers

In 1979, to celebrate the 50th year of national lotteries, two $3.1 million ‘Double Banger’ lotteries, the biggest ever, were run. The public response was frantic. On 15 October long queues formed outside tobacconists from 3 a.m. The tickets were gone by late afternoon. Many people missed out. Entertainer Ray Woolf drew the winning $750,000 ticket ($4.2 million in 2012) on his television show on 9 November. Viewer numbers broke all records.

Golden Kiwi lottery

In 1958 the government allowed Hammond and McArthur’s first prize to reach £10,000 ($453,000 in 2012) but that was as high as it got.

Many New Zealanders entered the Australian lottery, Tattersalls, with a prize that reached £75,000 ($3.4 million in 2012 terms). The country was losing £600,000 in overseas lottery sales every year. In response, Minister of Internal Affairs Leon Gotz allowed a regular national £30,000 ‘Golden Kiwi’ lottery with a first prize of £4,000 ($162,000). It would be state-run and organised by McArthur.

When the Golden Kiwi launched in 1961 demand was phenomenal. Queues lined the streets before daybreak to buy tickets from tobacconists. By February 1962 there had been seven Golden Kiwis, with five million tickets sold. In the first year they netted a profit of £1.4 million ($56.7 million), and the government’s take was £465,000 ($18.8 million). In 1964 the national lottery introduced ‘Mammoths’ (with a first prize of £60,000), followed by ‘Kiwi Jackpot’ and ‘Kiwi Super’ lotteries. In 1973 McArthur retired and accountant Warwick Kiddle replaced him.

When interest waned in the national lottery the prizes went up. In November 1977 Kiddle ran the country’s first $500,000 lottery. The $10 tickets sold out within a week. The lotteries funded good works and charities. In 1982–83 a record $18 million went to the arts, sports, recreation, welfare, community activities and medical/scientific research.


For decades raffles were the most common way in which individuals, families, municipalities, clubs, schools and Catholic parishes raised money for personal or altruistic purposes.

How to cite this page:

David Grant, 'Gambling - Lotteries and raffles', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 July 2024)

Story by David Grant, published 5 Sep 2013