By the early 1980s the insatiable demand for lottery funding led Minister of Internal Affairs Allan Highet to promote a new numbers game: Lotto. However, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon was vigorously opposed to it on the grounds that it would devastate the racing industry.
The initiative was revived after a change of government. In early 1986 the cabinet agreed to introduce it subject to a parliamentary conscience vote. In April 1987 Parliament voted 47 to 20 in favour of Lotto. The state-owned New Zealand Lotteries Commission was charged with running the venture.
The game was an immediate success. On the day of the first draw (22 July 1987) crowds packed Lotto outlets ensuring gross receipts of more than $2 million – and a first prize of $359,808 ($687,100 in 2012 terms).
Within six weeks a million New Zealanders were playing the game. By August 1989 the country had more than 1,000 Lotto outlets, and sales were exceeding $5 million weekly ($9.7 million in 2012). In its wake Golden Kiwi sales declined and the commission terminated Golden Kiwi in 1989.
In November 2011 a Greymouth couple won an $8.4 million Lotto prize. Such was their excitement the winning ticket became soaked with sweat. ‘I wrote the numbers on the top of the ticket and started checking them off – I checked off about two, and then the winning line just seemed to leap out at me, it was surreal,’ said one of the couple. 1 The largest-ever Lotto prize (to 2012) was $36.9 million, won by a Masterton syndicate.
To replace the Golden Kiwi and raise money for the Auckland 1990 Commonwealth Games, the Lotteries Commission introduced Instant Kiwi scratch cards in 1989. The game’s appeal lay in its cheapness, immediacy and favourable odds, there being a one-in-seven chance of winning a prize. The $21 million Commonwealth Games fund was reached in three months. Instant Kiwi turned over $135 million in its first year.
To maintain interest and increase sales the Lotteries Commission developed new games and methods of play.
- In April 1993 Lotto Strike was introduced.
- In October 1994 the first daily Keno began.
- In February 2001 Powerball commenced.
- In October 2005 the midweek Big Wednesday started, providing punters with the chance to win $2 million in cash and luxury cars, launches, travel and holiday homes.
- From 2008 these and other games could be played on the commission’s website.
During the early 2010s multi-million dollar jackpots propelled Lotto sales to new heights. Sales for Lotto, Keno and Instant Kiwi in the 2010/11 year reached $925.9 million, of which $498.4 million went in prizes, from 26,954,853 tickets.
In the 2010/11 year close to a billion dollars was spent on Lotto, Keno and Instant Kiwi. This equated to spending of $210 by every man, woman and child living in New Zealand.
The system for distributing Lotto and Instant Kiwi profits was managed by the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board. It funded community initiatives that neither the government nor the private sector would provide, but which were so valued by communities that they volunteered time and labour for their realisation.
During the late 1980s, befitting the Labour government’s deregulatory ethos, there was a dramatic expansion in the gambling landscape. In 1988 the government legalised what New Zealanders colloquially called ‘pokies’ (electronic gaming machines, sometimes called poker machines or one-armed bandits) for clubs and hotels.
Research in the 1990s found pokies were associated with more criminal activity than any other form of non-casino gambling, including misappropriation of funds, theft and fraud. In 2012 Māori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell was concerned that venues’ profit margins were too high. He wanted greater community say over where pokie venues were located. He introduced a private member’s bill to reform the system.
In 1989 the government allowed the introduction of casinos. Christchurch opened the first in November 1994. Auckland followed with the SkyCity casino in January 1996, and since then smaller operations have opened in Hamilton, Dunedin and Queenstown. Casino licence applications and renewals are determined by an independent statutory body, the Gambling Commission.