Story: Sports and leisure

Page 2. Gambling

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Gambling has long been part of the New Zealand way of life. In the 19th century people would bet on cards and on athletic competitions. But the most popular form was gambling on the horses; the first race meeting was held in the Bay of Islands in 1835.

Opposition from Protestant churches led to increased restrictions at the end of the 19th century, and from 1910 bookmakers were banned from horse-racing meetings. Apart from games of two-up among the armed forces during both world wars, and pakapoo (a form of lotto) among the Chinese community, until the 1980s gambling was largely confined to lotteries and betting on horses. From 1932 the art union lotteries were run by Hammond and McArthur under government regulation, and in 1961 the Golden Kiwi lottery was introduced. As for betting on horses, that too was taken over in 1950 by a state-run agency, the Totalisator Agency Board or TAB.

Total success

George Julius, son of an early New Zealand Anglican archbishop, invented the world’s first automatic totalisator, used for racing and sports betting. He originally designed it as a mechanical vote-counter, but adapted it for the race course, even though he had never been to one. The first order for the machine was for Auckland’s Ellerslie Racecourse in 1913. Ten years later, Julius was knighted in Australia for his contributions to technology.

The wheel turns

The 1980s saw dramatic changes. First the game of Lotto, based on a weekly draw of numbers, got under way – to huge public interest – in July 1987. In the early 2000s the game was regularly played by 67% of the population, and 400,000 New Zealanders watched the weekly draw on television every Saturday night. In 1988 electronic gaming machines (‘one-armed bandits’ or ‘pokie machines’) were made legal for sports clubs, chartered clubs, Returned Services Associations and hotels. Finally in 1989 Parliament approved the introduction of casinos, and by 2003 six had been introduced – one each in Christchurch, Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton, and two in Queenstown. The effect of these changes was to reduce the relative spending on racing.

In response, the TAB moved into offering gambling on other sports besides horses. In 1987, horse racing took some 85% of the total gambling spend. By 2000 this had dropped dramatically. New Zealanders were looking elsewhere to place their bets, in the following proportions:

  • Gaming machines – 35%
  • Casinos – 26%
  • Lotteries Commission games (Lotto, Instant Kiwi, Daily Keno) – 21%
  • Racing and betting on sports, including rugby and cricket results – 18%.
How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Sports and leisure - Gambling', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 27 May 2024)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Sep 2015