The Changing Face of Wagering in New Zealand


New Zealand’s gambling tale is full of contradictions. The country that pioneered a key feature of international horse race betting more than a century ago also has a history being late to the party when it comes to adopting new betting trends. But how exactly has the wagering landscape changed for Kiwis over the years?

Mechanical Tote board pioneers

A tote board (or totalizator) is a numeric display used at racetracks to display the pay-out in a pari-mutuel betting pool. This type of betting system had been used around the world since the mid-19th century (where they replaced earlier chalkboard systems) and manual boards were first installed at tracks in the 1860s.

To speed up pay-outs, a mechanical board was proposed, the first of which was invented by English-born George Julius who was living in Sydney, having previously studied Mechanical Engineering in Christchurch.

Having unsuccessfully attempted to get a voting calculating machine commissioned by the Australian government, he turned his attention to racetracks and sold his first machine to Ellerslie Racecourse in New Zealand in 1913, as discussed at It was the first in the world and showcased the country’s serious attitude towards on-track betting. Julius’ company went on to install machines in other countries around the world, including the USA, where the first was installed in Florida in 1932.

Slow to adopt other wagering options

Despite being forward-thinking when it came to wagering on horses, New Zealand lagged behind neighbours Australia and many other countries when it came to lotteries and other popular wagering options. While Aussies had been playing lottery games since the 19th century, Kiwis had to make do with “Art Unions”, which offered limited prizes. Eventually, in 1961, the government reacted and launched the “Golden Kiwi” lottery.

Slot machines (pokies) did not arrive until 1987, and the first casino did not open until 1994. Since then, only five more casinos have opened, and a law has been passed to prevent any more from being built.

Online wagering

When it comes to online gaming, there are plenty of online casinos based outside of the country where Kiwis can legally play, the best of which are comprehensively reviewed on sites such as Like online casinos elsewhere, they offer New Zealand residents a range of real-money promotions for online pokies, sports betting, poker sites, scratch cards and internet bingo. With so few land-based casinos, it is no surprise that more New Zealanders are choosing to wager online from the comfort of their own homes.

Betting on Thoroughbred horse racing remains one of the most common forms of wagering in New Zealand. And it’s no surprise as the country has produced many famous racehorses over the years. According to, horses bred in the country have won more than 40 Melbourne Cups and many have gone on to win Group One races around the world. Major races in New Zealand include the Karaka Million, Spring Classic and New Zealand Derby. Aside from horse race betting, online casino gaming is becoming hugely popular new gamers who prefer to gamble on the go or from the comfort of their own homes.

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