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From poker to pokies: Exploring the gambling culture of New Zealand

Gambling across the Australasia and Oceania region has a long and interesting history. Countries such as Australia have fairly relaxed laws regarding specific types of betting, such as sportsbooks and digital casinos. Although you can gamble online in Australia and New Zealand, companies cannot operate from these countries.


For gamblers in these jurisdictions, the specifics of this law do not matter so long as they can log in online and place a bet. When it comes to specific card-based games, Kiwis enjoy them all. You can find online casinos that offer a wide range of blackjack, poker, pokies and lesser-known games such as baccarat.

How did gambling turn into such a big business in New Zealand? If you look at a map, you could point out several countries where gambling is outlawed. You can also select regions where there are much looser gambling laws than you will find anywhere in Oceania. It is the luck of the draw, and online casino gaming has opened many more avenues for people to enjoy their favourite casino games.


The legality of gambling in New Zealand


For Kiwi gamblers, pokies are a popular way to unwind and relax. Unfortunately, only a handful of countries refer to pokies by this title. Many other countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, prefer to call the devices ‘slot machines’. I know, right? What a silly name!


Gambling has always existed in some capacity in New Zealand. Although historical issues and some law changes impacted sportsbooks over a hundred years ago, most of the culture has been open to regulated and controlled gambling for citizens to enjoy. The current climate in New Zealand allows these companies to operate flexibly but under robust regulation.


This seems to strike the perfect balance as a significant tax base comes from gambling. This money is then injected back into the economy of New Zealand. However, if you go too far the other way, gambling establishments can lure in the wrong type of operator. Las Vegas is one of the world’s top gambling destinations, but in the past it was not known as Sin City for nothing, so it is a delicate balancing act.


There is also the argument that grown adults should be free to do whatever they want with their money. As long as their activities are not causing any harm to themselves or other people, why shouldn’t gambling be regulated and controlled in the same way alcohol is?


The development of gambling in New Zealand


There isn’t one country on the planet that wasn’t affected by the exponential rise of the internet. It has now become the platform for billions of us for hours a day. You wouldn’t even be reading this article if it wasn’t for the internet.


The gambling industry is more aware of this than most industries. As a result, it has helped companies within the sector expand across borders and continents.


For a country like New Zealand, which is small and much further away from many other areas where people travel specifically for gambling, such as Las Vegas, Macau and Monaco, the emergence of online gaming acted as a revelation for tens of thousands of people.

Only six land-based casinos operate in New Zealand, with the first one opening its doors nearly 30 years ago in Christchurch.


With so many casinos operating online and the market enjoying new levels of profit and perennially growing from strength to strength, sometimes it is better to join in with where the money is going provided the activity itself is well regulated and the money is placed back into the betterment of society.




Playing poker online means it is easier than ever to join a table from New Zealand and try your luck against players worldwide. Some professional players will join online poker games to hone their skills under the radar before they make a run for big money.


There are dozens of types of poker to choose from, such as:


  • Community card poker
  • Stud poker
  • Draw poker


You can choose individual games too. They range from pineapple poker to Texas Hold ’em or 5-card Omaha. However, some poker players have criticised the availability of online poker as a diluted version of the popular card game.


Poker players often rely on a strategy that involves studying body language and movement and psyching out opponents. If you play online, this element of the game is lost.


When playing online, other factors of the game come into play. As a result, the popularity of virtual and video poker is a testament to how well these games are designed, and there’s room for all types to flourish in a global gambling market.


From a global perspective, the most popular online game is Texas Hold ‘em. It attracts the most players and people worldwide to play against each other as it is considered one of the most accessible types of poker to pick up. Shorter versions of poker also exist.


Types of poker competitions


You can play in big tournaments against hundreds of other players. Individual poker sessions can sometimes take place over days or weeks, with substantial prize pots at the end for the remaining players still standing.


For gamblers from a country like New Zealand, which has a population smaller than London, players didn’t have a wide selection of players or tables to choose from before the dawn of the internet. Having the choice of six casinos in the city isn’t convenient for people who live on the outskirts or players who want to participate in bigger tournaments.


However, the internet has changed all that, and the increase in competition and choice has caused a surge in the profit generated by New Zealand poker players.




Pokies are not to be confused with poker, of course. Pokies are a staple of all casinos, and for those outside New Zealand, you may know them more commonly as slot machines, as we mentioned above.


Las Vegas floors are inundated with the machines’ vibrant and colourful sights and sounds, and many online casinos will provide plenty of pokies offers to draw in your custom. It’s challenging to argue that no casino game has benefitted more from the rise in technology than pokies.


They can use the best computer graphics, gaming, sounds and music. The algorithms you can find online and the interfaces many smartphones use help make the experience even more engaging. For gamblers in New Zealand, the culture increased tenfold when online casinos provided a facility to bring these sophisticated and well-designed games to a global audience.


There was a significant leap when the option to choose from six land-based casinos or a pokies machine in the corner of the pub increased to the choice of hundreds of the most well-designed games. However, the gambling culture in New Zealand embraced the new technology, and the switch to online casino gaming and pokies is one area that benefitted in every conceivable way.




New Zealand is a proud sporting nation, and it often punches above its weight on the international sports scene. For example, the All Blacks are the best rugby union team ever. They have won more games and World Cups than countries with over 10 times their population.


Rugby union and cricket are two big games among Kiwi gamblers. With the country lifting the Rugby World Cup multiple times over the last 15 years, this type of success reflects in society and the sportsbooks.


More people watch the game if their national team is doing well. Invariably, this results in more people placing bets to make their gambling experience all the more exciting. While these sportsbooks might not see the same activity level as a UK betting company during the FIFA World Cup, it still increases the profit margins for online casino gaming.




The culture of New Zealand is inclusive and welcomes a wide range of people. European settlers are the most prominent group in the country, but there is a healthy mix of other cultures, and respect is present throughout the culture.


The Maori and Samoan cultures are both still prevalent throughout many areas of New Zealand. Not to mention there’s so much to see in these countries too. Despite the cities being Westernised, a delicate balance has been struck to maintain tolerance and respect.


This likely explains why the gambling culture in New Zealand is considered one of the most well-managed anywhere in the world. It is respectful and well-governed, and the profits from the industry go back into helping communities throughout the country.


Organisations help people who are unfortunate enough to develop a gambling problem within the country. With a well-balanced culture that is partial to a sports bet or a casino game, but one that also recognises the damage unregulated gambling can cause, New Zealand has found a delicate balance. Many countries could learn from how they handle gambling, regulation and the challenges it brings.


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