What is New Zealand's Gambling Act (2003)?

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Worth an estimated NZ$2 billion each year, New Zealand's gambling industry is big business. Much like its Antipodean neighbour, Australia, New Zealand is big on casino games – especially pokies. In fact, according to the stats, pokies account for 35% of all betting revenue, while casino games come a close second at 26%. With Kiwis some of the most active gamblers in the world, regulation has become a must over the years.

Like the legal frameworks in other countries such as the UK, France and parts of the US, New Zealand's industry is controlled by strict regulation handed down from the federal government. During the 1920s, bookmaking was banned everywhere except for racetracks. That dynamic remained in place until a change of law in 1961 opened up the industry.

With people free to place sports bets away from the track, interest in gambling increased; by the 1980s the government moved to legalise lottery games. Another decade of increased interest in betting soon prompted Parliament to pass a gambling act in 1994, this time for the casino industry. With pokies now permitted and live venues springing up across the country, New Zealand was fast becoming a hub for all forms of gambling. In fact, nine years and a few hundred million dollars later, the government passed a definitive law on gambling, known as the Gambling Act 2003.

What is New Zealand's Gambling Act 2003?

The New Zealand Gambling Act 2003 consolidated the country's existing laws surrounding gambling and defined the industry in light of the internet. It was designed by a government that was keen to negate any potential negative effects of gambling online.

Although the Gambling Act has been amended since it was first passed (namely in 2005 and 2015), the main statutes are still in place. The initial version of the Gambling Act was known as the Responsible Gambling Bill (2002). From this foundation, the current system of laws was put in place to ensure the highest levels of service and security across the live and online gambling sectors.

What Effects Does the Gambling Act Have on Gambling in New Zealand?

One of the most important standards the Gambling Act 2003 sets for players is the age of participation. Under New Zealand gaming law, players are only permitted to gamble inside a casino at the age of 20 and above. Additionally, any person wishing to place a sports bet (including horse racing), play the lottery or buy a scratchcard must be 18 or above. Beyond the regulation of age, the government lists eight main aims of its 2003 act:

What is the Department of Internal Affairs?

To keep gambling industry regulation separate from the government in the interests of fairness (i.e. the government profits from taxing the industry so doesn't want a conflict of interest), the Gambling Commission is the main regulatory body.

Despite being formed in 2003 as an "independent statutory decision-making body", the Gambling Commission is overseen by the Department of Internal Affairs. The Gambling Commission can dispense/revoke licences, adjust licensing conditions and rule on disputes and complaints.

In simple terms, the Gambling Commission has the power to regulate New Zealand's gaming industry within the pre-existing legal framework, but it does not have the power to change the law. For any legal issues, the Gambling Commission can only advise and defer to the Department of Internal Affairs and the Minister of Internal Affairs.

What are the Four Classes of Legal Betting in New Zealand?

Under the terms of the Gambling Act 2003, all gambling is considered illegal unless it’s authorised by or under the act. This basically means that any form of gambling that doesn't fall into one of four legal classes is prohibited.

Online Gambling and the New Zealand Gambling Act 2003

In general, the New Zealand Gambling Act 2003 applies to land-based casinos and bookmakers. However, since the advent of online gambling in New Zealand, it has been amended to include a number of different betting options. Today, gambling refers to all live activities, as well as "remote" betting, including:

The law against online casinos only applies to remote gambling within New Zealand. In the case of overseas betting, Kiwi players are permitted to gamble for real money. Although slightly confusing, this basically means that players aren't allowed to place online bets with an operator based in New Zealand.

However, players are permitted to place bets with operators based outside of New Zealand, because they are technically betting overseas. In a nutshell, the current system of regulation doesn't prevent Kiwi players from betting online. It does, however, prevent offshore companies from advertising their services within New Zealand.

Piecing Together the New Zealand Gambling Act

The New Zealand Gambling Act 2003 was designed to ensure players were protected at all times. By commissioning an independent body to licence, regulate and discipline operators, players are able to wager money without their security being compromised. As the industry has evolved, the act has increased its scope to ensure mobile gambling, online casino and online poker rooms remain safe and secure.

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