What is Gambling Act 2003?

Gambling seems to grow in popularity with each passing day in New Zealand, and the hard facts are there to support this claim. It is estimated that Kiwis spend over NZ$2.6 billion in a year playing their favourite gaming machines, which is an astonishing number.

It is clear that New Zealand is big on casino games, so the need for strict gambling regulation is a necessity. That is where the Gambling Act 2003 comes into the frame – it is the primary piece of legislation in New Zealand which consolidates the nation’s gambling laws into an effective infrastructure.

So, here, we will put our focus on the gambling benefits that come with this act, how the government came to this legislation and whether there is room for improvement.

The Need for a Gambling Act

Gambling has a long history in New Zealand and we can trace its roots back to the 19th century when people would bet on cards and athletic competitions. However, history has shown that the most popular type of gambling was horse racing, with New Zealand banning all sorts of bookmaking except racetracks.

This changed in 1961, when a new law opened up the industry and now people showed even greater interest in gambling. This led the government to legalize lottery games in the 1980s, and in 1994, a new law for the casino industry was introduced.

Pokies were now allowed and casinos sprung up across the country. New Zealand fast became a hub for all sorts of gambling activities – including online gambling. So, the government had little choice but to pass a new law known as the Gambling Act 2003.

The Desired Effects of the Gambling Act

The first and one of the most important standards that the Gambling Act set is the legal age of participation. The new rules prohibit players under the age of 20 from entering a casino establishment. Beyond that, according to the New Zealand legislation website, the Act has eight purposes:

  1. To control the growth of the entire gambling industry.
  2. Prevent gambling harm, including problem gambling.
  3. Specify which forms of gambling are allowed.
  4. Promote responsible gambling.
  5. Ensure the integrity of each gaming machine.
  6. Limit the possibilities for crime associated with gambling.
  7. Promote community involvement in gambling decisions.
  8. Make sure that all funds generated from gambling benefit the community.

The Institutions

Other important provisions that you will find on the New Zealand legislation website describe the main institutions that oversee the entire gambling sector.

The Department of Internal Affairs

First off, we have the Department of Internal Affairs a body that administers the rules, monitors the gambling industry, and ensures that all rules and regulations are respected. The DIA also minimizes the harm caused by gambling through:

  • Regulation
  • Licensing
  • Compliance
  • Enforcement

Gambling Commission

Additionally, in a bid to keep the entire industry separate from the government in the name of fairness and avoiding conflict of interest, the Gambling Commission was installed. The DIA oversees the Commission and it is an independent decision-making body with the following competencies:

  • Revoke licenses
  • Adjust licensing conditions
  • Be the judge on disputes and complaints

To put it even more simply – the Commission can regulate the industry with the legal framework in place, but it does not have the power to change the law. If there is a legal issue, then the DIA and the Minister of Internal Affairs take centre stage.

Ministry of Health

Moving on, we have the Ministry of Health that is responsible for developing a responsible gambling strategy. It is the problem gambling authorise body that also provides related information about gambling harm, the research activities, as well as how it funds and coordinates gambling prevent services.

The Ministry of Health must refresh the strategy every three years, and the main aspects of that strategy are:

  • Promoting public health by minimizing and preventing gambling harm.
  • Treat problem gamblers.
  • Research associated with gambling.
  • Evaluation.

Territorial Authorities

Here, local councils have a vital role in informing the government about the provision of gambling in their area. They do this by developing and reviewing class 4 venue and TAB policies and applying those policies with new applications.

All local and unitary councils in New Zealand must have a TAB venue policy for race and sports betting services.


Lastly, we have a rather new body established in 2020 under the Racing Industry Act which promotes betting and ensures the minimization of gambling harm.

The Four Classes of Gambling

The Gambling Act 2003 clearly specifies that all gambling activities are illegal unless they are mentioned or authorized under the act. To make things more clear, there are four legal classes of gambling in New Zealand:

  • Class 1 – the first class focuses specifically on individuals who offer gambling services privately. However, there are limitations to note here – the Act states that prizes and turnovers of up to NZ$500 are legal. In addition, hosts cannot make any profits from organizing such wagers with all proceeds being paid to the winner.
  • Class 2 – an upgrade to the first class, here, the Act allows for any society or club to offer gambling without a license. However, prize values must be between NZ$500 and NZ$5,000. The money turnover also needs to be between NZ$500 and NZ$25,000.
  • Classes 3 and 4 – lastly, classes 3 and 4 regulate major operators that offer table games, machines or both. Casinos must hold a license by the Commission and prizes must total at least NZ$5,000. Class 4 controls the administration of machines.

For many Kiwis, the most problematic sector of the Gambling Act 2003 is that there are strict games limit opportunities regarding domestic online casino operators.

No domestic online gambling sites can offer their services to New Zealand punters, with Lotto NZ and New Zealand Racing Board (TAB) being the only ways to gamble online in the country.

However, Kiwis are clear to access offshore online casino operators as there are no penalties for individuals who gamble at such sites. As you can imagine, there is a clear problem with this – in case of fraud, there is no central authority from New Zealand that can protect punters and serve their interests.

This is why it is of the utmost importance for Kiwis to only gamble at licensed and 100% secure operators.

Much More Room For Improvement

All in all, we can summarize that the Gambling Act 2003 introduced some significant changes in the NZ gambling sector.

We cannot turn a blind eye to the positive aspects of it towards New Zealand’s society – raising public awareness about the risks of problem gambling and providing support to anyone who experiences gambling-related problems.

Nonetheless, the need for a change is obvious, especially when you consider the rise of online casino operators. Kiwis love to gamble online, but they can only do so on international sites. New amendments need to be made for New Zealand to fully reap the benefits of a legalized online gambling industry.