New Zealand Government Proposes Four Gambling Act Reform Options

  • Review being spearheaded by the Department of Internal Affairs
  • Reform intended to make 2003 Gambling Act more relevant in a digital age
  • Three options would see the country’s online gambling sector expand its scope
  • New Zealand has also increased problem gambling protection, efforts met with criticism
New Zealand flag on a mast.
The New Zealand government has proposed four reforms to update online gambling legislation and make it more current in this digital age. [Image: Shutterstock]

Discussion document issued

The Department of Internal Affairs for New Zealand has issued a discussion document that proposes four reform options to the current gambling legislation. The government is also reviewing the 2003 Gambling Act to make it more current in this digital age.

With interest in online gambling at an all-time high in New Zealand, government figures show that more than NZ$381m ($244m) has been bet through offshore online gambling operators over the past 18 months. This includes online sportsbooks and casinos.

Critics have said that, with this proposal, the government is focusing more on what is good for the gambling operators than on protecting potentially vulnverable gamblers.

Potential reforms

Department of Internal Affairs officials are proposing three reform options that would grant New Zealanders access to more types of gambling products. The fourth and final option suggests keeping things the way they are.

The only legal online gambling operators operating in New Zealand at the moment are TAB and Lotto.

The only legal online gambling operators operating in New Zealand at the moment are TAB and Lotto. To try and get New Zealanders to stop using offshore gambling platforms, one of the reforms would allow these two providers to add more gambling options, such as an online casino. 

Another reform would see more licenses being handed out in New Zealand for gambling operators. The third expansion proposal would see international operators being able to apply for a license in New Zealand. 

While there would likely be voluntary compliance for this option according to the DIA, it would be good for New Zealanders as they would have access to better odds and promotions due to the competition. The public can make submissions on these reforms until the close of September. 

Ongoing trends

According to the Ministry of Health, there are low numbers of gamblers that are calling them for help with online gambling. However, a spokesperson for the Problem Gambling Foundation (PGF) believes that this is because it is still a relatively new sector in New Zealand.

The PGF spokesperson said: “The very nature of online gambling is hidden – you can carry around a betting agency in your pocket. You can gamble in bed, at work, or on the toilet.”

More and more states across the world are legalizing online gambling. The worldwide market for the activity is set to double from 2017 to 2024. The two operators in New Zealand have been trying to keep up with demand from gamblers. This saw them introduce Texas Hold’em poker and online scratchies in January, as well as more extensive live streaming options. 

The digital platforms of TAB now account for 60% of its total betting turnover. Their mobile platform is growing rapidly, with its popularity having increased by 59% in the latest period.

They have been rolling out extensive advertising campaigns to try and attract new customers. According to the TAB annual report, this led to nearly 80,000 first-time bettors signing up for accounts. 

Problem gambling protections

While the Internal Affairs department in New Zealand is seeking to potentially expand the scope of the country’s two gambling operators, they are also making some strides to protect problem gamblers. 

One of the options is to ban or heavily restrict the way people use credit cards to add funds to online gambling accounts. They are also looking into banning certain platforms from being accessed through public wifi. They will also look at increasing awareness about problem gambling, as well as committing more funds towards problem gambling treatment programs. 

This is just scratching the surface according to the Problem Gambling Foundation. They are in support of the credit cards restrictions, but they are still calling for tougher measures. They say:

We don’t want to keep being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.”

The New Zealand government did commit an additional NZ$60m ($39m) to funding problem gambling services at the start of 2019. For a relatively small country, they spend a lot more per capita on problem gambling than most major nations. 

The authorities are also trying their best to stop residents from accessing illegal offshore online gambling platforms. While New Zealanders can legally use the offshore platforms to gamble, some of these platforms have New Zealand domains, which is not legal. The authorities sent requests to 13 operators to close their New Zealand website addresses with immediate effect.