The History of Poker in New Zealand: From Its Origins to Today

New Zealand has a long and fascinating history of gambling. Games of chance have experienced a regularly shifting legal status for hundreds of years. From total prohibition in the roaring twenties to the “Pokie” galleries of today—basically, buildings filled with slot machines that are legally required to donate a portion of their earnings to the community. It is fair to say that NZ has had a complicated gambling trajectory. In this article, we explore what that means for poker in New Zealand.

The Early Days of Poker

In the early 1830s, gambling was effectively outlawed in New Zealand, creating a culture around all games of chance that was prohibitive, to say the least. For decades, the only legalized form of wagering was to place bets on sporting events. At the time, horse racing was the most popular sport, which also made it the primary focus of gamblers across the country. By the 1920s, even that had been regulated nearly out of existence. Poker and other card games did not exist at the legal level and were played behind closed doors, if at all. But then, the 1980s came around.

The economy picked up. Political reform saw deregulation across industries, including within the world of gambling. Suddenly, people interested in playing games of chance had a lot more freedom to do as they pleased.

The Emergence of Casinos and Legalized Poker in New Zealand Gambling

In the 1990s, casinos began to emerge as New Zealand gambling laws softened. These mostly took the form of “pokie,” establishments, where people could go to play slot games, and other video-based machines. Gambling slowly weaved it's way into NZ culture, with machines popping up in clubs, bars, etc. Perhaps due to the machine’s locations, they were played mostly by men.

Then, in 2003, there was further gambling reform that allowed card games like poker to legally enter the equation. Now, there are 6 casinos located in New Zealand, all of which are frequented by locals and tourists alike.

The Popularity of Texas Hold'em

Texas Hold’em is broadly considered to be the most popular poker variant in circulation. While no one knows exactly how it got started, the state of Texas claims that it grew out of Robstown, Texas in the early years of the 20th century.

Since then, it has caught on at a global scale, praised for the fact that it is easy to start playing but very difficult to master. It is currently the most popular form of poker being played in New Zealand. This is largely due to the increasing prominence of professional poker television coverage.

When poker tournaments began to be broadcasted all over the planet, the game’s increase in popularity was both sudden and enormous. New Zealand, a nation previously starved for gambling access, found itself in a unique moment. New laws making gambling more accessible arrived at the exact moment that a poker variation hit the global scene.

The result? Texas Hold’em is enormous in New Zealand, as it is in many other countries all across the planet. As more NZ players make a name for themselves on the pro circuit, that popularity is only likely to grow.

The Future of Poker in NZ

Many of the nation's best players emerged in the early 2000s. For example, Lee Nelson—a respected doctor turned pro player with millions of dollars worth of winnings.

Simon Watt is an up-and-comer who ten years ago earned his first gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. Jackie Glazier is a famously deft female player who has made a name for herself worldwide both as an excellent gamer, and an ambassador for female participation in the game. The famous NZ poker players help increase the game’s local momentum.

All of that said, it is worth mentioning that many experts believe that New Zealand’s gambling laws remain out of date. While they do comprehensively cover restrictions placed around physical gambling, they largely neglect the major emergence of poker online.

Interested in participating in the exciting world of poker? Take a look at this poker guide that will help you get started with the game. Or, if you have a little bit more experience, take a look at this poker advanced strategy guide. You’re never too good to learn more, so practice hard and play to win.