Sports Betting in New Zealand: The New Zealand Racing Board

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In New Zealand, the sports betting contract exists within an efficient regulatory regime. Nonetheless, in our modern competitive environment, the gambling industry faces significant challenges. In this chapter, the term "sports betting" is used in its widest sense. It comprises racing betting (horses, greyhounds and dogs); animal fight betting; and general sports betting (betting on sporting events).

Sports betting is conducted by the New Zealand Racing Board. The Totalisator Agency Board (the "TAB") is its most recognisable arm. It liaises with the various national sporting organisations in order to provide on and off-course betting facilities for the public. Historically the TAB, that provides off-course betting, arose as a compromise. It essentially removed the commercialisation of betting through the bookmaker by reaching a balance between an enjoyable activity and the lessening of the effects of problem gambling. While horse racing was traditionally the most substantial gambling activity, gradually lotteries, instant kiwi, gaming machines, casinos, dog racing and general sports betting have dramatically changed the gambling landscape. The TAB is no longer hidden. It is a visible commercial entity. In addition to outlets, the TAB uses the Internet, Phonebet, Touch Tone and a SKYBET channel to bet. Its visibility has made the tendency to gamble, and the associated risk of problem gambling, more recognisable; and a significant public health approach has been adopted to identify, minimise and manage these risks. Gambling activity will always comprise attempts to rig a sport result for an easy dollar but reasonably effective anti-corruption measures exist. In modern times, the Internet and sport transactions abroad present significant challenges for the TAB. As a statutory corporation designed for taxation, it operates in a highly competitive market place. A telling example is the horse racing industry which currently faces record declining membership and public patronage; (1) and has been described as an "industry in crisis". (2)

2. The Bookmaker

2.1. Horse Racing and Trotting

Horseracing was adopted instinctively into New Zealand society. The first recorded horse race was held at Kororareka (Russell) in the Bay of Islands in 1835; (3) and the first recognised thoroughbred horse, Figaro, landed in Wellington in 1840. (4) Anniversary celebrations in Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury and Otago all provided annual racing meetings. By the 1880s, statistics suggested that there were more racecourses and racing clubs, on a per capita basis, than anywhere else in the world. (5) A New Zealand- bred horse won the Melbourne Cup in 1883. (6) Gradually, local clubs evolved; racecourses were made reserves; (7) and attempts were made to nationalise racing rules. With the advent of the annual meetings, the bookmaker emerged. A loud and persistent commentator, the bookmaker tantalised the public to bet to select the winner against fixed odds. By 1875, 300 full time bookmakers were employed in the racing meetings throughout New Zealand. (8) The bookmaker's nemesis was the introduction of the totalisator which adjusted the odds according to the bets received. Before an Act was introduced in 1881, an unregulated gambling market was rife with corruption. In one instance, George North, a bookmaker, fled with [pounds sterling]4,500 wagered on the Wellington Racing Cup. (9)

The legal position prior to the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1881 was precarious. (10) Strictly speaking, New Zealand adopted all the laws of Britain in 1840; (11) and at common law a bet was an enforceable contract. (12) Thus, the Imperial statutes of 1664, (13) 1710 (14) and 1835 (15) that addressed the prevention of excessive gaming applied. The applicable 1664 Act essentially prevented the enforceability of betting contracts where persons had lost more than [pounds sterling]100 on credit. The 1710 Act provided that if a person lost [pounds sterling]10 or more at any one time and paid his lost money to the winner, he could recover that money if an action was brought within three months. …