New Zealand

According to the Latest Casino Bonuses, there are only six casinos in New Zealand, and they are scattered among five cities. In December 2014, I visited Queenstown, New Zealand, which is the only city in New Zealand with more than one casino. I was told at one of the two the game rules are set by the government and the same across the entire country. So, I hope this blog entry will be applicable to any of New Zealand's casinos.

Queenstown casino.
Wharf Casino, where I ran into a fan.

My visit to New Zealand was limited to the area around Queenstown, on the south island. The two casinos are both about equally small and just a short walk from each other. Both are managed by SkyCity and share the same player reward program. Of the two, the Queenstown casino is a little bigger with the following table games:
  • Blackjack -- 3
  • Roulette -- 2
  • Baccarat -- 2
  • Caribbean Stud Poker -- 1

The Wharf Casino had the following tables:
  • Roulette -- 2
  • Blackjack Plus -- 2
  • Blackjack -- 1
  • Roulette -- 2
  • Caribbean Stud Poker -- 1

Both of them have about 30 to 40 slot machines.

Gambling Age

The gambling age in New Zealand is 20. By comparison, it is 18 in Australia.

Beverage Policy

It is my understanding players must pay for all beverages, alcoholic or not. When I was there, the Wharf Casino was running a $5 draft beer promotion.

Smoking Policy

Thankfully, smoking in public places is prohibited in New Zealand, including casinos.

With the generalities out of the way, here are the rules of the specific games.


Here are the New Zealand blackjack rules:
  • Six decks.
  • Blackjack pays 3 to 2.
  • Dealer stands on soft 17.
  • Hard doubles only.
  • Double after split allowed.
  • No surrender.
  • Re-split to three hands, except aces may not be re-split.
  • No dealer hole card. If the dealer gets a blackjack, then the player will lose an amount equal to his original wager plus any other wagers already lost due to splitting and doubling (known as the OBBO rule, which stands for Original and Busted Bets Only). This is also the same rule in Sydney, Australia.

Using my blackjack house edge calculator, I get a house edge of 0.53%.

Blackjack Plus

This is a blackjack variant, and it is the first time I've seen it. The good news is the player wins on any five cards or total of 21. The bad news is if the dealer gets a 22 it is a push, as opposed to a win. All things considered, I get a house edge of 6.36% (ouch!).

For more information, please see my page on Blackjack Plus.


I know I said the casino rules are mandated by the government, but they allow the casino to choose between single-zero and double-zero roulette wheels. Despite being owned by the same company and being located about 100 meters from each other, the Queenstown casino has opted to offer single-zero roulette, while the Wharf casino went with double-zero.

The house edge is 2.70% on the single-zero wheel and 5.26% with two zeros.

Other Games

The only other two table games were baccarat and Caribbean Stud Poker, both of which followed the conventional rules.


By law, slot machines must each have a theoretical return of 87%. Compare that to the meager 75% minimum in Nevada.

Not only that, but each machine must indicate the return it is set to. Said information is available on a specified screen regarding statistics about the game, including the probabilities of the largest wins. Based on a small sampling, I noticed most machines were set to about 91%, with the greatest at 93.61%.

If you must play slots, my advice would be to check lots of machines and play the one with the greatest return.

Kudos to New Zealand for making such information public. I filed a Freedom of Information Act claim to make the Nevada casinos do the same, but in this David vs. Goliath battle, Goliath won. See my video of the hearing for more on that.

Premier Rewards


Premier Rewards is the name of the player incentive program with Skycity casinos. There are four levels (ruby, sapphire, gold, and platinum), which earn Premier Points at different rates. 100 Premier Points may be redeemed for $1 in associated casino stores and restaurants. After doing the math, here is the comp-back rate for various games, according to the level of the player.

Comp Reward Rates

Game Ruby Sapphire Gold Platinum
Machines 0.10% 0.13% 0.17% 0.25%
Blackjack/Pontoon 0.01% 0.01% 0.01% 0.02%
Caribbean Stud 0.03% 0.05% 0.05% 0.08%
Poker 0.01% 0.01% 0.01% 0.02%
Midi Baccarat 0.01% 0.01% 0.01% 0.02%
Roulette 0.11% 0.21% 0.21% 0.32%

This table was based on the hands per hour figures in my House Edge of casino games compared page.


As lotteries go, New Zealand's is at least better than those in the US. Here are some non-progressive games I looked at: Play 3: This is a simple game involving choosing three numbers from 0 to 9. The return is 48% to 50%, depending on the particular bet. Keno: This is the same as American keno, where the player chooses one to ten numbers from a range of 1 to 80, the casinos draws 20, and the player wins according to the number that match. The following table shows the return, according to the number of picks.

Keno Return Table

Pick Return
10 59.64%
9 60.29%
8 59.66%
7 60.26%
6 59.81%
5 60.32%
4 58.93%
3 55.50%
2 60.13%
1 50.00%

Instant Kiwi: These are what we would call scratch-offs in the US. The New Zealand Lottery web site indicates the returns of the various games. For active games at the time of this writing the returns are:
  • Mistle Tui ($1): 58.7%
  • Money Bags ($1): 58.7%
  • Stacks of Cash ($1): 58.73%
  • Temple of Treasure($1): 58.9%
  • Merry Christmas ($1): 58.6%
  • Mini Word ($2): 61.0%
  • 20X the Money ($2): 61.0%
  • Hat Trick ($2): 61.06%
  • Pinball Payout ($3): 62.0%.
  • 3 of a Kind ($3): 62.39%.
  • Lucky Horseshoe ($3): 62.26%.
  • Roulette ($3): 62.32%.
  • Slice of Paradise ($3): 62.1%.
  • Temple of Treasure($3): 62.32%
  • Summer Escape ($5): 65.0%
  • Aloha Hawaii ($5): 65.0%
  • Texas Hold 'Em ($5): 67.4%
  • Pink Panther ($5): 68.5%
  • 5X Money Multiplier ($2): 61.0%
  • Santa Surprise ($5): 68.5%
  • Scrabble ($5): 65.39%
  • Lucky Lanterns ($5): 65.51%
  • 10X the Money ($10): 70.74%
  • Lucky Ticket ($10): 70.5%
  • Christmas Gift Pack ($15): 70.0%

All these returns are better than the 50% you're likely to find in the United States, if you must play the lottery.

I would also be remiss in my duties if I didn't mention that you can ask the retailer for a printout of how many of each prize is "available" and redeemed for any given game. If there are a disproportionate number of big prizes left, the odds get better. Let's look at game #490, Mistle Tui, as an example. For those outside New Zealand, this is a clever play on words. The Tui is a bird endemic to New Zealand, as well as a common brand of beer there.

Here are the prizes in the full batch.

Mistle Tui — Return Table

Prize Number
in Batch
Probability Return
$10,000 5 0.000002 0.017857
$200 5 0.000002 0.000357
$100 50 0.000018 0.001786
$50 125 0.000045 0.002232
$20 2,250 0.000804 0.016071
$15 1,240 0.000443 0.006643
$10 27,500 0.009821 0.098214
$7 2,500 0.000893 0.006250
$5 73,500 0.026250 0.131250
$2 311,375 0.111205 0.222411
$1 235,000 0.083929 0.083929
$0 2,146,450 0.766589 0.000000
Total 2,800,000 1.000000 0.587000

This ticket cost is $1, so the return is 58.7%.

I had time to kill in the Queenstown airport so was annoying a clerk with lottery questions. He was kind enough to print out the distribution of remaining tickets in the game. Here is a scan of it:

Unfortunately, we can't do a perfect analysis because it doesn't say how many losing tickets were sold. Nor do we know anything about winning tickets that were already sold but not redeemed.

However, we do know that 122,240 out of 653,550, or 18.7%, of the winning tickets were redeemed. Yet, 3 out of the 5 big $10,000 winners were already cashed. Granted, players are probably more likely to hoard small winners than big ones, but just eyeballing it, this game doesn't seem to be a good value. If there were a small number of tickets left, with a disproportionate number of big wins left uncashed, then I would be tempted to play. I plan to do a longer treatment of this topic later, based on US scratch off games.

Other Things to Do in New Zealand

There is plenty of other things to do on the south island of New Zealand besides gamble. For the few who don't know, all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies were filmed in New Zealand, and all the scenes except Hobbiton and Mount Doom were shot on the more mountainous south island.

Speaking of Middle Earth, the safety video on Air New Zealand is the best ever!

I don't claim to be an expert on the entire south island, so I'll just share some pictures from my adventures around Queenstown.

There are miles and miles of hiking and biking paths around Queenstown. Here I am on one of them, overlooking lake Wakatipu. According to Lonely Planet, this is the second cleanest lake water in the world, and it is purer than bottled water.

Notice how the distances are measured in hours. Einstein would have been amused.

On my way to Ben Lomond mountain.

Ben Lomond summit.

This artwork was created entirely with Jelly Bellies.

I've spent a week in Argentina, but these empanadas are the best I've ever had -- anywhere. The proprietor is Mauro Viale. Not only does he make great empanadas, but he is a super cool guy. Anybody who suffers my awful Spanish with a smile is a special kind of person on this earth. You can find his stand at the small park by the wharf.

Great Italian food at Winnie's. I heard late at night it transforms into quite the debaucherous night club, but I am too old to stay up late enough to find out.

For the few who don't know, I'm an avid license plate collector. I desperately wanted a European-sized New Zealand plate. Alas, I came home empty handed, although I already had some of the older New Zealand styles.

I used to complain it is impossible to get a decent hamburger outside of the States, but no more. Ferberger is outstanding and well worth standing in the long line for. I was a bit shocked when somebody told me what ferberger means. Give the place credit for a good sense of humor.

After fooling around Queenstown for a few days, I did the six-day Grand Traverse trip with Ultimate Hikes. We crossed countless suspension bridges like this one.

We walked by countless waterfalls too.

On the first night, we stayed in our most rustic lodge.

I first heard about Vegemite from the song Down Under by Men at Work back in the eighties, but I didn't know it was a real thing, much like the Acme Company, until I saw it on the table at every lodge I stayed in. Maybe it is an acquired taste, but in my northern hemisphere opinion, this stuff is awful! I think it would be better suited for making repairs to the soles of my boots. This goes for Marmite, too.

Here I am crossing another suspension bridge. Note the sign that says to cross one at a time.

It didn't bother me until after I got back home, but I got lots of bites from bugs I suspect were living in tall grass like this.

This is one of our guides, Jo. Here I am torturing her with math problems and logic riddles. I love a captive audience.

One of the other guests, Brad, giving a golf lesson with a hiking pole.

Entering Fiordland (where is the j?) National Park. The softest moss I've ever touched.

This is an optional side trip overlooking Lake McKellar.

Looking down the valley we just hiked through. That kid with the white hat is Adam. He solved every math problem I could throw at him.

This is Lake McKellar Lodge, where we stayed the second and third nights.

Note the company that made this clothes ringer, Acme! I thought they only made anvils in Road Runner cartoons.

I think this is Lake McKellar.

Note how distances are still measured in hours. It was like this on every sign I saw.

Getting up a little higher. I took off my hat for this picture and forgot to pick it up afterward.

Yet another waterfall. There was a discussion among the group whether the temperature of the water drops as it falls due to losing potential gravity. I then asked this question in my Diversity Tomorrow forum, but I still don't know the answer.

Lake Mackenzie. It is around here, I think, that we left the Greenstone Track and entered the Routeburn Track.

Somebody left a cricket bat laying around.

This is Split Rock. One is able to walk through the crack to the other side.

The Routeburn Track is more scenic than the Greenstone, but also much more crowded, by about a factor of 50.

Lake Harris.

That is me jumping into the bottom of Routeburn Falls. Yes, it was freezing cold.

The girls, who also went in, knew how to play Snaps. I hadn't played that since college and had no idea it went beyond U.C. Santa Barbara. For those who don't know, it is a code breaking game that drove me crazy for months until I cracked it. Naturally, it took Adam only an hour or two.

This is Routeburn Falls Lodge, where we stayed our last night.

Here is boy genius Adam playing chess blindfolded. I played him earlier, him blindfolded of course, which was a humbling experience for me, shall we say.

Here I am at the end.

Group photo.

I'd like to close by saying I had a great time with Ultimate Hikes and would enthusiastically recommend them. Not only was the scenery literally like something out of a Lord of the Rings movie, but the staff was super enthusiastic and the food delicious. I hope to return and do another trip with Ultimate Hikes soon.