Lotto goes on sale for first time

22 July 1987

Outlets opened to long queues, with a first division prize in the inaugural draw of $360,000 (equivalent to $720,000 in 2015). In the first year Kiwis ‘invested’ nearly $249 million ($500 million) in the new lottery, which was based on a weekly draw of six numbers (plus a bonus number). 

Before the introduction of Lotto most gambling in New Zealand involved buying a Golden Kiwi ticket or visiting the local TAB to place a bet on a horse. By the early 2000s, 67% of the population was regularly playing Lotto and the live draw on television every Saturday night was attracting an audience of 400,000.

Workmates and families formed syndicates to purchase weekly tickets. Nearly one-third of those buying tickets chose self-selected numbers rather than a computer-generated ‘lucky dip’. Half of each week’s Lotto tickets are bought on a Saturday, and half of these between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., when the draw closes.

By mid-2007 more than $3.75 billion had been paid out in Lotto prize money to 63.4 million winners. Other options such as Powerball and Strike have been added to the original Lotto concept over the years. By 2007, 345 people had won $1 million or more from Lotto alone. There had been 80 Powerball millionaires and 9 Strike millionaires. The largest amount won on a single ticket is the $36.9 million Big Wednesday jackpot won by a Masterton family in June 2009. The profits from Lotto – about 20 cents in each dollar – are transferred to the Lottery Grants Board for distribution to sports, arts, film and community organisations. By 2011 $3 billion in grants had been allocated.

The gambling habits of New Zealanders also changed with the introduction of electronic gaming machines (‘pokies’) in 1988 and casinos in 1994. These changes and the introduction of Lotto reduced the relative spending on horse-racing. In 1987 racing accounted for 85% of the money spent on legal gambling in this country. Though the TAB had moved into sports betting by 2000, only 18% of the total spent on gambling went through it. Gaming machines took 35%, casinos 26% and the Lotteries Commission’s games (Lotto, Instant Kiwi, Daily Keno) 21%.