In a country that has more sheep than people, it makes sense that its locals would want to find some fun ways to entertain themselves. When European settlers travelled to New Zealand, they brought with them their love for card games. One of the card games in question happened to be poker. 

The introduction of poker to New Zealand by European settlers opened a new avenue of entertainment for the locals, providing them with a captivating pastime that quickly gained popularity.

As the game spread throughout the country, it became a cherished part of social gatherings, fostering connections and friendly competition among the community. 

The blend of European traditions and the unique Kiwi spirit gave rise to a distinct poker culture in New Zealand, shaping its history and contributing to the game's enduring appeal in the country.

Evolution of the game

The history of poker games in New Zealand dates back several decades and has seen the game evolve from a recreational pastime to a popular form of entertainment and competitive sport. The internet makes it easy for anyone to learn, such as here:

Poker has captured the attention of New Zealanders, attracting both casual players and professional enthusiasts who have made their mark on the international poker scene. It gained popularity in the country's urban centres, especially in Auckland and Wellington, where poker clubs and private games began to emerge. Initially, poker was primarily played in social gatherings and private homes, with players enjoying the game for its strategic elements and the thrill of competition. Now, there are so many opportunities to play competitively and even internationally.

20th century trade liberalization

In the 1980s, New Zealand underwent significant trade liberalization reforms that had a profound impact on the country's economy and society.

These reforms, collectively known as the "Rogernomics" after Finance Minister Roger Douglas, aimed to transform New Zealand from a highly regulated and protectionist economy into one that embraced free market principles.

Trade liberalization also brought positive changes to the poker scene. The reforms contributed to a more prosperous economy, leading to increased disposable income among New Zealanders. This, in turn, created more demand for recreational activities, including poker.

The growing affluence of the population allowed for the establishment of new poker venues, including casinos and clubs, which catered to the rising interest in the game. Furthermore, the increased international trade and globalization facilitated the dissemination of poker knowledge and resources.

New Zealanders gained access to international poker publications, instructional materials, and televised poker tournaments, which helped popularize the game and improve the skills of local player.

Globalization of poker

The globalization of the poker community and increased exposure to international tournaments further contributed to the development of poker in New Zealand. New Zealand players had the opportunity to compete in international tournaments and face off against some of the world's top poker professionals. The exposure to higher levels of competition helped raise the skill level of local players and contributed to the growth of poker as a competitive sport in the country. 

New Zealand poker championship

One of the significant milestones in the history of New Zealand poker was the establishment of the New Zealand Poker Championship in 1999. This annual tournament became a cornerstone event for local players, offering substantial prize pools and attracting top international poker professionals. The championship provided a platform for New Zealand players to showcase their skills and compete against some of the best in the world.

Local and international tournaments

In recent years, New Zealanders have achieved notable success in international poker tournaments. Players like Lee Nelson, who won the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) Championship in 2006, and Simon Watt, who triumphed in the prestigious Aussie Millions Poker Championship in 2009, have become household names in the local poker community. These achievements have further elevated the profile of poker in New Zealand and inspired aspiring players to pursue the game more seriously.

Local tournaments and events, such as the New Zealand Poker Open, attract a diverse range of participants, creating a vibrant and competitive poker community. Additionally, the popularity of international poker tours has led to New Zealand becoming a regular stop for prestigious events, attracting both local and international players.


The history of poker games in New Zealand reflects the game's evolution from a casual pastime to a popular form of entertainment and competition. From its early roots in private homes and social gatherings to the establishment of poker championships and the growth of online platforms, poker has become an integral part of the New Zealand gaming culture, offering players the excitement of strategic gameplay and the opportunity to achieve success on both national and international stages.

Disclaimer: Play responsibly. Players must be over 18. For help visit

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.