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The History of Poker

Poker Beginnings in New Zealand

Poker has been around for centuries it seems, and has survived from the age of steamboats to today’s smartphone age. However, no one truly knows the exact date this mind sport of the mind was invented. What we do know is that an English actor by the name of Joseph Cowell reported that the game was being played in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1829. The game spread throughout the United States via the Mississippi riverboats, where gambling was a popular pastime.

But Iit wasn't until the 1970s that the game really took off in the US with the advent of the World Series of Poker (WSOP). From that point on, the world couldn't get enough of the game, and New Zealand was no exception. The WSOP gave a global audience to the game which previously had been played solely in clubs and casinos. Televised poker tournaments at the turn of the millennium gave TV viewers unparalleled access to the sports, particularly effective once cameras below the tables enabled us to see the players’ hole cards. Online poker brought the game to the masses, and democratized the game by giving even the smallest player the dream of making it through the qualifiers to the big money tournaments.

p So, just how did the game get its start in New Zealand?

Here Come the Americans

It seems as if poker was brought to New Zealand by miners from the USA in search of gold. Earlier beliefs indicated that World War II American servicemen might have been responsible for bringing the game to New Zealand. However, in Hamilton's Otago Daily Times Issue 872, dated 7 October 1864, the following case was recorded:

In an alleged case of cheating at cards, against two miners called William Campbell and John Anderson, it seemed that the game called “poker” presented great attractions to both plaintiffs or complainants and defendants to exercise a little sharpening; in fact a case of diamond cut diamond.

With the game seemingly having a much longer history and beginnings in NZ, it's no wonder that Kiwis love the game so much. But that wasn't always the case. The Waikato Times, Issue 401, dated 8 December 1874 reported:

The story goes that two or three “illustrious strangers” have lately come to town, probably attracted by the near approach of the races at the Hutt and the Wairarapa. They have a passion, on the course and any other convenient place for the three-card trick, and a partiality for poker, to while away the time of an evening. Two or three of them have been lodging in a hotel in town, the landlord of which discourages gambling, and keeps no cards in his house.

The story goes that the strangers obtained a pack and while everyone was asleep indulged in a friendly game. After conning one of the players by adding an extra ace to the deck and marking cards, they were found out. Held up on charges of swindling, they were forced to explain to a magistrate how that particular deck of cards had 5 aces in it!

Poker's Growth in Popularity in New Zealand

As you can tell, the earliest inroads of the game of poker to the Kiwi psyche were not necessarily all that positive. Poker was initially regarded as a somewhat shady pursuit, connected in the public mind to criminality and back-street bars. However, as the game evolved and the WSOP made Texas Hold Em the most played variety of the game, public interest around the world grew in leaps and bounds.

With the popularity of online poker all over the world came a big jump in interest in the game by New Zealanders. The first ever casino in NZ built in 1994, called Christchurch casino, has a bustling poker room and, since then Kiwis have also had access to online poker rooms. Players from these shores have taken the opportunity presented by the rise of online poker since the early 2000s to make a reputation for themselves on the world stage. Whereas in the past New Zealand’s physical location was an obstacle to aspiring poker players, online poker rooms allowed Kiwi players to test themselves against the best. Seeing as playing online isn't illegal in New Zealand, many Kiwi players have taken advantage of the ability to play whenever they like. These sites recommended on these pages also offer big bonuses and excellent VIP programmes for New Zealanders, as well as ensuring a safe and secure playing environment. Improvements in internet connection speed, in wireless technology, and the widespread availability of smartphones have all contributed to the rise of the game in this country.

Big tournament tours like the WSOP are taking notice of the game's popularity in this part of the world. In 2013, the World Series of Poker came to Australia with its very first WSOP Asia Pacific Tournament Series. Many New Zealand players were able to take part. The ANZPT (Australia New Zealand Poker Tour) is also a big annual event that started back in 2009.

New Zealand's Poker Pros and Winners

We can't talk about the history of poker in New Zealand without saying a bit about the pros. Lee Nelson, an adopted Kiwi by way of the US, has been playing te game for yonks – since the late 90s. With over USD $2.5 million in live earnings, first on the NZ All Time Money List, he is a Kiwi legend of the game.

On the other hand, pro player, David Yan is a relative newbie, aged just 21. But since he started playing he has racked up almost USD $1.5 million in live earnings and almost USD $830K in online earnings.

At the 2010 WSOP Vegas, Auckland software developer Simon Watt won the very first WSOP bracelet by a Kiwi in a USD $1,500 buy-in No Limit Hold'em event. He took home a whopping USD $614,248 for his efforts.

And the success of Kiwi players isn't limited to live play. In 2012, online pro, Daniel Francis bagged NZD $674,677 in a big online tournament with almost 34,000 runners!

New Zealand's poker history is certainly colourful, and its future is definitely bright.

Want to learn more about NZ poker? Check out our NZ poker rooms!