New Zealanders have dropped from the fourth to sixth-biggest gamblers in the world and are now losing less than half as much on average as the globe's champion gamblers - Australians.

New 2015 data provided to the Herald by London researchers H2 Gambling Capital show that New Zealanders lost $661 for every adult last year, almost five times the global average of $138.

Australians lost more than any other country, averaging $1396 for each adult, maintaining an unenviable spot as the world's biggest gamblers since a previous H2 league table published in the Economist two years ago.

Singapore stayed in second place, but it is exceptional because almost half its gambling losses are in its casinos where many customers are foreign visitors. Casinos account for only a quarter of gambling losses in New Zealand and a fifth in Australia.


Finland has dropped from third to fifth place in the latest ranking, and the United States and Ireland have risen to third and fourth places, pushing New Zealand down two places to sixth.

Graeme Ramsey, chief executive of the Problem Gambling Foundation, said New Zealand effectively copied Australia by letting in poker machines in the late 1980s because thousands of Kiwis were already using them on visits to New South Wales league clubs.

"Even though we have gone down, we are still high in world terms," he said. "There is no history of gambling before Europeans arrived in New Zealand, but in our early history we had huge amounts of gambling.

The first race meeting was five years before the Treaty of Waitangi. We were described as a 'rugby, racing and beer' society, so I think gambling was quite ingrained in our culture.

"Then in the 1980s it absolutely exploded with the introduction of pokie machines from Australia, and that really was a reflection of what was happening in Australia."

Internal Affairs Department statistics show that gambling losses increased from $614 million in 1994 to just over $2 billion in 2004, but have levelled off since a new Gambling Act, which took effect in 2004 and allowed local councils to impose "sinking lids" on pokie numbers.

H2's statistics imply total losses of $2.3 billion last year, slightly higher than the last Internal Affairs figure of $2.1 billion for 2014, reflecting H2's estimate of unmeasured Kiwi gambling on overseas betting sites.

The world rankings are also affected by shifting exchange rates. The US has risen up the ranks partly because of a 20 per cent rise in the US dollar against the euro in the two years since the Economist published its league table.