I’m feeling lucky



Andrea Bell


On the evening of Saturday the 1st of August 1987, New Zealand’s inaugural Lotto draw was broadcast live from Auckland, with a first division prize of $360,000. Television co-presenters Doug Harvey and Ann Wilson announced the winning numbers on balls ejected from an automated machine1under the supervision of three men in suits from the Audit Office, Department of Internal Affairs, and New Zealand Lotteries Commission. The scrutineers’ attendance, explained by Harvey, was “just to make sure all is proper”.2

Lotto is an institution many have grown up with–a family friendly, televised entry into gambling. Established in 1987 as a Crown Entity, and replacing earlier national lotteries (such as the Art Union3and Golden Kiwi4) Te Puna Tahua the New Zealand Lotteries Commission (trading as Lotto New Zealand since 2013) operates under the Gambling Act 2003, administered by Te Tari Taiwhenua The Department of Internal Affairs. Despite a direct link between gambling and social harm, Lotto NZ promotes itself somewhat altruistically, as a state-owned enterprise ‘created with the purpose of giving back to the community.’5 Indeed Lotto’s profits generated by sales of Instant Kiwi scratchcards, Lotto tickets, Keno, Powerball, Bullseye, and Strike are distributed far and wide; to charities, community groups, and under section 279 of the Gambling Act,6 statutory bodies Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa, the New Zealand Film Commission Te Tumu Whakaata Taonga and Sport New Zealand Ihi Aotearoa.

Our nation’s belief in luck plays a major role in the funding of arts and culture. The 2022-23 financial year saw the Lottery Grants Board report a record profit, with total sales of $1,520,000,000 (one billion, five hundred and twenty million dollars).7 Of that, Creative New Zealand received $54.6 million.8 Though not a minor amount, a relatively modest sum given the large number of artists, galleries and practitioners served by the Arts Council. Demand for funding continues to increase and unsurprisingly it follows that the odds of winning an arts grant are comparable to that of a lottery in itself. Until recently, the Lottery Grants Board’s distributions have fluctuated in line with ticket sales and profits.9 Following a decline in Lotto revenue back in 2016, New Zealanders were urged by the Chief Executive of the Arts Council to buy a lotto ticket, in support of the arts.10 Change is again on the cards for CNZ with the recent announcement that Lotto’s funding calculations are to be revised from a percentage of profits (formerly 15%)11 to a fixed amount.12 This shift follows a review of the lottery grants and advisory support system undertaken by Te Tari Taiwhenua, moving towards a model that is, in their words ‘more responsive, flexible, inclusive, strategic and recognises Te Tiriti o Waitangi.’13 It also proposes to make the application process ‘easier and fairer for communities, hapū and iwi to access funding.’14

In addition to Lotto, (bad) luck and misfortune at the pokies finances thousands of arts, community, education and sports ventures each year. Under the regulation of Te Tari Taiwhenua, electronic gaming machines in pubs and clubs belong to a category known as ‘Class 4 gambling’, due to being ‘high-risk high-turnover’ by design. Strict guidelines advise that the operation of these machines ‘may only be conducted by a corporate society and only to raise money for an authorised (e.g. community and non-commercial) purpose.’15 Nationwide gaming societies such as the Aotearoa Gaming Trust, Lion Foundation, Pub Charity and New Zealand Community Trust (NZCT) amongst others, redistribute billions of dollars to these causes each year. According to the NZCT, this redirection of profits is uncommon elsewhere in the world: ‘In most countries, gambling is purely for commercial gain, but New Zealand has a unique, community-focused model for pub gaming, where the net proceeds are returned to the community instead of the private sector.’16 In 2022 approximately $330 million was paid out to nearly 10,000 community groups (including art organisations) around the country.17 The gambler’s fallacy is the mistaken belief that an accumulated series of chance events (such as winning or losing) can be balanced out over time. The more losses incurred, the greater the chance of a future win. This cognitive bias is typical of problem gamblers. Those who attribute (good) luck as a personal trait or disposition, are likely to have an irrational anticipation of winning, and over-generalise their subjective sense of control. In gambling, magical thinking imagines connections between unrelated events; for example, crediting luck to a particular day of the week following a big win.18 Tricked by machine algorithms into the feeling of a near miss, counterfactual thinking and the tendency to obsess over alternative scenarios only serves to fuel the addiction. As if needing further psychological torment, gamblers have also reported waking in the middle of the night with flashbacks; ringing bells and flashing lights luring their return to the machines.19

But who are the real winners and losers? The Ministry of Health Manatū Hauora has identified Māori and Pasifika as ‘priority groups’20 that ‘bear a disproportionate burden of harm from gambling when compared to the wider population.’21 In addition to ethnicity, a national gambling study undertaken by Auckland University of Technology reported that most socio-demographic risk factors (e.g. young age, low income, lack of formal qualifications and large household)22 are interrelated. Since 2014, the gambling industry has undergone regulatory and legislative reform in an attempt to minimise social harm. Operators of electronic gaming machines must pay a Gambling Levy (1.08% excluding GST) passed on to agencies that provide harm reduction services.23 According to the Ministry’s 2013 Gambling Resource for Local Government, one of the major risk factors associated with increased prevalence of problem gambling is ‘location and/or density of gambling venues and machines.’24 More specifically, the risk of problem gambling is ‘significantly associated with living closer to gambling venues.’25 Unsurprisingly, policy proposing the relocation of machines away from high risk areas ‘is understood to be more effective in reducing problem gambling than simply reducing gaming machine numbers.’26 Gaming societies are mandated to make a minimum percentage return of 40% towards community grants.27 As a result, those unable to deliver on these performance measures (typically in rural and provincial areas) have been forced to remove their pokie machines.28 Plans are underway requiring operators ‘to return at least 80% of their net proceeds to the region where the funds were raised.’29 While this may benefit local communities by keeping funds in the region, those in areas without gaming machines will be unlikely to qualify for grants, resulting in a significant reduction in community funding for regional New Zealand.30 Put plainly, this model supports a scenario whereby a small town may be awarded an arts grant courtesy of fellow community members afflicted by gambling addiction. Meanwhile those living nearby without gaming machines miss out on funding but are protected from gambling harm.

Funding the arts ought not be a moral dilemma. However, the redistribution of gambling proceeds is clearly at odds with the former government’s supposed commitment to wellbeing outcomes. In a recent roundtable on arts policy,31 Greens MP Chlöe Swarbrick spoke out on this issue: ‘Having funding from Lotteries that is ring-fenced for arts and culture is an anomaly inside our funding system at present. The fact that we are upholding it is a perversity and it could disappear relatively overnight if there was the political willpower…All that funding otherwise would just go into the pot.’32 National spokesperson Jonathan Young agreed on the need ‘to shift away from funding models based on doing harm.’33Though this is unlikely to be a priority for the new coalition.

More likely to be a priority for the current coalition is the prevailing belief in individual freedom, civil liberties and personal responsibility. Due to these commonly shared political persuasions, the continued funding of arts (culture, sport and community causes), via gambling profits, remains largely unquestioned. Gambling is egalitarian in the sense that anyone can win. It’s an attractive option for those on a low income when the odds are otherwise stacked against them. According to Salvation Army Oasis Director Lisa Campbell, ‘Every day we see people who haveturned to pokie machines in a desperate attempt to claw their way out of poverty. These people are not playing the pokies for fun; they see it as the only way out for themselves.’34

On the other side of the coin, affluent New Zealanders are more likely to place emphasis on hard work, thereby minimising the role of luck as a contributing factor to their financial success. Under Neoliberalism, this narrative of entitlement acts to obscure structural inequalities that condition access to wealth, education, housing, and healthcare, while disregarding existing privilege, and historical disadvantage. It also fails to recognise class structure and the birth lottery: ‘a life condition that exists outside of individual choice, talent or drive, but defines so much of what we are able to do in our lifetime.’35

Funding the arts via gambling proceeds is essentially a wealth transfer, from predominantly low income households to largely middle class artists, arts workers and audiences. And although offering arts funding targeted towards identified priority groups (from which a large portion of the money may have originated) comes with best intentions, this does nothing to address the basic needs of these communities. Furthermore, no amount of blue washing (overstating a commitment to responsible social practices) or ‘harm minimisation policies’ can reconcile the truth that the gaming products responsible for funding such initiatives, are the root cause of the problem.

Neoliberalism relies on the mythology of making one’s own luck. What might this look like for a career in the arts? Despite mounting levels of student debt, the proliferation of Masters and PhD art programs have contributed to an oversupply of highly educated people. This is an expected trend given the rise of the knowledge economy and the financial pressures facing universities. In addition to a prestigious education, socioeconomic status and/or powerful personal connections (getting the right dealer/representation) can make a significant difference to one’s ‘luck” in the arts. The precarity of the arts economy leads those that do succeed as artists to count themselves lucky to have a job that they love. Thanks to the emergence and domination of the professional-managerial class in art galleries (even those formerly identifying as ‘artist-run’) expenses associated with bureaucratic processes leave little in the way of remuneration for artists, with fees largely symbolic. And an absence of collective bargaining power for artists maintains these less-than-ideal working conditions. Though the median annual income for creative work by artists in Aotearoa has been described as ‘grim’36($19,500 per annum based on a report released in 2022),37 the role of inherited wealth is less acknowledged as a determinant of artistic success. For those without independent funds, life as an artist is by and large unsustainable. And while the price of artistic labour falls below the poverty line, luck under late capitalism favours auction houses and investors returning spectacular profits on the secondary market. Incredibly, those with extreme wealth and influence in the commercial sector can afford terms of trade based on luck and superstition. In 2005 Sotheby’s and Christie’s played rock, paper, scissors at the behest of a Japanese collector, contesting the opportunity to sell an Impressionist and Modern Art Collection worth $20 million dollars (spoiler: Christie’s won, with scissors).38

Perceptions of meritocracy can be contentious, yet for a lucky few, art awards can bring fame and fortune. The concept of merit was challenged by artist from the “lucky country” Richard Bell (Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang) in his role as judge of Australia’s 2011 Sulman Art Prize, worth AU $20,000. Overshadowing the winning artist, Bell drew media attention upon confessing that his decision was based on a coin toss. In judging the award, Bell wrote the names of eight artists (four whose work he liked, and four he didn’t) on separate pieces of paper. He then scattered the names across the table and tossed a coin.39 According to Bell, the winner ‘was the artist whose name was written on the piece of paper that the coin landed on.’40

Though much of the media coverage, according to arts commentator Marisa Georgiou, regarded Bell’s actions as ‘a disrespectful stunt’41 they ‘missed that it was a reveal.’42 Subjective opinions, curatorial preferences, nepotism, friendships and matters of taste are rarely spoken of in these settings. And although the winning artist would have preferred to have been selected based on merit, Bell phrased it somewhat more cynically, ‘like every prize, it’s a lottery.’43 This view is echoed by Georgiou: ‘Choices are never made on merit alone when there are aesthetic subjectivities and social capital at play.’44 Meritocracy is a myth because it presents as a fair, accessible system awarding upward mobility to those who work hard. However under Neoliberalism, wealth and social inequities remain widespread, regardless of individual work ethic. In the context of art, meritocracy persists, ‘as a way to uphold inequality, by having all people compete from birth in a system suited to just a few.’45 Such is the luck of the draw.

Safer Gambling Aotearoa calculates the odds of winning first division Lotto with a standard ticket to be the same as picking one correct star out of the 4,548 visible in New Zealand’s night sky…over nearly three months. The odds of winning with Powerball increase to more than two years of star gazing.46 If I could wish upon a star, the creation of one person’s luck and good fortune would not result from the loss of another’s.

Disclaimer: In the interests of transparency, I have benefited from luck and the misfortune of others via privilege and gambling losses, many times over.


  1. Referred to as ‘The Barrel, cited by ‘Lotto – First Broadcast (1 August 1987)’, (NZ on Screen Iwi Whitiāhua), (accessed 1 March 2024)
  2. Ibid.
  3. Refer ‘Art Unions’, from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966. (Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand), (accessed 4 March 2024)
  4. See ‘First Golden Kiwi draw’, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage),, updated 14 December 2021 (accessed 4 March 2024)
  5. Lotto New Zealand Integrated Report 2022-23, (accessed 20 February 2024)
  6. Gambling Act 2003, New Zealand Legislation, (Parliamentary Counsel Office Te Tari Tohutohu Pāremata), (accessed 23 February 2024)
  7. Lotto New Zealand Integrated Report 2022-23, (accessed 20 February 2024)
  8. Annual Report for 2022/23 of the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa, Corporate Documents, Creative New Zealand, (accessed 4 March 2024)
  9. ‘Lotto goes on sale for first time’, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage),, updated 17 July 2023 (accessed 1 February 2024)
  10. ‘Decline in Lotto revenue to affect the arts’, 5 April 2016 (Creative New Zealand), (accessed 4 March 2024)
  11. Ibid.
  12. ‘Giving you a view of our financial picture’, 26 October 2023 (Creative New Zealand), (accessed 4 March 2024)
  13. ‘Kia Tipu, He Tipua – Evolving the lottery grants system’, (Te Tari Taiwhenua, Department of Internal Affairs), (accessed 29 February 2024)
  14. Ibid.
  15. ‘Gambling in Pubs and Clubs (Class 4)’, (Te Tari Taiwhenua, Department of Internal Affairs), (accessed 4 March 2024)
  16. ‘New Zealand’s unique fundraising model’,(New Zealand Community Trust), (accessed 20 February 2024)
  17. ‘About GMANZ’ (Gaming Machine Association New Zealand), (accessed 2 March 2024)
  18. ‘Magical Thinking: Get Gambling Facts’, (Addictions Foundation of Manitoba), (accessed 1 March 2024)
  19. Angus Thomson and the Visual Stories Team, ‘The Science of Pokies and How They’re Designed to Keep You Hooked’ Sydney Morning Herald, March 22, 2023, (accessed 16 February 2024)
  20. Lotto New Zealand Integrated Report 2022-23, (accessed 20 February 2024)
  21. Ibid.
  22. ‘National Gambling Study: Gambling harm and problem gambling: Report number 2’ (Gambling and Addictions Research Centre, National Institute for Public Health and Mental Health Research, School of Public Health and Psychosocial Studies, Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, Auckland University of Technology), via Ministry of Health New Zealand, (accessed 5 February 2024)
  23. ‘Problem gambling levy’, (Inland Revenue Te Tari Taake), (accessed 3 March 2024)
  24. ‘Ministry of Health Gambling Resource for Local Government’, 2013 as cited by New Zealand Community Trust Pub Gaming Fact Sheet, (accessed 1 March 2024)
  25. New Zealand Community Trust Pub Gaming Fact Sheet, ibid.
  26. Ibid.
  27. ‘New Zealand’s unique fundraising model’,(New Zealand Community Trust), (accessed 20 February 2024)
  28. New Zealand Community Trust Pub Gaming Fact Sheet, ibid.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Mark Amery, ‘Lowdown on Arts Policy’, 29 September 2020, (The Big Idea Te Ariā Nui) 29 September 2020, (accessed 20 February 2024)
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. ‘Pokie machine harm hits hardest in our poorest towns’, 30 September 2021, (The Salvation Army), (accessed 1 March 2024)
  35. Marisa Georgiou, ‘Why is the art world still married to meritocracy?’, (Arts Hub AU) (accessed 27 February 2024)
  36. André Chumko, ‘Calls for overhaul of NZ’s arts policies after ‘grim’ data on artists’ pay’, 24 May 2023, (The Post Te Upoko O Te Ika), (accessed 1 March 2024)
  37. Kantar Public, Profile of Creative Professionals, November 2022, (accessed 3 March 2024)
  38. Alina Cohen, ‘When A Game of Rock, Paper, Scissors Decided a $20-Million Auction Consignment’ 8 August 2019, (Artsy), (accessed 18 February 2024)
  39. Andrew Taylor, ‘Confessions of an art judge: I tossed a coin to decide’, 24 April 2011, (Sydney Morning Herald), (accessed 15 February 2024)
  40. Ibid.
  41. Marisa Georgiou, ibid.
  42. Ibid.
  43. Ibid.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Marisa Georgiou, ibid.
  46. ‘How does the lotto draw work?’(Safer Gambling Aotearoa) (accessed 2 February 2024)

This essay response was commissioned by Gus Fisher Gallery on the occasion of the exhibition Eight thousand layers of moments, 2024.

Gus Fisher Gallery
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Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland Central 1010

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