John Drinnan

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

SkyCity conference project back on Joyce radar

Steven Joyce. Photo / Greg Bowker
Steven Joyce. Photo / Greg Bowker

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce has rebooted a deal with casino company SkyCity Entertainment.

The Government is easing gambling regulations and allowing more gambling capacity in return for SkyCity building a new conference centre near its Auckland casino.

The SkyCity deal is the latest political move where Joyce has regulatory oversight and has made changes in response to an investment.

The casino company won over four competing proposals for a 3500-capacity national convention centre in downtown Auckland.

Under SkyCity's proposal, it would meet the full $350 million cost of construction but in return wanted alterations to gambling laws, including moves to extend its licence to 2021 and to have more pokie machines and gaming tables.

The deal was confirmed in June, but talks had stalled and a Herald report on January 20 suggested it might not go ahead.

Last month Steven Joyce said he believed "on the balance of probabilities" that the project would go ahead.

SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison said yesterday that the development had gone "very quiet".

But since taking up his new role Joyce had "renewed focus", Morrison said.

The Government sees the conference centre as a boon for overseas visitors.

Conference centres seldom provide strong returns. But a conference centre associated with SkyCity's casino, hotels and entertainment would boost returns especially if there is more capacity on gaming tables and pokie machines. Morrison said SkyCity needed that extra capacity.

He declined to discuss the issues between SkyCity and the ministry due to "commercial sensitivity".

It is understood that one of the topics under discussion between the Government and SkyCity has been the marketing of the conference centre overseas and the degree to which it is promoted as part of a casino complex.

Opposition economic development spokesman David Cunliffe said the Government had given away regulatory rules in return for other investments.

The approach risked undermining the regulatory framework.

Cunliffe listed three other examples:

* The Government changed industrial rules to appease Warner Bros concerns about the definition of contract employees to secure The Hobbit in New Zealand.

* A Government decision changed rules for the private radio industry and included a $43 million loan to MediaWorks.

* A regulatory holiday was given to Telecom for developing ultra fast broadband, which Cunliffe said was estimated to be worth up to $600 million.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 19 Dec 2014 02:59:32 Processing Time: 333ms