The Government's convention centre-for-pokies deal with SkyCity will see gaming machine profits sucked out of communities and into the pockets of the casino company's shareholders, New Zealand's largest gaming trust warns.
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and SkyCity are negotiating a deal which would see the casino company build a $350 million national convention centre in downtown Auckland.
In return, SkyCity wants changes to gambling laws which would allow it hundreds more gaming machines and tables.
The plan has been criticised by Opposition MPs and the Problem Gambling Foundation, which argues that any increase in gaming machines and tables will add to problem gambling.
"This is not a free convention centre," foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said yesterday.
"This is going to be paid for by the gamblers of Auckland and in particular problem gamblers. Because of that, we're all going to pay because we all pick up the social cost of gambling."
Ramsey said he generally opposed all pokie machines but acknowledged that much of the proceeds from those outside of casinos were paid back to the community through grants to sports clubs.
The trusts that operated non-casino machines by law had to pay just over 37 per cent of their profits out in community grants but the casino was obliged to pay just 2.5 per cent, and that included profits from other operations including hotels and restaurants.
Phil Holden, of the Lion Foundation, said the prospect of more gaming machines at SkyCity was "a real challenge" to the Auckland Council which had a "sinking lid" policy to reduce gaming machine numbers in pubs and clubs.
"It effectively means that over time as the charitable gaming sector continues to decline, those people who want to play those machines will ultimately end up in the casino."
Holden said his trust made about $16 million in grants across the Super City last year, "and the pressure on those funds is continually increasing so we're being challenged to do more support of community groups with a pie that's invariably shrinking".
With more machines in SkyCity the amount available for distribution would fall further.
However, the impact remains impossible to gauge as neither the Government nor SkyCity will indicate the number of additional machines and tables being negotiated.
SkyCity spokeswoman Andi Brotherston said chief executive Nigel Morrison would not speak to the media about the deal until it was done, "if it gets done".
Joyce yesterday dismissed reports of a range of 350 to 500 new machines. He said the impact of extra machines at SkyCity on the charitable gaming sector "certainly hasn't been a factor in the Government's thinking" and the regulation of gambling machines within Auckland City except those at SkyCity was a matter for the council.
"I would note that the council and mayor have been supportive of the arrangements as they were announced."
Joyce said the extra machines at SkyCity would not result in an increase in problem gambling. "The problem gambling requirements on SkyCity as an operator remain irrespective of the number of machines."