PM: SkyCity deal talks 'dragging on'

The question of more pokie machines for a convention centre has been controversial, and the PM says he's not sure when a deal might be done.
Photo / Jason Dorday
The question of more pokie machines for a convention centre has been controversial, and the PM says he's not sure when a deal might be done. Photo / Jason Dorday

Prime Minister John Key says talks with SkyCity over a new convention centre have been "dragging on'' and he does not know when a deal might be done.

The Government first announced the company was its preferred bidder to build the convention centre last June, but it is yet to finalise a deal that would involve more pokie machines at the Auckland casino in exchange for SkyCity stumping up $350 million for the centre's construction.

Mr Key today said he did not know when negotiations between the company and officials would wrap up.

"That's been dragging on for quite some time frankly because the Government obviously is looking to get the best deal it can for New Zealanders. SkyCity obviously wants the best deal for its shareholders,'' he told TV3's Firstline programme.

But Mr Key was confident he could get the support of Act leader John Banks and United Future leader Peter Dunne, whose votes he would need to change gambling laws.

"I hope so, assuming SkyCity can agree a deal with our officials, and we're in the process of negotiation. And no one's seen a completed deal yet.

"We saw - after we called for expressions of interest - interest from SkyCity, and they were preferred tenderer. But we've been going through a long and arduous process.''

The number of jobs the convention centre would create has been disputed after it was revealed similar centres overseas employed fewer staff than the estimated number needed to run the SkyCity centre.

But Mr Key today said the centre was "absolutely the way to get new jobs''. He said as far back as 2003, the industry was talking about the need for a convention centre.

"When I came in as Minister of Tourism in 2008, one of the suggestions from officials was that we need more infrastructure - whether it's cruise ship terminals, convention centres - to take the peaks and troughs out of what occurs when your tourists come.''

Mr Key said the centre would create 900 jobs during its development and about 800 jobs to run.

"And yes, it more than likely will involve an extension of a few more pokie machines.''

But Mr Key said the overall number of pokie machines in New Zealand would continue to fall. There were 25,000 in 2005, compared with about 18,000 today.

"Even if there were a few more as a result of this deal, there will ultimately be a lot less in New Zealand because we have a sinking lid policy. So it's a very temporary blip.''

- APNZ

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