David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Academics say SkyCity deal goes against law

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

John Key's SkyCity convention centre deal made a "mockery" of the law aimed at protecting people from the ill effects of gambling, according to an article in an international academic journal.

The authors say the Prime Minister's personal approach to SkyCity over the national convention centre was the "ultimate indicator" of the failure of the Gambling Act's attempt to look after public health.

Mr Key announced last year SkyCity had been chosen as the preferred bidder for the convention centre after offering to use $350 million of its own money in return for relaxed gambling laws. The casino wanted more poker machines, an early renewal of its exclusive licence and the chance to develop other games.

The Auditor-General is investigating the deal after a Green Party complaint that the selection process did not include the cost of social harm.

In the article, for the Addiction Journal, Dr Peter Adams and Dr Fiona Rossen of the University of Auckland said the deal underlinedthe failure of a law which was intendedto be a world leader.

The academics, who are directors of the university's Centre for Gambling Studies, said the law was flawed through its fractured approach by government and the involvement of the gambling industry in key areas.

The gambling industry had become organised and effective in the political arena, with casinos appearing to be "good corporate citizens", they wrote.

They said the return of money to the community was seen only in financial returns, which created the greatest obstacle to public health. It turned community groups into "vociferous advocates for gambling".

The ability to regulate the industry was also thwarted by the huge amount of money, they wrote. It meant efforts to reduce harm were "ineffectual public relations exercises".

"The scale of profits from high-intensity commercial gambling has an unpleasant way of penetrating most political systems."

Dr Adams and Dr Rossen highlighted the SkyCity deal as the clearest indication health concerns were not being seriously considered.

"This occurred without reference to the public health purposes of the Gambling Act, thereby making a mockery of the years of effort put into its public health provisions."

Dr Adams said yesterday the Gambling Act was the legislative response to years of work in getting the health impact of gambling considered. "John Key's gone ahead with the casino deal without embracing any of that."

Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain said he had no responsibility for health-related aspects of gambling even though he was in charge of the Gambling Act.

He said the Department of Internal Affairs - in charge of minimising harm - did "a good job" overseeing the gambling sector. The Government was monitoring the private member's bill which would restructure the pokie industry.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei, who made the complaint, said she took reassurance from the academics' finding that the health provisions of the Gambling Act had been "diverted or subverted".

- NZ Herald

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