Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Sky City Casino reveals 83pc more addicts

In the second of a two-part report, we investigate a rise in problem gamblers being reported by SkyCity.

Nearly 200 people have been barred by the casino in the 12 months to July 31, according to Department of Internal Affairs figures. Photo / Getty Images
Nearly 200 people have been barred by the casino in the 12 months to July 31, according to Department of Internal Affairs figures. Photo / Getty Images

The number of problem gamblers identified and banned by SkyCity has nearly doubled since the controversial proposal with the Government to build a $350 million convention centre was announced.

Nearly 200 people have been barred by the casino in the 12 months to July 31, according to Department of Internal Affairs figures.

That is an 83 per cent increase on the 108 "excluded" gamblers in the previous 12 month period.

And in the first half of this year alone, SkyCity has identified 130 addicts - nearly twice the number of any other six month period since the casino introduced its Host Responsibility Programme in 2008.

The dramatic increase in gamblers identified by the casino occurred as the proposed deal announced in June last year, under which SkyCity would get more pokie machines in return for building a $350 million convention centre, has come under greater scrutiny.

Supporters say the centre would be a boost to international tourism and the construction industry, while critics say the social cost of more pokie machines would outweigh any economic benefit.

A SkyCity spokesman said the spike in banned gambling addicts in the past 12 months had nothing to do with the convention centre negotiations.

"SkyCity makes no apology for the increase in the numbers because it shows our programme, which is one of the most stringent in the world, is working."

He said the increase was the result of a commitment to provide a safe environment for all patrons, and in particular, identifying and helping people who may have an issue with gambling.

"We don't get everything right but we are committed to continual improvement. This is why we have ongoing training for staff across the casino business and constant review and evolution of what we do."

But critics say the figures show the casino is cleaning up its act while under the spotlight.

"Of course it is. I would not be surprised if the true figure was 10 times higher," said John Stansfield of the Problem Gambling Foundation.

Mr Stansfield said computer software existed - which SkyCity has trialled - that allowed casinos to monitor gambling and identify addicts. The technology can also identify the spending habits of gamblers who stole money, or even money laundering.

Mr Stansfield will make a submission about player tracking software at the parliamentary select committee next week for the Gambling Harm Reduction Bill put forward by Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell.

Also of note was the 174 gamblers who "self-identified" in the first half of this year and asked SkyCity to bar them - also a significant increase on any other six-month period since reporting began in 2008.

Public scrutiny of the pokies-for-national convention centre deal intensified this year with critics saying the social cost would be too high.

In return for paying the $350 million bill, SkyCity is believed to be seeking about 400 additional poker machines, greater use of "ticket-in ticket-out" technology which increases gambling revenue but is banned at other casinos, and an early renewal of its exclusive right to run the only casino in Auckland.

But negotiations have stalled while the Auditor-General investigates the way the Government sought proposals for the Auckland convention centre.

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- NZ Herald

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