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Bevan Hurley

Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

Casino VIPs smoked out

The exterior of the smoking room for high rollers at Sky City Casino (seen here just above the trees).  Photo / Doug Sherring
The exterior of the smoking room for high rollers at Sky City Casino (seen here just above the trees). Photo / Doug Sherring

Health and anti-gambling advocates want to shut down a smoking balcony at SkyCity where punters can puff away as they play the pokies.

The Diamond Lounge has louvre windows, meaning it's officially deemed to be "outside" and it also houses gaming machines.

That's where a careworker from Rodney North Harbour Health Care Trust went to gamble with a dementia patient but lost her. The patient had never been to the casino. The careworker was a regular. Waitemata DHB expects a response to its investigation next week.

To become a member of the Diamond Lounge gamblers accrue points by using their rewards card while they game. At first, on the ruby tier, points are accrued at a rate of one point for about $4 of play.

Once a player has earned 750 points in six months they may move up to the sapphire card. At 5250 points they may go up the gold level and gain access to the Diamond Lounge.

Membership of the platinum tier with its VIP lounge is by invitation only. Diamond members also get free car parking.

SkyCity said players weren't automatically upgraded but first met staff to check they were comfortable gaming at that level and that their gaming wasn't causing harm. "We simply don't upgrade automatically, customers must agree to be upgraded. No one has been upgraded to Diamond since 2011."

Members have told the Herald on Sunday they found the free parking a strong incentive to keep going back to the casino, as were the regular offers of gifts such as bath robes and electric grills which had to be collected in person from SkyCity on what might otherwise be considered slow days at the casino.

The Problem Gambling Foundation, Salvation Army, anti-smoking group ASH and the Cancer Society have joined forces to try to stop smoking in the Diamond Lounge.

They have laid an official complaint claiming the lounge "balcony" does not meet the requirements of an open area. However, Auckland Regional Public Health said there was nothing wrong with the room.

Problem Gambling chief executive Graeme Ramsey said smoking was one of the few activities that gave problem gamblers a break and his organisation would press for the lounge to be made smoke-free.

Cancer Society public health advisor Jan Pearson said SkyCity was going against the Smoke Free Environments Act.

SkyCity issued this response: "The decision from the Auckland Regional Public Health service under the SmokeFree Environments Act (decision released 9 March) was that the smoking area in the Diamond Lounge complies with the definition of an open area for the purposes of the Act."

- Kathryn Powley

Poll finds cash affects media credibility

Nearly three out of four New Zealanders believe the credibility of TV and radio stars is damaged when they accept money from non-media companies.

A poll of 2326 people found 60 per cent believe TV and radio stars should not accept cash or other benefits from outside interests.

It came after an impassioned on-air defence from Newstalk ZB host Mike Hosking in which he denied working for SkyCity.

Hosking admitted he had done work for the casino company in the past, and financial documents seen by the Herald on Sunday show up to $48,000 in cash and benefits was budgeted for him.

But the HorizonResearch poll showed just 16 per cent approve of accepting such payments or benefits. One respondent said: "If members of the media expect the public to trust them, and have faith in the work they do, they must be above reproach and must be seen to be above reproach. Otherwise their credibility will suffer."

The poll also asked for opinions about the new SkyCity convention centre.

Around 57 per cent of people believed that there was "behind-the-scenes" discussions between the Prime Minister John Key and SkyCity.

A further 69 per cent believed this would be unacceptable, or totally unacceptable. And nearly six out of 10 people believe there should be an independent inquiry into the tender process.

- Bevan Hurley

- Herald on Sunday

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