Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Pokies scheme a poor gamble

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Auckland doesn't need more pokies. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Auckland doesn't need more pokies. Photo / Brett Phibbs

If I am to write about SkyCity and certain rorts pertaining thereto, I probably need to declare a potential conflict of interest: I despise gambling in all its forms. Whether it's a chook raffle or a Lotto ticket or baccarat it's all the same to me - giving someone money and getting nothing in return.

Gambling is such an absurd activity that it usually has a charity component to legitimise it. But If I want a chook, I'll buy a chook; if I want to give money to charity I will give money to charity.

I don't need the unlikely possibility of a prize to motivate me, and I certainly don't need to have my donation mediated by an organisation that sucks money off those who can least afford it while presenting itself as a pal of the people. Or "casino", to use the technical term.

If there was one thing Auckland didn't need it was more pokie machines to extract money from those who can ill afford it, especially at SkyCity, which has more than 1600 "slot and gaming machines".

Not far behind in any list of unnecessary civic assets is a convention centre. New Zealand is as unsuitable a location for conventions as you can imagine. We are as far away from any major population centre as it is possible to get.

Usually, this is enough to rule out a location as the site for a convention centre. Auckland is as suitable a site for a convention centre as the Nullarbor is for a ski academy.

We are, admittedly, the ideal location for conventions of the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce or the Norfolk Island Entrepreneurs Association.

But that's about it. Australian bodies prefer to look west when selecting sites for their bunfights. Most groups will be better off closer to home.

Yet the Government feels Auckland needs a convention centre so badly that it is prepared to change the law to benefit one company, SkyCity, that has promised to build a convention centre if it is allowed to add "up to 500" - or in other words, 500 - machines to the number it is already operating.

This is one of those stories that has been floating around for so long as something that is likely to happen that we cease to notice it. Then, one day, when it's too late, it has happened. The Government has used a favourite tactic of refusing to confirm what arrangements have been agreed to until it is too late.

Auckland doesn't need a convention centre to bring prosperity. It needs a co-ordinated public transport system and a coherent, visionary plan for its waterfront. With a Government so happy to take a punt on the social cost of gambling, the odds are against either of those happening.

* * *

It's always exciting when a country with low self-esteem gets attention from elsewhere in the world. So we know how Finland feels, of course. But I was disappointed to see talkshow host Tuomas Enbuske, who could use some advice about what colours are more slimming for TV appearances, resorting to fat jokes to have a go at Gerry Brownlee.

We expect something more innovative from the country that brought us Angry Birds. And surely, if they really wanted to get the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery where he is vulnerable, all they needed to do was look at the state of affairs in Christchurch.

- Herald on Sunday

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