Auckland mayor Len Brown is conditionally supporting a controversial government decision to negotiate a convention centre deal with SkyCity.

The Government has faced mounting criticism over discussions with the casino that would see the company fund a $350 million convention centre in Auckland in return for an extension to its casino licence.

Mr Brown, speaking to Radio New Zealand this morning after returning from a trade mission to China, said there was a huge need for a convention centre in Auckland, but if the deal goes ahead controls should be put in place to minimise harm to gamblers.

"I'm not anti gambling at all. I think there is a place and time for it and people are entitled to make their choices and they do that.''


"What I would be looking at and what I looked at previously is harm minimisation, so if there is an extension as a part of any deal I would be very very concerned to ensure that we did everything we could to minimise harm from the extension of gambling outlets,'' he said.

Labour has accused the Government of trying to sell off New Zealand laws, and the Green Party has said the deal with result in an increase in problem gambling.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce yesterday denied the Government was selling the law, but said the deal would not go through unless extra pokie machines were allowed at the casino.

Casino regulations were tight and any move to increase the number of gaming machines would require legislative change, he said.

"That's just the nature of that industry _ it's different to other industries where those sorts of things don't apply,'' he told TVNZ's Q+A programme.

"Governments alter laws all the time to encourage economic activity to take place. So this whole sell-the-law thing is a Labour Party spin and you shouldn't buy into it.''

The deal could allow SkyCity to install up to 500 new pokie machines, but Mr Joyce said no numbers had been agreed while negotiations with Ministry of Economic Development staff were ongoing.

The SkyCity bid was one of five proposals to build the convention centre but the only one the Government was considering.