Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

SkyCity deal mirrors one made 11 years ago

Judith Collins. Photo / Ross Setford
Judith Collins. Photo / Ross Setford

SkyCity was granted an extra 230 poker machines and 12 more gaming tables in 2001 to pay for a $37 million convention centre in Federal St.

Eleven years later, the casino company is seeking a similar deal with the Government - to build a $350 million international-size convention centre in return for gambling concessions.

It wants an early renewal of its licence, more gambling machines - one report suggests between 350 and 500 extra pokies - automated gaming tables and an increase in the number of other table games.

But in contrast to the strong public and political backlash in the latest deal, the former Casino Control Authority received only one public submission in 2001, from the Problem Gambling Foundation.

At the time, the Casino Control Authority was chaired by lawyer Judith Collins, who became a National MP in 2002 and is now the Minister of Justice.

In an interim finding, the five-member authority accepted that a medium-sized convention centre would have a substantial positive effect on tourism, employment and economic development.

But against this, Ms Collins and other members had regard to the "negative social impacts that, we believe, could well result from the proposed expansion in gaming facilities in the absence of an appropriately designed and properly implemented responsible gambling programme at the casino".

The authority also accepted the foundation's view that under current operating conditions "casino machines are likely to have more adverse impacts in terms of problem gambling than non-casino machines".

SkyCity said the increase in gaming facilities would have a negligible social effect in Auckland and New Zealand and the net social and economic effects of the deal would be very positive for Auckland and the region.

The foundation said the deal would have a substantial negative effect on the region, noting casino machines offered much higher ordinary and jackpot prizes and higher bets than machines in non-casino venues.

Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said he was not surprised at concerns in 2001 about the absence of host responsibility programmes to deal with problem gamblers at SkyCity.

"The understanding of the impacts of gambling within our communities has come a very, very long way in the past dozen years through good research and increased community awareness," he said.

Mr Ramsey said host responsibility programmes had improved, but still suffered because of the large amounts of money problem gamblers spent on poker machines.

SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison said last week that he felt "South Auckland mums" gambling at pubs were more at risk than casino visitors of becoming gambling addicts.

The Herald has reported that the programme designed to protect SkyCity gamblers from addiction had never been reviewed - even though having it is a condition of the casino's licence.

The Gambling Commission said it had been too busy, so it had put the review on the "back burner".

Ms Collins referred comment on the 2001 deal and subsequent harm minimisation measures to Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain, the minister responsible for the Gambling Commission, which replaced the Casino Control Authority.

Ms Collins' office said the authority approved a responsible gambling programme in March 2002 with conditions for information to be provided about problem gambling services, staff training, a self-exclusion programme and liaison with interested parties and community groups.

A SkyCity spokeswoman said it expected strong demand would continue for its medium-sized convention facilities on Federal St, but would not comment on plans to expand these facilities. Last month, SkyCity abandoned plans to take airspace over Federal St to expand the convention centre.

At the time of the 2001 deal Labour was in Government but played no role in the pokies for convention centre deal.Labour introduced the Gambling Act in 2003, preventing further expansion of gambling facilities.

A Labour Party spokeswoman said National was now prepared to change the law to allow the expansion of gambling at SkyCity.

- NZ Herald

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