David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Talks went quiet at election time: casino boss

Nigel Morrison. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Nigel Morrison. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Casino boss Nigel Morrison spoke of talks over the national convention centre going "quite quiet" at election time.

He told SkyCity shareholders in February there were "renewed" talks over building the convention centre in return for gambling concessions after National's victory.

The comments have brought questions over whether the Government went quiet on the deal during the election campaign to avoid negative coverage.

SkyCity has offered to pay the $350 million needed to build the centre in return for concessions at its Auckland casino.

The Government announced the negotiations in June last year but it went largely unnoticed after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch on the same day.

Interest in the deal surged this month when it emerged negotiations included a proposal to boost the number of pokie machines beyond the present legal limit of 1647.

At the February shareholders' meeting, Mr Morrison said the company had made almost $80 million over the past six months.

He said the company could fund the centre and a major expansion at its Adelaide casino without affecting dividends to shareholders.

Mr Morrison said shareholders could be assured the deal would not go ahead without SkyCity receiving "acceptable returns" on the "very significant capital investment".

"It's fair to say it went quite quiet going into the election. Following the results of the election, we have had some renewed discussions and that has been progressing."

The deal is being negotiated for the Government by the Ministry of Economic Development. A spokesman said: "We cannot comment on aspects and timings of the negotiations while they are ongoing." He referred all other questions to economic development minister Steven Joyce.

A spokesman for Mr Joyce said the responsibility for negotiations was with officials and advisers. He said the minister met only once with SkyCity representatives on December 22, and had a "short conversation" about the convention centre with SkyCity board chairman Rod McGeoch on April 13.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the comment appeared to show the Government and SkyCity were trying to stop the negotiations becoming an election issue.

"It's no surprise Government and SkyCity quietened down during the election campaign - possibly for fear it could impact on National badly."

Labour leader David Shearer said the comment raised further questions about the degree to which SkyCity and the Government communicated over the "negotiations".

- NZ Herald

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