Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

SkyCity went on 'whale hunt' for gamblers

Casino talked of Chinese visa deal year before Immigration's airline plan.

Skycity Casino was reportedly lobbying government to "fast-track" visas for wealthy Chinese visitors. Photo / Getty Images
Skycity Casino was reportedly lobbying government to "fast-track" visas for wealthy Chinese visitors. Photo / Getty Images

SkyCity was reportedly lobbying the Government to "fast track" visas for wealthy Chinese visitors for at least a year before Immigration Minister Nathan Guy announced an arrangement with China Southern Airlines.

An article published in August last year on gambling industry website gambling911.com reported that SkyCity was entering "Pacific Casino Wars" and that the company was "Hunting High Roller Whales".

In the article, SkyCity's international business president, Ejaaz Dean, was quoted saying the casino was keen to attract high-spending Chinese gamblers.

"An agreement had been reached with Air New Zealand for priority access to ticketing and the casino is working with Immigration New Zealand to 'fast-track' visas for 'known players' from the mainland," Mr Dean is reported as saying.

However, SkyCity has denied any involvement in the China Southern Airlines deal under which Immigration NZ will waive some visa documentation requirements for the airline's frequent flyers when they arrive.

That's in spite of Mr Dean reportedly saying in an August 2011 article on the TravelTrade website that SkyCity was "working closely with China Southern Airlines to bring VIP gamblers into Auckland seamlessly".

SkyCity says Mr Dean's comments were misrepresented in that article.

The China Southern Airlines deal was revealed by NZ First Leader Winston Peters. Mr Peters produced internal emails which showed Immigration NZ's manager of Intelligence, Risk and Integrity, Shaun Driscoll, was concerned it would allow criminals into New Zealand more easily.

Mr Peters yesterday said Prime Minister John Key, who is also the Tourism Minister, "must have been involved at some point" in arranging the China Southern deal.

Mr Peters said Mr Key should "reveal the full extent of his involvement"' in the affair.

A spokesman for Mr Key said the Prime Minister had never had any discussions with SkyCity regarding visa requirements for wealthy Asian casino customers.

SkyCity spokesman Gordon Jon Thompson said the company had not agreed to any "fast track" visa arrangements with Immigration NZ.

"Our customers must meet the same requirements and go through the same processes as all other visitors travelling to New Zealand."

Mr Thompson said as a major tourism operator, SkyCity was "focused on attracting high spending Chinese tourists to New Zealand and we make no secret of that". "We believe it is good for New Zealand."

- NZ Herald

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