David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Banned pokie addict became SkyCity VIP

Photo / Jason Dorday
Photo / Jason Dorday

A banned poker machine addict slipped through all SkyCity's safety systems to play his way to VIP status in the casino's high-roller room.

The man and his wife have told the Herald how the casino often treated them like royalty and he blew $500,000, including $300,000 in the seven years he was a banned gambler despite going through identity checks up to five times a week.

The woman, 58, said her husband, 62, started going to the casino in 1996. She said he "walked in there and another man walked out, and he hasn't been the same since".

The gambler's ease of access to the VIP room came after years of playing on the main casino floor - even though he had been banned from SkyCity twice and was subject to a legal exclusion order.

Privacy waivers from the couple have allowed SkyCity to confirm the gambler got past security systems set up to catch vulnerable addicts.

The casino said the man was identified on April 27 last year after it introduced a new screening system which checked sign-in details against problem gamblers.

The Herald has confirmed SkyCity had collected the sign-in information for years but never cross-checked it.

Problem gambling experts say the case raises serious questions about the casino's commitment to minimising harm from gambling at a time when it is negotiating with the Government to expand its gambling options - including adding more poker machines - in return for building a $350 million convention centre.

The banned gambler's case was one of a large increase in the number of problem gamblers identified by the casino at a time when it was trying to impress with the quality of its harm-minimisation systems.

The man, who did not want to be named, said he had banned himself twice and had once been trespassed from the casino. He believed his legal exclusion had expired in 2008 when he and his wife returned to play regularly, eventually graduating to the VIP room.

"If you get to VIP you lost a lot of money to get there," he said. "You get there because of the money you've pumped into the place."

The couple said they knew staff by their first names and were entertained with free drinks, meals, hotel rooms, gifts and tickets to corporate boxes at sporting events.

The man said that when they went to the VIP area, they passed a desk at which his wife was required to show her "action card" for entry.

SkyCity says it recorded his name and driver licence details as part of its guest sign-in procedures, although the couple say these were often waived as they were visiting as often as five times a week.

"I never wore a disguise," the man said. "I never hid who I was. Quite often I would wear my Caribbean shirt - and I stood out. I didn't try to blend in. I was just being me."

Last April 27, the man was told his details had been checked and he had been identified as a banned gambler.

"I know a lot of it is my own fault - nobody put a gun to my head. It has cost me a small fortune.

"I pretty much feel I was ignored. As long as you were giving them money they weren't worried.

"I believe it shows they didn't have and didn't want an effective system prior to the conference centre deal with the Government."

SkyCity's company lawyer, Peter Treacy, said the casino took host responsibility very seriously, and safe entertainment was "top priority".

It also relied on families to keep banned problem gamblers away.

The casino was now banning the man's wife, as it believed she knowingly breached casino rules.

Mr Treacy said some problem gamblers went to great lengths to evade staff but did not say whether the comment related to this case.

He said the casino introduced a new system in April last year in VIP areas which checked guests' names against SkyCity's database of banned gamblers.

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said similar stories had been heard from other problem gamblers.

He said it was not enough to rely on SkyCity to regulate itself.

"This is particularly worrying at a time when the expansion of the Auckland casino is being considered as part of the convention centre deal."

SkyCity-identified problem gamblers

2008: 54
2009: 19
2010: 38
2011: 53
2012: 130

Read more: VIP life took over for couple despite banning by casino

- NZ Herald

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