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Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Auckland Council votes not to support convention deal

Studies show the convention centre could attract 35 conferences a year, 22,000 overseas visitors and pump $85.4 million into the economy. Photo / Doug Sherring
Studies show the convention centre could attract 35 conferences a year, 22,000 overseas visitors and pump $85.4 million into the economy. Photo / Doug Sherring

The Auckland Council has voted not to support the $400 million national convention centre for pokies deal on the eve of the Government and SkyCity signing off the deal.

In a conscience vote, the council voted 10-7 yesterday not to support "the Government's proposal for SkyCity to develop a convention centre in return for changes in our gambling legislation to increase gambling at the SkyCity casino".

Mayor Len Brown - a strong supporter of the deal and who has pushed for harm minimisation measures - voted against the motion by City Vision councillor Cathy Casey, who urged the mayor to stop being a cheerleader for SkyCity.

She said the Auckland Plan - a 30-year blueprint for the city - set out to minimise harm from gambling and the convention centre deal did nothing to minimise harm.

Ms Casey said SkyCity's game was gambling and they wanted a convention centre to suck people into their casino.

The vote is a moral statement, but will not stop the Government and SkyCity finalising the deal on Sunday for the casino operator to build the convention centre in exchange for an extra 230 gaming machines, 40 gaming tables and a 35-year extension to its casino licence.

Studies show the convention centre could attract 35 conferences a year, 22,000 overseas visitors, pump $85.4 million into the economy, create 1000 jobs during construction and 800 long-term jobs.

Mr Brown emphasised the "extraordinary economic benefits" of building a convention centre and highlighted the introduction of facial recognition technology to identify problem gamblers as a reason for supporting the deal.

The vote was taken after a presentation from Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey, who said SkyCity had got a great deal that would impact on problem gambling.

"I would urge you to make a last-minute call to the Government to ramp up the harm minimisation measures. The measures in the agreement are weak and counter-balanced by concessions that will make matters worse," Mr Ramsey said.

Despite voting against the deal, the council subsequently voted as the consenting authority to work with SkyCity on the development and design issues for the convention centre in central Auckland.

The council also voted for the Government and SkyCity to investigate putting limits on the amount of time and losses incurred by gamblers at the casino, an independent audit of SkyCity's statistics and harm minimisation proposals and for the Government to release a social impact report on the deal.

Councillor Mike Lee said there was good evidence to show that what was happening at the casino was causing serious social problems in Auckland and a serious amount of money was being skimmed out of the economy, usually out of the pockets of people who could least afford it.

"Such is the scale of this that the Government is keeping a report on social harm confidential until the sign-off of the deal," he said.

The Government is holding off releasing information about the deal, including work on the social impact, until it finalises the deal with SkyCity.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said the council vote was not a big deal, saying they seemed to have had a bit of a procedural issue, which has confused things a bit, and then ended up with a dollar each way.

"The key thing is that Auckland will receive significant spin-off benefits from an international convention centre including a projected $90 million annual injection into the economy; an estimated 1000 jobs during construction; and 800 jobs once it is up and running. It's another example of this Government's total focus on jobs and growth for New Zealanders."

Green Party gambling spokeswoman Denise Roche said Mr Brown needed to listen to the people of Auckland and rethink his support for a deal that would lead to more social harm.

The latest Herald-DigiPoll survey shows 61.5 per cent of those polled disapprove of the deal while 33.8 per cent approve. That's a sharp turnaround from a year ago when a similar poll found 40.3 per cent disapproved and 57.3 per cent supported it.

THE MOTION

"The governing body does not support the Government's proposal for SkyCity to develop a convention centre in return for changes in our gambling legislation to increase gambling at the SkyCity casino."

FOR

Cathy Casey, Sandra Coney, Alf Filipaina, Michael Goudie, Ann Hartley, Penny Hulse, Mike Lee, Richard Northey, Wayne Walker, George Wood

AGAINST

Len Brown, Cameron Brewer, Des Morrison, Calum Penrose, Dick Quax, Sharon Stewart, John Walker

ABSTAIN

Chris Fletcher*

ABSENT

Arthur Anae, Noelene Raffills, Penny Webster

* Mrs Fletcher abstained because of a possible conflict of interest in her role as a Motutapu Restoration trustee. The trust has received funding from SkyCity.

- NZ Herald

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