Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Govt-casino links in spotlight after gambler visa deal

SkyCity denies any involvement in a fast-track visa scheme for rich travellers. Photo / Michael Craig
SkyCity denies any involvement in a fast-track visa scheme for rich travellers. Photo / Michael Craig

The Government is facing renewed heat over its relationship with SkyCity after claims the casino operator lobbied it over a deal with China Southern Airlines to fast-track visas for wealthy Chinese visitors.

Immigration Minister Nathan Guy was forced to hastily announce the deal - which reduces visa requirements for wealthy China Southern Airlines passengers - after NZ First leader Winston Peters produced internal Immigration NZ emails revealing concerns it would allow criminals into the country.

Yesterday in Parliament, Mr Peters pressed his attack further, tabling an article which appeared in an online version of New Zealand TravelTrade magazine in August last year.

In the article, SkyCity's president of international business, Ejaaz Dean, was reported as saying the casino was "working closely with China Southern Airlines to bring VIP gamblers into Auckland seamlessly".

He "confirmed the casino was in talks to make the visa process easier", the article said.

In response to a question from Labour MP Trevor Mallard, Mr Guy said he was not aware of any SkyCity involvement in the deal.

Mr Peters said the arrangement, made after Mr Guy met airline representatives in April, "means that a casino and a communist government airline have ... now acquired privileges for their customers not available to any other group of people anywhere else in the world".

The Auditor-General is investigating how the Government sought proposals for an Auckland convention centre after SkyCity won out over rival bids with an offer to foot the entire $350 million bill, in return for changes to gambling laws.

In light of that and the TravelTrade article, Mr Peters said the Government's relationship with the casino company was "totally incestuous, giving them special deals and special arrangements even changing our border security routines to favour these people".

Finance Minister Bill English dismissed Mr Peters' claims, saying: "The Government discusses laws with commercial entities and large scale public entities all the time."

SkyCity spokeswoman Kelly Armitage said the company had "ongoing discussions with all airlines" and was "always talking to the Government" about how to make to make visa requirements for customers easier, but it wasn't involved in discussions on the China Southern Airlines arrangement.

She said TravelTrade's article was incorrect.

"Whatever Ejaaz said to the reporter has been misrepresented somehow."

The deal

* China Southern Airlines' Gold and Silver frequent flyer card holders will not have to produce evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves to get a visitor's visa

* Visitors will still have to meet health and good character requirements, as well as evidence of onward travel

* Immigration Minister Nathan Guy says those eligible are "considered to be low-risk as they travel regularly for business or leisure"

- NZ Herald

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