An international mental health conference has outraged New Zealand psychiatrists due to a "bad taste" venue choice, with some boycotting the annual get-together with colleagues from across the Tasman and beyond.
Every year the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) hosts the conference for researchers across Asia and Pacific - this year it's being held at Auckland's SkyCity Convention Centre, billed as offering "a comprehensive scientific programme that will feature a full range of topics spanning the breadth of contemporary psychiatric practice and research".
"We don't think our mental health industry should be associated with gambling," New Zealand Faculty of Addiction Psychiatry chair Sam McBride said.
Determined to voice a concern he says has rippled repercussions, McBride spoke at the five-day conference this morning.
He said the SkyCity venue had caused quite a lot of concern within the faculty and other health professionals invited to the conference.
"We feel discomfort partnering with an industry that causes addiction, knowing all too well the problems gambling poses on mental health disorders."
McBride said he raised his concern with the college and they expressed some discomfort - but had made the argument that the SkyCity conference centre was separate from the casino.
"But everyone knows how closely linked it is, there's only a glass wall between the rooms."
A SkyCity spokesman said the convention centre was in fact across the road from the casino, and adjacent to the Grand Hotel. An airbridge linked the convention centre to Level 5 of the casino complex, but terminated at Spice Alley restaurant, not at the casino.
"SkyCity operates 20 bars and restaurants, a theatre, two hotels, the Sky Tower, the largest underground car park in Auckland, a convention centre and a casino. We're an integrated entertainment company with a wide range of services and facilities."
The Ministry of Health released a report in 2012 that showed one in 40 New Zealanders have been affected by someone's gambling.
The report said harm from problem gambling can include poor parenting, family violence, other crime, and suicide.
The behaviour of each severe problem gambler is likely to affect between 7 and 17 other people.
University of Otago professor psychiatry and addiction medicine, Doug Sellman, refused to attend on principle.
Sellman said it sent the wrong message that the college doesn't care about mental health "when I know it does".
"To be associated with an aspect of society that presents so much harm feels very wrong."
A RANZCP spokeswoman said the college had had no option but to host the conference there.
"There was nowhere else that was big enough to accommodate us but we do understand the concern."
SkyCity said that the Health Ministry study found fewer than 2 per cent of Kiwis were problem gamblers.
"The vast majority of New Zealanders gambled for fun and were not engaged in harmful behaviour... We take our responsibilities in the harm minimisation area extremely seriously," the spokesman said.