The Government will carefully consider a convention centre deal with SkyCity, a gambling conference has been told.

The fourth International Gambling Conference began in Auckland yesterday and associate Health Minister Tariana Turia opened the conference by acknowledging SkyCity's expansion was the "elephant in the room".

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and SkyCity are negotiating a deal which would see the company build a $350 million national convention centre in downtown Auckland. In return, SkyCity wants to be allowed to have hundreds more gambling machines and tables.

Ms Turia said problem gambling was "one of the most serious hazards facing communities" but would not criticise the deal specifically.


Ms Turia said she had been assured by Mr Joyce that the economic benefit of the deal would need to outweigh any negative impacts of an expansion.

Such a deal would require consultation with Maori and legislative change "subject to the usual scrutiny of Parliament", she said.

Problem Gambling Foundation spokeswoman Andree Froude said: "That won't be a free convention centre. With every new pokie machine you're going to see potentially nearly one new problem gambler."

More than 240 delegates from 14 countries at the three-day conference would discuss other forms of gambling, but the focus was on pokies, she said.

"They are the most harmful form of gambling. More than 70 per cent of people who seek help with a problem with gambling do so because of pokies," she said.

Australian gambling counsellor and former NRL player Ashley Gordon, a keynote speaker at the conference, said a freeze on pokie numbers in NSW should be replicated here.

Mr Gordon, an Aboriginal Australian, said there were obvious parallels between his people's struggle with problem gambling and that of Maori and Pacific Islanders in New Zealand.