By MELISSA SCHWALGER

HAMILTON - The backers of a casino for Hamilton failed to show how they would alleviate gambling-related social problems, opponents have told the High Court at Hamilton.

Church and community groups are asking a judicial review to overturn the operating licence granted to Riverside Casino Ltd in December.

One of their arguments is that the Casino Control Authority's 3-2 decision in favour was not based on the evidence. Dozens of individuals and community groups argued at the consent hearing that a casino would be socially and economically damaging to the city and its people.

A lawyer for the Anglican Church, David Wilson, QC, told Justice Fisher yesterday that the casino promoters had not adequately detailed how they would deal with the "undue social effect" of a casino, and social service agencies had said they were too overworked to help.

"The [Casino Control] Authority needs to be satisfied of no undue negative impacts at the point where it ... gives the licence."

Mr Wilson added: "The conditions that [the authority] appended to the final licence were formless and without substance ... and unenforceable."

The judicial review began on Monday, when two members of the control authority were labelled potentially biased.

In a courtroom packed with boxes of evidence and two large file carousels, Rhys Harrison, QC, said the two, Michael Cox and Sharon Opai, should not have been on the panel of five that approved the casino application.

Mr Harrison, who is acting for Hamilton Mayor Russ Rimmington and others, said Mr Cox had claimed during the consent hearing that the obligation was on the opponents to prove that Riverside was "not worthy" of the operating licence.

"That has never been the proper test," said Mr Harrison. "It is setting the scene for the bias argument.

"Mr Cox's conduct throughout [the hearing] was entirely consistent with that erroneous state-ment."

Mr Harrison said Ms Opai should also have been disqualified because she had tribal affiliations with Tainui, which at the time of the hearing had a 25 per cent share in the casino company.

He said Ms Opai's husband worked for the project management and consulting company Arrow, which is involved with Tainui's endowed college at Hopuhopu and has been identified as a likely manager during construction of the $50 million casino.

Mr Harrison stressed that Ms Opai's husband would not benefit financially from either contract.

"This isn't a conflict of interest, but a conflict caused by an association or relationship."

Thirteen Hamilton residents, including Mr Rimmington, Catholic Bishop Dennis Browne and Anglican Bishop David Moxon, asked for the judicial review, which is expected to last seven days.

Meanwhile, construction work continues on the casino site behind the old post office in Victoria St.