By ELEANOR BLACK and KEVIN TAYLOR
ROTORUA - Developers of a Rotorua casino tipped to bring 1600 jobs to the region say their plans could be killed by a casino moratorium bill now before Parliament.
American casino developer Bob Hathaway of Global Indigenous Development said yesterday that his company had already been waiting for three years, after narrowly missing the application margin before the present casino licence moratorium was imposed in 1997.
The proposed $150 million Rotorua casino development with Ngati Whakaue could be put out of business if a bill by Internal Affairs Minister Mark Burton becomes law next month.
It passed its first reading in the House on Tuesday night by 77 votes to 27.
Mr Hathaway, former chief executive of the Sioux tribe of Chippewa, said the casino would provide huge social and economic benefits for the region.
He oversaw the development of five casinos in Michigan state which produced $1 billion in revenue for the Native American owners and spawned 28 non-casino related businesses.
"This will help close the gaps for Maori very quickly," he said.
But Rotorua district councillor Maureen Whaaka, herself Ngati Whakaue, said not all Maori were in favour of the proposed casino, especially since they were nearly four times as likely as non-Maori to develop gambling addictions.
Promised jobs did not sweeten the deal, she said.
"No matter how you dress it up, we need a future that is a lot more sustainable and stable."
Dr Nelson Sucgang, executive director of Rotorua's addiction centre Te Utuhina Manaakitanga, said that since the gambling service was launched last October the number of people coming to the centre with gambling addictions and related alcohol problems had risen from one or two a week to four a day.
In January, 2 per cent of the centre's clients had gambling addictions compared with 4 per cent last month.
In Hamilton, two Waikato Labour MPs want the city's Riverside Casino included in the casino moratorium law.
Hamilton West MP Martin Gallagher and Labour list MP Dianne Yates are taking legal advice on whether the casino can be included in the Casino Control (Moratorium Extension) Amendment Bill.
The bill would extend the present three-year moratorium, which expires on October 15, on the granting of licences by the Casino Control Authority.
Mr Gallagher said yesterday that the passing of the bill's first reading was good news for Hamilton and increased the city's chances of stopping the casino.
But while the bill got parliamentary support, there may be more difficulty in getting MPs to support an amendment which affects past casino applications.
Mr Burton said any MP could seek to amend a bill but he did not support retrospective legislation.
The Riverside Casino is excluded from the bill, as the application was already lodged by the time the first moratorium was imposed three years ago.
Mr Burton said the purpose of the present bill was to extend the existing moratorium while a review of gaming issues was carried out.
A Court of Appeal hearing is looming next month on the casino.
Mr Gallagher said he would seek the amendment if the court upheld a High Court ruling in May revoking the casino's licence.
"We want to cover the bases. We now have a bill in front of Parliament we can add an amendment to, to achieve that.
"What we are trying to do is make sure the Hamilton application is captured by the new legislation," he said.
Riverside, a consortium of Sky City, Tainui and Perry Developments, is asking the Court of Appeal to overturn the High Court ruling, but if it loses the case it will go back to the authority and seek a rehearing.
By ELEANOR BLACK and KEVIN TAYLOR