In all walks of life, playing things by the book is always the easiest course. In some circumstances, however, it is not the wisest response. That lesson should now be reverberating around an embarrassed SkyCity as it licks wounds arising from the curious case of Tuni Parata and her Bible.

Ms Parata, a Sky Tower host, got into trouble because a manager spotted her with a small Bible in a toilet area. The fact that this was not even on the gambling floor was thought irrelevant by management, who immediately opted for a formula response. Ms Parata was deemed to be in breach of the company's uniform code, which bars the carrying of items such as cellphones and books that might interfere with staff members' "full engagement" with customers.

The dangers of this reaction were multiplied by SkyCity's apparent lack of anticipation of where it might all lead. The mere juxtaposition of a Bible and the Temple of Mammon should have offered reason for caution. Throw in a dignified woman apparently baffled and bemused by the actions of her employer of 16 years and fearful that her habit of carrying a Bible could cost her her job and the potential for a public relations disaster was complete. In any battle of claim and counter-claim, the company would never win.

No matter, SkyCity insisted on considering disciplinary action. Its only concession to a growing wave of criticism was to seek to assure Ms Parata that her alleged misconduct would not lead to dismissal. Through it all, the company never explained why it was employing such a strict approach, fuelling the idea that the public were not being told everything.


In the end, after a meeting with her bosses, Ms Parata was told she could carry the book with her at work - as long as it was not visible and she used it during her breaks. This was a sensible outcome. Yet even then SkyCity kept digging. It could not resist a self-congratulatory plug for the "flexibility" of its uniform policy. This served only to highlight the inflexibility of the management approach to Ms Parata.

The episode has added to a dire few months for SkyCity. A business that was once regarded as one of Auckland's foremost now has a problematic image. Not all of this has been a consequence of SkyCity's shortcomings. It could not, for example, conceive of five children, the youngest of them just 5 months, being left in the casino carpark while their parents gambled upstairs. Nor could it fully anticipate that the proposed deal with the Government, under which it would invest $350 million in a convention centre while gaining extra poker machines and an extension of its licence beyond 2021, would prove so controversial.

Equally, however, it has not helped itself. It was wrong of its chief executive, Nigel Morrison, to suggest that SkyCity's pokies were less harmful to the public than Lotto tickets, and that claims of their social harm were out of proportion to reality. Too much research indicated exactly the opposite. Now, the company has added to its problems by choosing not to let slide an issue that was bound to attract media attention and could deliver only bad publicity.

A company's image can turn on the smallest of misjudgments. Ms Parata's union, Unite, claims that damage has been done and SkyCity is "already seen as a den of iniquity". That is an overstatement. But the tactics employed in its brush with a Bible-carrying staff member, with its mishandling of other issues, have undoubtedly dented its reputation. If it is to regain its former standing, it will have to show a far keener appreciation of the consequences of its actions and utterances.