13 May 2013

SkyCity gets more pokies in convention centre deal

9:52 pm on 13 May 2013

SkyCity is to get more pokies and an extended casino licence in return for building a $402 million convention centre in Auckland.

Under the agreement unveiled on Monday, SkyCity will meets the costs and will get in return a range of changes to benefit its gambling business.

These include 230 more pokie machines on its casino floor and more gaming tables. SkyCity's licence, which had been due to expire in 2021, will be extended to 2048.

SkyCity is also required to increase measures to deter problem gambling.

The Government said the estimated cost of $402 million is made up of $315 million in construction and fit-out costs and $87 million in land costs.

SkyCity will operate the convention centre for at least 35 years. Construction is due to begin in 2014 and the facility is scheduled to open in 2017.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei says SkyCity has been able to buy a law change in a deal that puts the real cost on the backs of problem gamblers.

Ms Turei told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme the provisions to limit that harm written into the deal are the weakest possible.

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey says than two-thirds of the people who come to the foundation for help are addicted to pokies, and an extra 230 machines is no cause for celebration.

Mr Ramsey says extending the licence, instead of allowing a public review when it was due to expire in 2021, is also concerning as there's now no chance of a public debate about whether Auckland residents even want a casino.

The foundation says based on its own analysis, the extra pokie machines alone could earn Sky City about $32 million a year and are the major cause of problem gambling.

The director of AUT's Gambling and Addictions Research Centre, Max Abbott, told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme increasing the number of pokies will increase harm, and the promised measures for minimising problem gambling need to be followed through and actively monitored.

'Balance struck'

But SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison says the casino is not a major contributor to problem gambling. "With six million visitors a year it does need to be kept in perspective," he told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme.

Mr Morrison says getting the 27-year licence extension has been a big priority for SkyCity in reaching the deal as it gives certainty for the company and investors.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce says the Government had struck a balance between the good the facility will do and the risk of harm from gambling. He says the centre should be open in late 2017 and there has already been interest from overseas convention organisers.

"This particular organisation wanted to know when the convention centre would be done and if it was going to be done in time, they'd like to be able to bring their very large conference to New Zealand. We've had more than one, in fact, I understand a number of these approaches."

Mr Joyce says company will need to buy some land from state-owned Television New Zealand, which has indicated a willingness to sell.

Auckland mayor Len Brown says it's unclear whether the consent process will call for public submissions. SkyCity hopes the convention centre will qualify to be built without public input.

The agreement

SkyCity will receive:

  • An extension of SkyCity's Auckland casino licence, due to expire in 2021, out to 30 June 2048, and an amendment to cover all of SkyCity's properties in Federal Street
  • An additional 230 pokie machines on the casino floor
  • An additional 40 gaming tables
  • A further 12 gaming tables that can be substituted for automated table game player stations (but not pokie machines)
  • Up to 17% of pokie machines and automatic table games (in restricted areas only) being able to accept banknotes of denominations greater than $20
  • Introducing TITO (ticket-in, ticket-out) and card-based cashless gaming technology on all pokie machines and automatic table games at Auckland casino.

Measures to deter problem gambling and money laundering:

  • a predictive modelling tool that analyses data to identify players at risk of problem gambling
  • a voluntary pre-commitment system where players can elect to restrict the amount of time they play or the amount they spend
  • doubling the number of Host Responsibility specialists to deliver 24-hour a day, seven-day-a-week coverage.
  • introduction of player identification requirements when amounts over $500 are being put onto, or cashed from, TITO tickets in non-restricted areas.