The casino and what’s in the pack

Central Leader - - NEWS -

There was once an old adage: ‘‘Never play poker with some­one who has long sleeves.’’

There was a good rea­son for it – the risk that the friendly card sharp across the ta­ble from you could be car­ry­ing a few ex­tra high cards there.

Just as both John Key and his casino play­mates seem to be hid­ing the odd trump or two over the con­ven­tion cen­tre for a few hun­dred pok­ies – and up to 60 ex­tra gam­ing ta­bles – which the Govern­ment wants to deal out to Auck­land de­spite strong and grow­ing op­po­si­tion. In the most re­cent poll count, 61 per cent said ‘‘ no thank you’’.

That’s up from year ago when 40.3 per cent dis­ap­proved and 57.3 per cent sup­ported it. The tide is turn­ing. That got strong back­ing last week when Auck­land coun­cil­lors voted to op­pose it, 10 to seven.

Just in case you (un­der­stand­ably) want to make this an elec­tion topic in Oc­to­ber, here’s how they voted on a mo­tion that:

‘‘The gov­ern­ing body does not sup­port the Govern­ment’s pro­posal for SkyCity to de­velop a con­ven­tion cen­tre in re­turn for changes in our gam­bling leg­is­la­tion to in­crease gam­bling at the SkyCity casino.’’

Op­pos­ing the John Key plan – Cathy Casey, San­dra Coney, Alf Fili­paina, Michael Goudie, Ann Hart­ley, Penny Hulse, Mike Lee, Richard Northey, Wayne Walker, Ge­orge Wood. For – Len Brown, Cameron Brewer, Des Mor­ri­son, Calum Pen­rose, Dick Quax, Sharon Ste­wart, Sir John Walker. Chris Fletcher ab­stained be­cause of a pos­si­ble con­flict of in­ter­est in her role as a Mo­tu­tapu Restora­tion trustee. The trust has had fund­ing from SkyCity.

Arthur Anae, Noe­lene Raf­fills, Penny Web­ster were ab­sent.

Cathy Casey led the charge and talked for a ma­jor­ity of Auck­lan­ders in a way that sounded right to me.

‘‘They’re com­ing into our patch with a dodgy deal ... they’re in­creas­ing gam­bling with­out any heed of Auck­land Coun­cil’s plan in which we seek to min­imise the harm from gam­bling.

‘‘They’ve come in over the top of us and said, ‘ you will have this’ – that’s telling the peo­ple of Auck­land through its coun­cil that this is what’s go­ing to hap­pen to you.

‘‘We re­ally don’t have a say – so in the ab­sence of a say, we need to tell them what we think.’’

She says: ‘‘SkyCity’s game is gam­bling and they want a con­ven­tion cen­tre to suck peo­ple into their casino.’’ She de­scribed the mayor, Len Brown, as ‘‘a cheer­leader for the casino’’. Many might think that sounds right. For his part, Mr Brown didn’t move from his sup­port for ‘‘ex­tra­or­di­nary eco­nomic ben­e­fits’’ in build­ing a con­ven­tion cen­tre and em­pha­sised that ‘‘facial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy’’ could iden­tify prob­lem gam­blers as a rea­son for sup­port­ing the deal.

Prob­lem Gam­bling Foun­da­tion chief ex­ec­u­tive Graeme Ram­sey warned of the real prob­lems in gam­bling. He sees them reg­u­larly.

His plea: ‘‘I urge you to make a last-minute call to the Govern­ment to ramp up the harm min­imi­sa­tion mea­sures. The mea­sures in the agree­ment are weak and coun­ter­bal­anced by con­ces­sions that will make mat­ters worse.’’

De­spite vot­ing against the deal, the coun­cil sub­se­quently voted as the con­sent­ing au­thor­ity to work with SkyCity on the de­vel­op­ment and de­sign is­sues for the con­ven­tion cen­tre in cen­tral Auck­land.

Pre­sum­ably, that makes it clear that a con­ven­tion cen­tre is one thing but al­low­ing the sus­pect source of big money to make even more profit from the ad­dicted is an­other.

The coun­cil also voted for the Govern­ment and SkyCity to in­ves­ti­gate putting lim­its on the amount of time and losses in­curred by gam­blers at the casino, an in­de­pen­dent au­dit of SkyCity’s statis­tics and the ef­fec­tive­ness of ‘‘harm min­imi­sa­tion pro­pos­als’’. And the coun­cil also wants the Govern­ment to re­lease a so­cial im­pact re­port on the deal. Why the de­lay? Is there some­thing up a sleeve or two that we don’t know about? Like the new rev­e­la­tion that the casino wants – and will no doubt get – an un­der­ground sta­tion at its door when the city loop passes by.

Did the Govern­ment have to nod its head on that too and to re­veal it be­fore our rather sus­pect source of money would ac­tu­ally sign up?

Talk­ing of hold­ing its cards very close to its chest, coun­cil­lor Mike Lee ac­cused the Govern­ment of with­hold­ing in­for­ma­tion about the deal un­til it fi­nalises with SkyCity.

Is that de­lay sig­nif­i­cant? Any govern­ment sec­ond thoughts? Not ac­cord­ing to Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Steven Joyce. He waved away the worries of coun­cil­lors and the com­mu­nity as ‘‘not a big deal’’. Don’t bet on that, Mr Joyce. He says: ‘‘ They seem to have had a bit of a pro­ce­dural is­sue which has con­fused things a bit and then ended up with a dol­lar each way.’’

And then, right on cue, he rat­tled out those daz­zling and un­proved big num­bers: ‘‘The key thing is that Auck­land will re­ceive sig­nif­i­cant spin-off ben­e­fits from an in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tion cen­tre in­clud­ing a pro­jected $90 mil­lion an­nual in­jec­tion into the econ­omy; an es­ti­mated 1000 jobs dur­ing con­struc­tion; and 800 jobs once it is up and run­ning.’’

But at what real cost? Chang­ing the liquor laws, dis­re­gard­ing more so­cial and fam­ily risks may suit the Govern­ment and its casino mate but it’s nei­ther eth­i­cal nor good for the com­mu­nity who should be shel­tered from the un­nec­es­sary risks.

Re­mem­ber how Mr Key went to Hol­ly­wood and later or­gan­ised changes in labour laws so we wouldn’t miss The Hob­bit’s film­ing here. With­out guess­ing that it could be­come a chronic con­di­tion. He should reshuf­fle the pack and weigh up just what’s in those long sleeves. In the mail bag:

Grey Power pres­i­dent Roy Reid writes a mes­sage for the whole com­mu­nity: ‘‘We are warn­ing our mem­bers to be very wary about sign­ing any long term con­tracts with any of the com­pa­nies, it could be to their long term detri­ment to do so. At present the ma­jor elec­tric­ity retailers are very ag­gres­sively pro­mot­ing them­selves via the me­dia in an en­deav­our to get new and ex­ist­ing cus­tomers on board and locked into long term con­tracts.

‘‘They’re mak­ing of­fers that you can’t refuse but more in­sid­i­ous though are the phone calls or the knock on the door in the evening, par­tic­u­larly at meal times with the hard sell tac­tics.

‘‘Also in some cases the sales­peo­ple are quot­ing prices that do not take into ac­count lines com­pany prices, which of course are vari­able through­out the coun­try. It’s im­por­tant that when cus­tomers are com­par­ing prices they are able to com­pare ap­ples with ap­ples.

‘‘Grey Power ques­tions the moral­ity of this at a time when elec­tric­ity prices should be sta­bil­is­ing if not fall­ing and by lock­ing cus­tomers into con­tracts this is deny­ing them the op­por­tu­nity to ben­e­fit from re­duced pric­ing.

‘‘Prices will fall if Merid­ian fails to se­cure a favourable long term deal with the Ti­wai Pt smelter. Are th­ese com­pa­nies hedg­ing their bets at the ex­pense of the res­i­den­tial cus­tomer?’’

A ques­tion for ev­ery­one – not just the olds.

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