The casino and what’s in the pack
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.