What do you think of the Government's deal with SkyCity to build a national convention centre?
OPINION: Every pharoah desires a pyramid. It appears Prime Minister John Key will get his when SkyCity Casino's new convention centre opens in 2017.
The announcement that the Government and SkyCity have reached agreement in principle on the construction of a convention centre was made by Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce but, make no mistake, this is Mr Key's baby.
It was the prime minister who instructed officials to cease work on other plans for a national convention centre till SkyCity's intentions were clear, the prime minister who discussed the proposal with SkyCity bosses, and the prime minister who urged SkyCity to "think outside the box" when it came to funding.
The proposed deal is good news for SkyCity shareholders, whose shares rose almost 3.5 per cent in value immediately after the announcement, the construction industry, which expects to employ 1000 people building the centre, the hospitality industry and the tourism sector. The Government expects the centre to attract 33,000 big-spending overseas visitors a year, injecting another $90 million into the economy. It is not such good news, however, for those unable to resist the lure of spinning wheels and flashing lights.
In return for investing $402m in the project, SkyCity is having its licence extended to 2048 and being permitted to install an additional 230 pokie machines and another 40 gaming tables. It is also being allowed to introduce cashless gambling and to adjust some of its machines so they can accept banknotes of denominations greater than $20.
To spare taxpayers and Auckland ratepayers the expense of building a centre the private sector could not justify funding, the Government is passing the bill to those who can least afford to pay it – the habitual gamblers on whom casinos rely for most of their revenue. SkyCity's profits do not come from passers-by who spontaneously pop into the casino on the way to dinner or a show to empty their pockets of loose change. They come from a much smaller subset of its clientele who, night after night, can be found perched on the same stools pouring money they and their families can ill afford to do without into slot machines.
To ease public concern, SkyCity is promising to increase measures to deter problem gambling, but its patchy record to date of protecting compulsive gamblers from themselves offers little cause for comfort.
The gambling industry is built on human misery. Eliminate the misery and you eliminate the profits.
If the Government truly believes doctors, dentists and real estate salespeople can be persuaded to hold thier annual shindigs at the bottom of the world, the new centre should be paid for by those who will profit from it – tourist operators, Auckland ratepayers and taxpayers, in that order.
If a sound business case cannot be made for its construction, it should not be built at all.
Mr Key has won the day, but the bright lights of the centre will not conceal its unsavoury foundations.
- The Dominion Post