Capital casino a losing bet

MARTIN KAY AND TIM DONOGHUE
Last updated 05:00 14/12/2009

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A developer's plan to build a casino in Wellington appears doomed after Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy ruled out a law change required for it to proceed.

Backers of the proposed billion-dollar project in Shelly Bay – which also includes a luxury apartment block and a gondola at the prime harbourside site – need the previous government's moratorium on new casinos lifted if the centrepiece of the development is to go ahead.

But Mr Guy, who has responsibility for gambling, said changing the law was not in the pipeline and, even if it was, doing so would be a lengthy process.

"Any change to the law would be a decision for the Cabinet and caucus and would require extensive discussion with the wider community," he said.

"At this stage, the Government has no plans to change the law."

The development of any new casinos outside those already operating in Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown, was banned by the 2003 Gambling Act. It leaves Wellington the only major centre without a casino.

Auckland developer Redwood Group International has confirmed it is working on plans for Shelly Bay. Its Wellington manager, Martin Price, said yesterday he expected an announcement to be made this month. He would not comment on whether a casino was planned for the development.

Sir Ngatata Love, chairman of the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust, which has considered plans for the bay since it took ownership in February, said the casino proposal had nothing to do with the trust.

The developer faces opposition to a casino from city councillors, and local MPs including Annette King, Grant Robertson, Peter Dunne Katrina Shanks and Chris Hipkins have all spoken out against the idea.

Acting Wellington Mayor Ian McKinnon doubted whether a casino would be a good fit for Wellington.

Mrs King said it would not be be good for residents of her electorate, Miramar.

Mr Dunne said a lot of political problems would have to be worked through before a Wellington casino could be built. "At this early stage I am very sceptical about the idea."

If Parliament did decide to revisit the legislation, any vote should be a conscience one, he said.

Labour internal affairs spokesman Chris Hipkins said his party backed the moratorium and Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson said he did not favour legislative change.

Local National Party list MP Ms Shanks also opposed a Wellington casino, saying "the people who can least afford to gamble are the ones who lose money in casinos".

Southern ward Wellington city councillor Bryan Pepperell said he was opposed to a casino for Wellington.

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"They are injurious to addictive personalities, " he said.

However, the chairman of Enterprise Miramar Peninsula, Allan Probert disagreed.

"A casino would be good for Wellington and good for the area."

- The Dominion Post

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