The Prime Minister says there will be fewer pokies in New Zealand, despite the Government's deal with Sky City Casino to build a national convention centre in return for more gambling machines, because of a policy to reduce numbers.
John Key this morning defended casinos as a safer gambling environment despite five children being locked in a van outside Sky City Casino last month.
The children, aged from five-months to eight-years-old, were left unsupervised outside the Auckland casino for about 45 minutes while their parents gambled.
"We have casino licenses in New Zealand, unless we rip all those licenses up and abandon gambling in any form in New Zealand, that is always a risk," he told TVNZ's Breakfast programme.
"In a casino they are in a better environment say than attached to a pub deliberating targeting low income people in South Auckland."
Casinos had more stringent conditions and so were more able to reduce the harm caused by gambling, he said.
"But if someone wants to go to Sky City and leave their children locked in a car, then not only is that totally irresponsible and no doubt in breach of the law, that can happen in an environment from a supermarket to a casino."
The issue had put back in the spotlight the Government's deal with Sky City to build a $350 million national convention centre.
The Government was not selling policy, Key said.
"That's absolutely incorrect and I refute that."
The convention centre would bring 144,000 additional nights of Auckland stays for business tourists, who generally spent twice as much as other tourists, he said.
Building the centre would create 1000 new jobs and running it would create another 900.
"Not a bad deal for New Zealand."
There have been reports Sky City would be granted licences for up to 500 new pokie machines under the deal but Key said the number had not been finalised.
"They are putting on a proposal to show all the component parts they need to stack that investment up.
"They will get some more, I wouldn't necessarily say the number proposed."
There was "overall" a sinking lid policy on casinos, Key said.
"Even if this deal goes through, the number of pokie machines is falling.
"The question is how rapidly they reduce."
Sinking lid policies have been put in place by various councils throughout New Zealand because of public concern about the damaged caused to communities by gambling and are not a government directive.
Labour's internal affairs spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said Key was undermining local councils.
"I think it's great so many councils have agreed to a sinking lid policy for pokies and have recognised the problem that pokies do in our communities and to our families.
"But what he is doing is overriding that ability by doing what I think is a really dodgy deal with Sky City."
Removing hundreds of pokies from pubs and clubs to compensate additional gaming machines at Sky City would be difficult, she said.
"I don't know how they are going to be able to do that other than not renewing licences."
Dyson rejected Key's assertion children in cars outside casinos was always a risk and said it couldn't be compared to leaving children in a car outside a supermarket.
"People who have a problem with gambling and leave their children in the car park are really doing huge damage and what we should be doing is asking how we can stop it, not saying 'it's always a risk'.
"That seems really irresponsible."
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