Skycity pokies deal to have risk provisos

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 30/04/2012
LEN BROWN
MICHAEL BRADLEY
ECONOMIC BOOST: Auckland Mayor Len Brown says Auckland needs a convention centre.

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Skycity appears set to accept fewer pokie machines as negotiations continue over a controversial $350 million convention centre.

It may also have to agree to tougher measures around "harm minimisation", including screensavers asking people if they want to continue gambling, or money cards pre-loaded with a set limit.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown yesterday threw his weight behind the convention centre, saying it was vital to help dig the country out of the economic doldrums.

The Government is negotiating a deal that would see SkyCity build the centre in return for extra pokie machines.

Auckland City Council is divided over the deal. But Mr Brown told TVNZ's Q+A programme that Auckland had to have a convention centre. "I said right from the get-go to the prime minister we desperately need that centre – 1000 jobs, 800 in construction, half a billion [dollars] a year, it's hugely important for Auckland."

Brisbane, which was one of Auckland's biggest competitors, attracted 86 conferences a year because of its convention centre. Auckland attracted just six.

"The economic benefit to Brisbane is massive. I believe we would take out exactly the same kind of economic benefit. So it's critical. And secondly, for me, it's about jobs ... we need to get our young people into jobs; that's my real clear focus."

Mr Brown admitted the extra pokie machines created "a conundrum". But he had made it clear to the Government that 500 extra pokie machines, as sought by SkyCity, was too much and he also expected preventive measures. "I would expect them to be negotiating well down the figures [500 pokie machines] the media are talking about."

Prime Minster John Key yesterday also talked up the deal, saying his advice from Internal Affairs was that "by the end of this year there'll be 483 less than there was at the start of the year ... [and] there may well be less than 483".

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