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Mayor seeks details on casino deal

Published: 9:35AM Thursday April 26, 2012 Source: ONE News

Auckland Council has backed away from condemning the convention centre for pokies deal.

The proposal would see SkyCity pay the entire $350 million to build the complex in Auckland in exchange for hundreds more pokie machines.

A motion to oppose the contentious deal was voted down 12-9 by the council today. Mayor Len Brown was one to vote against formally opposing the proposal, saying he needs more information before making a judgement.

The left-leaning mayor, who supported a cap on pokie machines while mayor of Manukau City, said none of the recent debate and discussion is based on facts.

"The Government needs to clearly explain as soon as possible what is being proposed so it can be properly assessed," said Brown.

He said he is concerned about the negative impacts of problem gambling and if the Government decides to go ahead with the SkyCity proposal, he would expect it to include "strong measures to minimise harm".

Brown suggested a range of options that could be included in the proposal, including on-site officers trained to identify and deal with problem gamblers, pre-paid cards with spending limits and harm minimisation screen-savers on machines.

He said the convention centre is an important development for Auckland because of the jobs it will bring to the city, but the lack of detail about the proposal "isn't doing that cause any good".

A "shonky, dodgy" deal

Councillor Cathy Casey, who moved the motion to tell the Government the council formally opposed the deal, told TV ONE's Breakfast show today that the proposal is "dodgy" and is not aligned with the 30-year plan for Auckland.

"We need to make sure the Government has actually read the Auckland plan", she said.

She said the council wants to see the city become crime-free, safe and working toward minimising harm from gambling. "I don't think this shonky deal does any of that," she said.

Contrary to what Prime Minister John Key says, the council is not protected by a "sinking lid" policy which works to bring the number of pokie machines down, said Casey.

She said Auckland needs a convention centre, but would like the council to have a say in the deal made to get one.

Of the five bids made to build the convention centre, Casey said the Government has not picked the best one.

But Key said SkyCity had come back with the most feasible proposal which weighed up economically and, importantly, would require minimal support from the Government.

Casey called for Mayor Brown to "champion" this cause and to tell Government the council does not want the deal to go ahead.

When Brown was the Mayor of Manukau City, he fought for a sinking lid policy on the number of poker machines in South Auckland.

Other side of the coin

But Michael Barnett, the chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce, said it would be a "game changer" for Auckland to get a conference centre.

Barnett told Breakfast that a conference centre is brought up at every growth forum.

"When we have a look at the visitors it provides, the economic benefit that it will deliver not only to Auckland but to New Zealand - it is a game changer," he said.

He said the city "has got to go down this path" and have a look at the deal because with SkyCity, the risk has been removed.

However, he said the Government and the casino have failed with their communications strategy.

"If they intended to reduce the number of pokie machines out of the communities and get them concentrated in Auckland where they could better manage the outcomes, they should have told us," he said.

The decision also could have been put in context, and compared to alcohol and drugs and the cost to the community, said Barnett.

However, he said the Government still has time to argue for it, and he does not think the council could say no when faced with the $400 million a year that could come from the convention centre.