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Sky City casino wants to add 60 more pokies

Thu, Jan 17, 12:02pm by Staff Writer

Sky City Casino is hoping to add more pokies to its Hamilton casino in New Zealand’s North Island, but is being met with stern opposition from local government.

The Hamilton Mayor is opposing a bid that would see 60 new machines in Hamilton, taking the venues total number of pokie machines to 399.

Mayor Andrew King described pokies as “misery machines” according to Radio NZ.

“I’m completely against the casino’s application to add more harm and it spits in the face of Hamilton’s sinking-lid policy on gaming machines.”

“It’s a 15 per cent increase in the number of pokie machines in Hamilton.”

“The casino could have 399 machines which is nearly 50 per cent of all pokie machines in Hamilton. Sky City wants to capitalise on a high-earner harm product, by requesting more misery machines,” Mr King said.

The Gambling Act 2003 states that there is to be no increase in casino gambling and any increase in gaming machines must be accompanied by a reduction in table games.

“I believe this will increase casino gambling, three blackjack tables which are probably empty being exchange for 60 individual chances to gamble is an increase in my view and is probably the view of many others,” Mr King said.

Sky City Hamilton’s operations bring in approximately $48-50 million each year according to the NZ Herald.

A small amount of this revenue is returned to the wider Waikato and Bay of Plenty community via grants.

This is in contrast to gaming chances in pubs and bars that by law, must return 40 per cent of their profits back to the community according to Mr King.

“It is just shocking that Sky City has not looked at what the local community wants, which is less pokies, but instead look to improve their bottom line with misery money,” he said.

Hamilton City Council has no jurisdiction on the decision to grant additional gaming machines, however the council is classified as an affected party and has the right to make a submission to the New Zealand gambling commission on the decision.

The Council will make a decision on a submission at the February 7 council meeting.

Demand is the main driver for more pokies according to Sky City

Sky City Hamilton’s General Manager Michelle Baillie said the request to add further machines is a response to the demand of customers.

“The number of player spaces available for gaming will actually reduce under the proposed change, and therefore will not increase opportunities to gamble, as we have submitted to the Commission. The Gambling Act provides for such changes with the Commission’s approval,” she said.

The plan is part of a broader suite of proposals Sky City is evaluating for its Hamilton site, including maximizing its riverside location and adding a hotel and broader entertainment options,” Ms Baillie said.

“Sky City consistently reinvests in its facilities and in Hamilton and over the past three years this has included a number of new restaurants and bars, totaling more than $21 million.”

“Since Sky City gained 100 per cent ownership in 2005, Sky City Hamilton has contributed more than $325 million to the economy, including $149 million in salary and wages, $139.6 million in taxes and levies, $25.8 million in payments to local suppliers and $11.1 million in community support and sponsorships to more than 1,600 groups,” Ms Baillie said.

Local councillor has been against casinos for more than two decades

A Hamilton City councillor was elected in 1998 on a ‘No Casino’ platform and unsurprisingly has come out in staunch opposition to the proposal.

Councillor Dave Macpherson questioned the decision saying: “we already have 745 pokie machines in Hamilton, 339 of them at a casino that the overwhelming majority of Hamiltonians opposed two decades ago, so why would we need more?”

Mr Macpherson said the revenue Sky City earned from gambling, most from its 339 pokie machines in the last financial year had returned just 1.8 per cent to the wider Waikato community in grants,” according to TVNZ.

The Gambling Commission will meet to consider the application in March.

Sky City Hamilton opened in 2002 in the Central Business District of Hamilton, 125km from Auckland.

The complex is located in and behind Hamilton’s historic Post Office building on Victoria Street and overlooks the Waikato River.

Sky City Entertainment Group gained 100 per cent ownership of the venue in 2005 and employs 350 staff.

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