Skycity Entertainment Group is fighting its case to add 60 new pokies to its Hamilton casino. The main reason for the potential increase is customer demand, according to a Skycity representative.
The Distinction Hotel in Hamilton is the venue for the hearing, which takes place over six days. Cases from both Skycity and The Gambling Commission are being put forward with arguments for and against the pokies increase. Currently, Skycity Hamilton has 339 pokies and 23 table games. The casino wants to increase the number of pokies to 399 in exchange for losing three blackjack tables.
The application by Skycity Hamilton has plenty of opposition from Hamilton councillors. Cr Dave Macpherson said the casino has become a giant pokie bar and 339 pokies are enough. Cr Geoff Taylor is disappointed about the removal of blackjack tables. Playing blackjack involves some interaction, but pokies are “soulless.”
Overall, councillors voted 11-1 to strongly oppose the Skycity proposal, thus prompting this hearing.
Increased customer demand, particularly on Friday nights, weekends and public holidays, is the main reason for wanting an increase. Moreover, Skycity representatives described the increase of 60 pokies as “modest.”
Seven key groups are putting their cases forward at the hearing. Skycity, Anglican Action Mission Trust, Hamilton City Council, Ministry of Health, Problem Gambling Foundation, Salvation Army, and Waikato District Health Board make up the seven groups.
Gillian Coumbe of Queens Council is representing Hamilton casino. She said many adults choose to spend their time and money gambling in a casino. It is a fun, social activity for most. Coumbe revealed the Hamilton casino had slightly less than 1.2 million visits to the gaming floor last year. Although there was insufficient customer demand for blackjack, there were not enough pokies during peak times.
“It wants to offer, in essence, more Electronic Gaming Machines and fewer gaming tables,” said Coumbe. Furthermore, “This is not about whether casino gambling should be allowed. That policy decision has already been made by parliament, it’s a perfectly lawful activity. It’s not about whether EGM’s should be allowed. that’s a policy decision also made in the Gambling Act and they are a perfectly lawful form of gambling. Nor is it about whether gambling is a good or bad thing. There can be no element of moral judgement.”
Coumbe claimed on day one that the level of wagering on pokies is far less that of table games.
The proposal comes approximately 18-months after Hamilton community groups said they relied on pokies income. Hamilton City Council moved to curb the number of pokies in the New Zealand state. The council proposed to ban all new pokies and create rules around Class 4 gaming the strictest possible under the law.
The council’s proposed rules ban new pokies or moving existing pokies to a new location. In addition, they do not mention swapping table games for additional pokies.
Seventy-six percent of the 74 written submissions received said the new policy is too restrictive. Cynthia Ward, the Chief Executive of True Colours Children’s Health Trust is against the council’s proposal. Ward said 40% of the money used to fund the project stems from pokie machines.
Some 22% of revenue at Netball Waikato Bay of Plenty comes from gaming, Chief Executive Rohan West claimed.
Hamilton City Council already distanced itself from pokies in 2017. It decided to stop using money from gaming trusts to pay for city projects including playgrounds.
“Community organisations are addicted to gambling. The council is to a certain extent. Addicted to the proceeds of gambling,” said Cr Macpherson.
In summary, this latest hearing could end in a stalemate with the Hamilton council opposing swapping of three blackjack tables for 60 pokies and Skycity and local community groups being for the move. With this in mind, will a decision come this week?