13 Jul 2013

Pasifika MPs urged not to support casino deal

3:05 pm on 13 July 2013

The National Party's two Pasifika MPs are being urged to 'do the right thing' and vote against legislation for the SkyCity convention centre.

Under a deal with the Government, the casino operator will build a $400 million centre in Auckland in exchange for a 27-year extension to its licence and the right to have an extra 230 pokies and up to 52 more gaming tables.

Maungakiekie MP Sam Lotu-Iiga.

Maungakiekie MP Sam Lotu-Iiga. Photo: NATIONAL PARTY

The Government estimates the centre will create jobs and boost both Auckland and the country's economy including tourism revenue by about $90 million a year.

National says it campaigned on the deal and all its MPs will support it. On Thursday, Alfred Ngaro and Sam Lotu-Iiga sided with their colleagues to pass the first reading of the New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill by 61 to 59 in a conscience vote.

But the chair of Auckland's Pacific advisory panel, Uesifili Unasa, says the MPs should break ranks because the deal will harm their communities.

"Problem gambling is a big issue in Pacific communities. It's a no-brainer in terms of the right thing to do - and that is to vote against the SkyCity bill."

Mr Unasa said the legislation would legitimise gambling in the eyes of Pacific communities and any economic benefits are greatly exaggerated.

The head of the Tongan council also urged the MPs to rethink their vote. Melino Maka said the casino is already a magnet for problem gamblers from Pacific communities and it would be devastating if the deal goes ahead.

Mr Maka said the promise of jobs from the convention centre does not justify the damage extra gaming machines will cause.

But the MPs aren't about to break ranks and defended voting for the bill in its first reading. Sam Lotu-Iiga, the MP for Maungakiekie, said he voted with his conscience to support the deal on Thursday.

"This is producing jobs for Pacific people. When you go into SkyCity and you see the bouncers and the barmen and the people that work in SkyCity and the families that they help feed and clothe, the net benefits of this convention centre is hugely positive."

Mr Lotu-Iiga said he is confident that the legislation would mitigate the risks of problem gambling.

List MP Alfred Ngaro agrees the economic benefits outweigh the risks, but said he would keep an open mind during public submissions on the bill.

Church hits out at deal

The Presbyterian Church has spoken out against the Sky City convention centre deal, saying the legislation will mean more families and communities will suffer the ''corrosive effects'' of problem gambling.

A Presbyterian Church spokesperson, Ray Coster, says the church believes the social and financial cost to problem gamblers outweighs the economic benefits the Government claims will flow from the convention centre.

SkyCity 'unfairly victimised'

SkyCity says it is being unfairly victimised in a politically motivated attack on the convention centre deal.

Chief executive Nigel Morrison says the company is trying to be a good corporate citizen and does far more for its problem gamblers than other organisations.

Mr Morrison said he has come in for a fair bit of criticism over the deal and feels like a victim, which is upsetting. He said he is concerned for his staff and customers.

But Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said Mr Morrison's comment was laughable and the real victims are people that walk through the foundation's doors each day.