Councillor critical of Sky City wanting to add 60 more pokie machines to its Hamilton casino

A Hamilton City Councillor has attacked a proposal by Sky City to get approval for 60 additional pokie machines at its Hamilton casino, claiming the machines cause a range of social problems.

Pokie machines. Source: 1 NEWS

Councillor Dave Macpherson, originally elected in 1998 on a "No Casino" platform, described pokie machines as "gambling methamphetamine", pointing out that gambling addiction statistics in New Zealand showed that the overwhelming cause of gambling addiction in this country was from the use of pokie machines.

"The human misery, crime, family breakups, employee theft and wider social problems caused by pokie machine addiction are now more widely understood," he said.

However, Sky City Hamilton general manager Michelle Baillie said Sky City Hamilton was recently commended by the Department of Internal Affairs for its "culture of care" and promoting a good standard of gambling host responsibility.

The proposal was to make a change to Sky City's product mix on the casino floor in response to customer demand at peak times, to account for the growing population and tourism in the region, Ms Baillie said.

But Mr Macpherson questioned the decision. He said,"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?

"Sky City shows it is not a good corporate citizen by trying to add to the city’s social burdens.

Mr Macpherson also said the revenue Sky City earned from gambling, mostly from its 339 pokie machines, in the last financial year was about $39 million, of which only $698,000, or 1.8 per cent was returned to the wider Waikato community in grants.

"Yet Department of Internal Affairs figures show that the city’s other 406 pokie machines, with all the problems they also cause, at least returned 42 per cent of their revenue to the community.

"So whichever way you look at it, and even if you mistakenly thought pokie machines do no harm, 60 more machines at the Sky City Casino represent a very poor return for the community," Mr Macpherson said.

However, Ms Baillie clapped back and said, Sky City consistently reinvested in its facilities and in Hamilton over the past three years, including several new restaurants and bars in 2015, and Bowl and Social in 2016, totalling more than $21 million. 

"Any comparison of Class 4 (meaning pubs and clubs with gaming machines) and casino funding models needs to take into account the significant investment made by casinos into facilities for public enjoyment as well as the wider contributions casinos make via their extensive host responsibility requirements, large staff, taxation, and gambling levies," she said.

"Sky City is a large Hamilton employer, with over 330 waged and salaried employees."

Sky City also denied claims by Macpherson that the submission was a "sneaky holiday application to the Gambling Commission” and bypassed public consultation.

"We frequently lodge applications to the Gambling Commission on a range of issues, and this one was done by the book. It’s the Commission who decides who to ask for comment on the proposal before making its decision, not us," Sky City communications general manager Colin Espiner said.

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