This Sky City deal just keeps getting stinkier and stinkier. The revelation yesterday was that the Prime Minister himself appears to have suggested the trade-off to Sky City; build us a new convention centre and we'll get you a law change to add more pokie machines to the hundreds you already have sucking money out of the community. I'm sure the conversation didn't go quite like that, but that seems to be what it boils down to. There are new developments happening several times a day as the right questions are finally being asked and unravelling the unhealthy level of influence it appears that Sky City has on key political figures.
My particular concern in all of this is the insidious impact that pokies have. They exist to take money out of the pockets of those who play them and give a tiny proportion back in winnings, and a tiny proportion to the community by way of grants. The vast majority of what goes in to a one arm bandit goes to the owner of the machine. And Sky City runs over 1600 of them in its Auckland casino already. Pokies are particularly appealing to women, according to research reported by the Problem Gambling Foundation, summarised in their useful fact sheet.
Auckland Council is yet to adopt a sinking-lid policy on gambling machines, despite John Key saying that'll deal with Sky City getting up to 500 more*. The former Waitakere and Manukau City Councils had sinking-lid policies, and so those still apply in those areas, but crucially Auckland City, where Sky City is located, do not. I can't speak for other Local Board areas, but in Puketapapa we have included in our Local Board plan that we want to advocate for a sinking-lid policy that does not allow for relocating of machines. Yet we don't seem to have yet had an opportunity to do this, or to adopt such in our own area, beyond me writing letters to the Herald and doing the occasional media interview on the matter. Oh and ranting about it on social media.
Sky City argues that pokies are a worse problem in pubs and sports clubs and therefore it is ok to have more at their casino. We can actually multi-task and address the problem wherever it occurs, rather than having to pick and choose. It's worth noting that casinos are much lower contributors back to the community via funding, as a percentage of takings, than community venues are. Personally I'm not so interested in that argument, but I know it is the one used most often by those advocating for more gambling opportunities; what about all the community funding that will be given out. I'd far rather that we help people to keep their own money for use in their own community, instead of inefficiently funnelling it through a third party (who takes a very large chunk) back to different parts of the city.
Even by the time I push publish on this post the situation may have moved on, so fast is it changing. I'm really hoping that the final outcome is one that minimises the harm of problem gambling.
If you are interested in more information on the social cost of gambling, then please check out the hash tag #socialcost on Twitter today, as the Problem Gambling Foundation will be tweeting research all day that specifically addresses this.
* How realistic would this be even if it were the case? Magically 500 machines come out of other venues at the exact same time as they go into Sky City? Weird.