Hamilton City Council wants SkyCity Hamilton to do what other gambling venues around the country are doing, and contribute 40 per cent of the proceeds from its pokie machines to the community.
Currently, the Victoria St casino allocates just 1.5 per cent of pokie profits to the community each year.
It’s a glaring discrepancy that’s highlighted in the council’s draft submission to the Gambling Commission’s forthcoming review of licence conditions for casinos around the country.
While “Class 4” gambling operators – pubs, hotels and clubs – are required by law to return a minimum 40 per cent of the proceeds from the gaming machines to the community, the country’s six casinos are bound by no such rules.
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As council chief executive Richard Briggs makes clear in the draft submission – due to be discussed at Thursday’s council meeting – this has to change.
“Hamilton City Council is strongly of the view that the 1.5 per cent of revenue currently returned by SkyCity to Hamilton’s community is completely ‘out of sync’ with the 40 per cent net proceeds that class 4 venue operators are required to return.”
The ad hoc situation with the casinos’ revenue is historic, and the Hamilton business is not even the one that contributes the least. SkyCity Auckland is required to give only 0.7 per cent of its earnings (or a minimum of $500,000) to its charitable arm.
The Dunedin Casino gives 1 per cent of gaming machine turnover (to a maximum of $110,000) to community and sport groups. The Christchurch Casino’s return is 2.5 per cent of its annual net profit or $250,000, whichever was greater.
SkyCity Queenstown gives at least 2.5 per cent of net profits – or $100,000 per annum, whichever is greater – to its charitable trust. Meanwhile, the nearby SkyCity Wharf Casino gave 20 per cent of its net profit to charity the first year it opened, adding an extra 1 per cent each year until it reached 30 per cent.
The Hamilton City Council submission calls for these random figures to be standardised by the commission, and minimum contribution levels set.
Furthermore, it should not just be the pokie machines but all forms of gambling in the casino that should provide a 40 per cent community return.
In any event, the current situation had created “an unhealthy dependency” on funding from gambling for many community groups, Briggs’ draft submission said.
It was a view echoed by Paula Snowden, the chief executive of the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand.
While she applauded the council’s call for a tougher line on the casinos, even allowing SkyCity Hamilton to boost its return to Hamiltonians “would allow the casino to justify taking money from the community in the first place”.
“I think it’s a misstep.”
The uneven situation with the casinos was “just part of the long and unfortunate history of how the pokie system was set up here”, Snowden said.
“SkyCity do a lot of sponsorships, mainly to promote their brand. They are trying to show the public, ‘Hey, look at all the good we are doing in the community.’ But the value of those sponsorships simply don’t do anything to make up for the money lost from the community through gambling.
“One of the lines the casinos trot out is that they are providing entertainment, that people are having fun. If you go for a wander through the casino here in Auckland, if you wander around the tables and the pokie machines, you don’t see anyone looking like they are having fun. Mostly, everyone just looks desperate.”
SkyCity responded to Stuff inquiries by releasing a statement.
“The level of annual contribution made by a casino in New Zealand to a charitable trust was determined by the former Casino Control Authority under the terms of the casino’s venue licence.
“SkyCity meets this commitment through its four community trusts, which fund a range of local and regional New Zealand organisations responsible for carrying out community assistance and development work with a focus on supporting families to thrive and communities to prosper.
“In addition to meeting its licence conditions, SkyCity also undertakes a significant range of sponsorships and partnerships that drive genuine and measurable social impact in its communities.”
SkyCity would make a submission to the review that would “consider the full range of stakeholder interests”.