SkyCity Hamilton sits directly across from the Hamilton City Council headquarters on the opposite side of Garden Place.
It seems the stakes were too high for Hamilton City Council to risk upsetting SkyCity Hamilton in a tough-talking submission on poker machine profits.
A draft submission from the council to the Gambling Commission’s forthcoming review of casino licence conditions had initially recommended the amount the community gets from pokie machine income be aligned with the 40 per cent that “Class 4” gambling operators – pubs, hotels and clubs – are required to pay.
At present, SkyCity Hamilton pays just 1.5 per cent.
In spite of this, at Thursday’s council meeting the politicians retreated from calling for equity between the two kinds of pokie providers.
* Pubs give 40 per cent of their pokie take, SkyCity casinos as little as 0.7 per cent
* Casino charity efforts in Gambling Commission’s crosshairs
* Student highway: Suburban Hamilton street to become cycle-friendly in $34m bid to better connect university with city
The unanimous pull-back was led by deputy mayor Geoff Taylor, who put forth a new motion that stipulated the council’s submission to the review say it “is not suggesting a specific percentage necessarily apply to casinos”.
“Casinos could possibly indeed pay a greater percentage of their profits into the community,” Taylor told his colleagues.
“But I think that’s really where the submission should start and finish.
“I’m anxious to respectfully get away from what I would call … rather heavy-handed submissions that have crept into this council in recent years in terms of our approach to the casino in particular.”
SkyCity should not be compared to the not-for-profit gaming trusts that administered the profits of the Class 4 poker machine operators, Taylor said.
“By contrast, the casino is a private business and gambling is its business … They do need to make a profit, otherwise they no longer exist.”
Among Taylor’s most strident supporters was councillor Rob Pascoe.
“Gambling harm affects less than 2 per cent of our population … Forty per cent of casino wins would significantly harm the viability of a company that’s been set up like SkyCity is.
“Hamilton has longed for and still longs for another hotel in the city. And if there is any organisation in the city that is best situated to provide that hotel, currently it has to be SkyCity. They have land set aside for a hotel. They have made various promises – albeit to date those promises have not yet been delivered. But the intent is still there.
“It seems to me rather crazy that we would want to attack the viability of their business.”
While Cr Dave Macpherson supported Taylor’s motion, he reckoned “there should be a far more level playing field”.
“Casinos have been described as the crack cocaine of gambling … they suck far more out of the community than other forms of gambling. They operate for longer hours and provide more gambling availability. They return less to the community than other forms of gambling. They have got much lower local ownership.
“Per machine or table, they cause a much greater incidence of gambling harm than even a pokie bar does.”
Mayor Paula Southgate’s support included a broadside at her own council.
“I value SkyCity as a key business in our city, and I think they do well more than we realise. It would be interesting to invite them to tell us more about what they do.
“The biggest disappointment for me was that we didn’t even take the time to alert them to the relevant item on the agenda – so the first they knew about it was when they read [the story] in the paper and were described as a socially irresponsible business, which I feel is somewhat unreasonable because we hadn’t made a decision at that time.”
At that point Macpherson interjected, calling Southgate out on a point of order.
“For Stuff to have included comments in their article, published yesterday … they must have spoken to SkyCity. Your comment was that SkyCity did not know about it until they read it in the newspaper. That’s not accurate.”
Southgate continued: “We work with businesses co-operatively. We should at least do the polite thing of letting them know about a decision that was going to impact upon them.”
Southgate’s point was picked up by Taylor in his right of reply.
“I feel we’ve been casino-bashing too long … writing a submission like this with a recommendation that, if adopted would put them out of business, and not notifying them that it was coming – and I’m not having a crack at staff at all – that’s bloody rude.
“We need to raise our game in terms of our relationship with the casino. Almost 300 people they employ. And I think it’s time we started treating them with a bit of respect.”