SkyCity and a Social Cancer

This John Key led Government have shown time and again that their bottom line will always be what they can legally get away with, not what can be morally justified. They also regard their relationships with certain captains of industry as more important to them than the welfare and rights of ordinary New Zealanders.

Evidence of the harm that alcohol does to our society is abundant and alarming and yet when there was an opportunity to make a difference and adopt some excellent recommendations from our Law Commission, this Government backed off. Many of our wealthiest New Zealanders are booze barons and maintaining company profits was deemed more important than the huge costs incurred by our health, welfare and judicial systems (estimated as over $5.3 billion a year or $14.5 million a day). If the alcohol problem was viewed on a purely economic basis, there would be no justification for supporting the industry to the current extent.

There is great inconsistency with this Government, they have been relatively tough on tobacco and are clamping down on synthetic cannabis, but when it comes to the industries that actually cause the most harm to our society they are surprisingly tolerant. Te Ururoa Flavell's Gambling Harm Reduction Amendment Bill would have enabled a significant reduction in problem gambling and would have also shifted the profits back into the communities that generated them. Predictably the bill has been significantly watered down and the transfer of wealth from the poor to the already affluent will continue. There was also no way the Government could support this bill and also progress the SkyCity deal.

Up to 60,000 New Zealanders are problem gamblers (1.8% of the population) and 78% use pokie machines as their primary mode of gambling. A 2012 New Zealand health survey found that almost 90,000 people were negatively affected by other people's gambling. Around 25% of gambling expenditure comes from problem gamblers and if these people were identified early and managed appropriately then it would mean a substantial reduction of gambling profits. Between 2004 and 2005 there were 593 self exclusions from casinos and only 188 were instigated by the casinos themselves.

The SkyCity convention centre deal has been an appalling one from the very beginning, but despite strong opposition and genuine concerns it appears that the Government has again misplaced its moral compass and is determined to push it through. While the Government claims that the extra pokies included in the deal will be offset by a reduction elsewhere this is nonsensical when they will lock us into supporting a 35 year exclusive licence that will block any reduction within SkyCity itself. While the Government claims that the benefits will outweigh the level of harm created, the evidence provided is not convincing. The project itself is a huge gamble.

Metiria Turei has spoken strongly about potential social consequences of the deal and while the numbers she refers to may well be worst case scenarios it is obvious that the Government has given little attention to these concerns. Whatever the extent, gambling related theft from businesses and community groups is actually a real issue as is the harm caused to children and families. SkyCity's new initiatives to mitigate problem gambling are promoted as addressing the concerns, however, based on past efforts, their actual impact is likely to be minimal.

SkyCity are complaining that they are being victimised by outrageous claims, but I struggle to feel sympathy for a company where at least 25% of their profits are generated by causing social and economic harm. That their business should also be protected for 35 years is a form of bizarre industry protectionism that is unlikely to be offered to any other.

The Speaker has determined that the SkyCity bill will be decided on a conscience vote and it is already clear that John Key expects all his MPs to ignore their conscience and support a corrupt process and outcome. I guess for a country that is now ranked below Spain for corruption this is just business as usual.


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