In the last month, two attempts by SkyCity to turn their Casinos in Auckland, Hamilton and Queenstown into pokie dens were partially or completely declined by the Gambling Commission. These results are only possible because communities came together to say no to more pokies, and while we've still got a long way to go, these decisions set an excellent precedent for a public health approach to pokie policy across the country.
In what can only be described as a community victory, SkyCity Hamilton has lost its bid to replace three blackjack tables in the casino with 60 more pokie machines.
SkyCity, Hamilton City Council, The Problem Gambling Foundation, Salvation Army, Anglican Action, Ministry of Health and Waikato DHB all spoke at the hearing, held in November last year.
The hearing followed a submission process which, thanks to fierce opposition, was opened for public consultation early in 2019.
The submissions received by the Gambling Commission reflected the strength of feeling in the community, with only nine of the 242 submissions in favour of the move.
Hamilton City Council, led by former Mayor Andrew King, opposed the move and hired law firm Tompkins Wake to fight the application and present at the hearing on its behalf.
The decision was announced early June and SkyCity had until June 19 to appeal.
SkyCity applied to Gambling Commission to ditch gaming tables and operate as ‘pokie dens.’
In the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown, claiming that it was facing a colossal loss to its coffers, SkyCity applied to the Gambling Commission to be able to close its roulette, blackjack and poker tables and operate only pokie machines in its casinos in Auckland, Hamilton and Queenstown.
The Gambling Commission had stated it would be holding a public consultation process on this before a decision was made, but despite this, had already pushed ahead with allowing the casino operator to stop table games in its Hamilton and Queenstown casinos until the end of level 1 restrictions.
Neither Hamilton City Council nor PGF knew about the Gambling Commission’s decision until the decision was posted on its website on May 20, despite having granted SkyCity permission to operate as pokie dens in Hamilton and Queenstown on 6 May.
But in a sudden move, after Stuff reporter Steve Kilgallon reported on SkyCity’s applications to the Gambling Commission, the casino withdrew its bid for a permanent change to condition 8 of its licence that would have allowed it to operate as pokie dens permanently.
Pokies are the most harmful form of gambling and to allow SkyCity to operate as pokie dens was a decision that showed a complete disregard for the Gambling Act which directs regulators to minimise the harm from gambling.
The process was full of holes from beginning to end and the lack of consultation on the issue was appalling.
Thankfully, common sense prevailed and SkyCity have said table games will continue to be ‘an integral and profitable part’ of the casino’s business.