New Zealand Gambling Commission has rejected the controversial bid of SkyCity, which has been seeking to boost the number of poker machines in Hamilton.
A six-day hearing was held in Hamilton by the gambling regulatory body in November 2019, after SkyCity made an unprecedented attempt to get the Commission’s blessing to swap three blackjack tables for additional 60 gaming terminals.
Under the lead of Andrew King, the former mayor of Hamilton, the council decided to spend NZ$150,000 to hire Tompkins Wake to legally represent it in court when opposing the gambling company’s application. The hearing also saw the interested gambling operator, as well as representatives of the Problem Gambling Foundation, the Hamilton City Council, the Ministry of Health, Waikato DHB, Anglican Action and the Salvation Army.
A total of 242 submissions were received for the hearing, with only nine submissions being in support of SkyCity’s application.
This was the first time when a casino operator in New Zealand has asked the local gambling regulatory body for permission to substitute electronic gaming terminals for gaming tables. The sought change would see the number of poker machines held by SkyCity in its Hamilton venue increase from 339 to 399, while gaming tables are reduced from 23 to 20. Such an application can only be given the green light in case the watchdog confirms the exchange is proportionate.
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The Gambling Commission had to rule whether granting the application with favour would increase the number of gambling opportunities. The regulator also had to decide how gambling-related harm could be minimised.
Now that the watchdog has rejected SkyCity’s application, Hamilton anti-gambling campaigners have welcomed the decision, saying that the Gambling Commission had for once taken actions in favour of community to prevent people from increased gambling-related harm. According to them, the decision created a good precedent for the future.
The application filed by SkyCity to the local gambling regulator was seen as a test case for the industry, especially considering the fact that poker machines have been blamed for causing serious harm because of their addictive nature. The decision of the Gambling Commission states that the proposed amendments to the conditions of the gambling operation licence of SkyCity, which involved an opportunities substitution had not been found proportionate. The regulatory body further noted that the substitution was likely to lead to an increase in casino gambling opportunities, which, on the other hand, could boost the gambling addiction rates in the region.
The watchdog shared that blackjack and electronic gaming machines were considered similarly harmful to players but in Hamilton’s case, any increase in harm could happen as a result of a larger number of poker machines in comparison to the removed blackjack tables. The Commission shared that it decided not to take into consideration factors such as the risk of harm; community views; the likely utilisation of the opportunities and the average wage size.