It’s not just problem gamblers who would suffer from the Prime Minister’s Sky City/convention centre deal. Auckland’s annual film festival, now in its fifth decade, would be affected as well.
The Herald reveals today that the Sky City Theatre is under threat because the casino owners are considering how they could close the theatre and use the space to house the extra gambling machines that would be permitted as part of its convention centre deal.
If the 700-seat theatre is closed, the viability of the annual New Zealand International Film Festival, one of Auckland’s biggest annual mid-winter events, would be challenged. The film festival uses SkyCity as one of its two main venues during its two and a half week premiere season of the world’s best new feature films. There’s no other similarly-sized cinema venue available in Auckland.
The Auckland Theatre Company is one of many other organisations which also use the theatre.
During earlier periods of uncertainty, Aucklanders tried to ascertain whether SKyCity’s licence required it to keep running the theatre. They had difficulty finding such a deal, but they may be encouraged by the Herald’s report today that a 2008 report to the Auckland City Council prepared by hospitality consultants Horwarth HTL said the theatre is a condition of the casino licence. If this is correct, the council should be enforcing the agreement.
The list of opponents to the John Key poker-machines-for-convention-centre deal is a big one. Starting with Opposition leader David Shearer, who says officials recommended that a different business case be prepared. Councillor Cathy Casey says there is enormous public opposition to the extra poker machines that are a part of the deal. Professor Max Abbott of Auckland University has challenged SkyCity’s defence of the extra poker machines. He warns:
“SkyCity Casino is in the middle of our major city and at best can only partially be described as a ‘destination’ gambling venue. As I understand it the casino relies predominantly on revenue from Auckland residents, particularly local pokie players.”
Family First’s opposition is predictable. But you can’t deny Bob McCroskie’s argument:
“Tourists come to see the country and the culture – not the casinos. If tourists were really focused on gambling, they would be going to Las Vegas – not the Sky City casino venue in Auckland.”
There are, of course, supporters of the deal, who focus on the income that could be earned from the convention centre rather than the unhappiness that would result from extra gambling. According to BusinessDesk, Len Brown supports the project. So does the Chamber of Commerce. And Auckland Airport.
The arguments continue. What’s more important for Auckland? What would be more damaging for Aucklanders? Conventions may be good for the economy. But the loss of a theatre, combined with an increase in inner-city poker machines, is no good for anyone. And no good for Auckland’s quality of life.