PM not keen on SkyCity deal for Queenstown


Prime Minister John Key appears to have put the mockers on Queenstown’s proposed convention centre involving a deal with casino giant SkyCity. 

The Government negotiated a controversial deal with SkyCity Entertainment Group to fund the $400 million Auckland national convention centre in return for concessions including more pokie machines, gaming tables and a license extension. 

However, Mr Key yesterday (Friday) appeared to rule out a similar deal to get a Queenstown centre off the ground. 

Asked if he had any appetite to get involved in a deal with SkyCity for Queenstown, Mr Key replied: “I don’t think so, no.” 

Queenstown Lakes District Council, leading progress on a proposed $50 million Queenstown centre, named SkyCity as its preferred operator a year ago. 

If SkyCity were involved – and wanted a casino operation as part of the centre precinct – it would require the Government to change the law and enable SkyCity to transfer one or both of its downtown Queenstown casino licences. 

Mr Key said the council – which has asked Government for a $20m centre contribution – was obviously keen to develop a centre and the Government had “tacitly given an indication it’s prepared to put in cash”. 

“The issue is is it enough? The answer is no on current funding proposals but nor are we necessarily looking to put in a lot more.” 

Asked if in discussions council chief executive Adam Feeley had intimated council was stuck and needed help, Mr Key replied: “I think they haven’t actually finalised every bit of that but council by end of March or middle next month will be in a better position to talk about what the shortfall looks like and what are the options available for them to fill that hole.” 

Earlier Mr Key – visiting the Wakatipu ahead of playing a non-competition round at the NZ Open’s pro-am golf tournament on Sunday – told a Queenstown Chamber of Commerce luncheon people want to come to the Wakatipu for conferences but it didn’t have capacity. 

“Just as in Auckland where we found a way through that, we’re going to have to do that in Queenstown. 

“It’s not straightforward and not easy, and I’m not going to say we have a solution today but we have to find a way to allow your council to get a convention centre up and running.” 

Mr Feeley has previously described SkyCity involvement as a “silver bullet” in terms of negating financial risk for ratepayers, but a recent council agenda item also noted SkyCity’s interest or commitment to be involved as “unknown”. 

A survey of residents last year revealed 43 per cent were “opposed” or “strongly opposed” to a casino operation at the centre site. 

Council-commissioned analysis of centre benefits estimates it’d create 466 jobs and generate between $22m and $36m in Gross Domestic Product annually.