SkyCity convention centre requires Govt concession

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A megabucks Queenstown convention centre – with SkyCity as preferred operator – hinges on Government making another concession to the casino giant.

SkyCity Entertainment Group, preferred operator of the proposed convention centre, has said it hopes for a relocated casino and purpose-built hotel next to any conference centre on council-owned land in Man Street.

This week, Mountain Scene can reveal confirmation from the Department of Internal Affairs that any change of casino location is no mere formality – it requires a law change.

A DIA spokesperson says: “Casino licences are not transferable and no new casino venue licences may be granted under the Gambling Act 2003.”

Mountain Scene enquiries this week drew blanks on any push for a law change to aid SkyCity’s Queenstown aspirations.

“The Prime Minister’s office is not aware of any discussions, formal or informal, regarding changes to the Gambling Act 2003 in regard to SkyCity in Queenstown,” John Key’s press secretary says.

SkyCity’s spokesperson: “No such dialogue has taken place.”

Queenstown council boss Adam Feeley has thrown out strong hints about SkyCity angling for a convention-plus-casino complex.

Telling councillors at last month’s meeting that progress on the convention centre deal was slow, Feeley said conference facilities only break even at best.

“What we’re trying to do is see what is the bigger commercial deal there,” he said, adding the convention centre would take up only a third of the council’s Man St land.

Feeley tells Mountain Scene this week: “The casino is a discussion between SkyCity and the Government – not us.

“[Any law change] certainly hasn’t been raised with us. Whether it’s going to be an issue remains to be seen.”

Feeley hasn’t resumed talks with SkyCity on “the bigger commercial deal” he told councillors about last month.

“We’re pretty keen to have that discussion but we haven’t been able to yet,” he says – SkyCity boss Morrison has been in Europe.

SkyCity is on an expansion path in Queenstown.

Its December buyout of minority partner Skyline in their Beach Street casino was followed by last month’s $5 million purchase of the rival Wharf Casino.

Neither gambling den has ever made serious money and a SkyCity spokesperson says only that it “currently intends” to keep both open.

SkyCity boss Nigel Morrison told the NZ Herald last month his company was examining what the paper called “a range of options on its Queenstown property”.

Last month, the Government finalised a controversial deal with SkyCity over a $402m Auckland convention centre.

The gambling giant will fund and operate the centre in return for permission to install an extra 230 poker machines in its Auckland casino.

SkyCity boss Nigel Morrison hasn’t played his cards close to his chest about hopes for a casino alongside a proposed Queenstown convention centre.

Speaking to Mountain Scene in February, he said a convention centre could be part of a wider casino development comprising VIP gambling suites and a purpose-built luxury hotel.

Morrison: “If there’s an opportunity to come together with a convention centre development which allowed for the relocation of the casino into a new facility with a hotel and some restaurants and bars, I think that’d be quite interesting and in a holistic sense a very good development for the town.”

SkyCity’s investment would be tens of millions of dollars, he said.

It would be challenging to achieve the company’s Queenstown goals with the casino’s existing Beach Street premises, which SkyCity doesn’t own, Morrison said.

“Businesses like these are always best when they’re purpose-built, rather than trying to massage them into buildings that are already built.”