Casino group in convention centre race

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Casino giant SkyCity has revealed it’s keen to invest in a Queenstown convention centre as part of major expansion plans. 

The country’s sixth-largest NZX-listed company is talking to an unnamed consortium that’s already expressed interest in building a convention centre in the Wakatipu. 

SkyCity’s hopes for involvement in a convention centre could form part of a wider casino development, comprising VIP gambling suites and a purpose-built luxury hotel with restaurants and bars. 

Speaking after SkyCity Entertainment Group’s half-yearly results yesterday, chief executive Nigel Morrison says the company is exploring ways it can be involved with the convention centre consortium. 

Morrison won’t be drawn on whether the consortium is among those to have lodged a bid with Queenstown Lakes District Council for a downtown location or at a site in Frankton: “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 local investment would likely be worth tens of millions of dollars, he says. 

It’ll be challenging to realise the company’s Queenstown vision with the casino’s existing premises at Beach Street, which SkyCity doesn’t own, he says. 

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

“We’d want to create something exciting architecturally and complementary that would no doubt have great views. That would be subject to getting the right site.” 

SkyCity, announcing a normalised net profit after tax of $74.4 million for the six months ended December 31, 2012, says it remains willing to invest up to $350m to develop, own and operate the NZ International Convention Centre in Auckland. The company plans to controversially stump up the cash for building the centre if the Government agrees to relax gaming laws. 

The deal sparked a public outcry last year and an Auditor-General investigation into how SkyCity was chosen to build the centre. A report is still to come. 

Morrison expects SkyCity will do “serious work” this year to expand its Queenstown investment proposals: “I’d be disappointed if we hadn’t got some firm views about what we should be doing and how we should be investing by the end of this calendar year.”