It was always going to be a grubby, unprincipled agreement. From the day Prime Minister John Key had dinner with Skycity executives and cut out the others interested in building a convention centre for New Zealand the path to moral decrepitude was laid out.
And when the final outcome was announced on Monday it was worse than expected.
The 230 extra pokies is less than predicted but the gap has been packed with a football field of new gaming tables and a Skycity monopoly on casino gambling in Auckland until 2048.
It’s worth a pause here to remember three things us mere mortals have been lectured about by right-wing politicians for decades now.
Firstly the wondrous benefits of free-market competition. We the public are still regularly castigated for our lack of confidence in markets despite fail after epic fail. This tawdry deal has no market – it’s a private monopoly on casino gambling for the next 35 years.
Secondly we’ve been repeatedly told the public sector should not take on financial risk. Risk should be carried by the private sector because knowing they have put money into a venture they will be sure to look out for it. But there’s no risk in this deal for Skycity – just a license to print money off the backs of some of the most vulnerable in our community.
And thirdly democracy. We’ve all had the self-serving lecture that free-market capitalism is synonymous with democracy. (Yes we know the opposite is true but neo-liberals repeat it ad nauseum to anyone who will
listen) This deal trashes democracy. The casino has done its best to deny the opportunity for future government policy choices through demanding a taxpayer-funded income stream if a future government is elected to repeal this money-grubbing pact.
The deal offers us the worst of all worlds. As many have already said, around 80% of problem gamblers have their addiction to pokies and close to half pokie revenue comes from this same group and their long-suffering families.
The government says the negative impacts will be lessened with a doubling of staff looking out for problem gambling but anyone who believes host responsibility has real meaning is an idiot. It’s always been a joke and now we get double the laughs.
Skycity concern for the social harm from gambling is nothing compared to its determination to strip the pockets of the poor.
Low-income families are particularly at risk so it’s Auckland’s Maori and Pacifika families who will shoulder the bulk of the financial burden for the convention centre.
The deal is a particularly nasty insult to Aucklanders who have slogged their guts out for years to reduce pokie numbers because these designed-to-addict machines are socially destructive.
Remember all those TV adds featuring the then Manukau Mayor Len Brown surrounded by Polynesian community workers as they celebrated the sinking lid policy for pokies put in place by Brown’s Manukau Council?
That was a time when Brown would have vigorously opposed a deal like this – now he’s the hapless victim of corporate capture.
Len Brown should hang his head in shame.