Herald column on Sky deal

My Herald column is on the proposed deal. One extract:

I suspect the political acceptability of any agreement will come down to how many extra machines are agreed to. If for example, the agreement was for 10 extra machines, no one would get too worked up. As no agreement has yet been reached we don’t know what number will be agreed upon. The Opposition claim it could be up to 500.

While 500 sounds a lot, it would increase the number of pokies in NZ by just 2.8 per cent, from 18000 to 18,500. The total number of pokies would still be 6,720 less than the peak of 25,221 in June 2003.

In National’s first term the number of pokie machines declined from 19,739 to 18,001 – a decline of 1,738. An increase of 500 at Sky City would still see the total level significantly lower than in 2008.

The number of pokie machines over time can be viewed at this webpageof the Department of Internal Affairs.

My conclusion:

Most voters react on instinct. They react to whether or not they think Sky City is a good or a bad company. Hence why opposition politicians are now accusing it of everything from money laundering to causing child abuse. If Sky City is successfully portrayed as a “bad” company, then any agreement with it on a convention centre will politically damage the Government.

Ironically the greater the political pressure on the Government, the stronger their negotiating strength with Sky City is. They can point to all the criticism of the proposed agreement, and use that to negotiate the numbers downwards. If at the end of the day, the agreed number of extra pokie machines is quite modest, then the Opposition will deserve some of the credit.

The negotiations have been ongoing for nine months. I suspect they will be completed soon.

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