Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sky City: Using prejudice to defend the indefensible

SkyCity is in the process of doing a shonky deal with the government whereby SkyCity builds a $350 million convention centre in return for being allowed an unspecified number (probably about 500) of gaming machines over and above what the existing legislation allows. There's a lot wrong with this (even the Herald's Fran O'Sullivan agrees with us!!), especially the 'legislation for sale' aspect, as National once again rolls over to corporate interests.
The deal has been criticised by a range of social agencies and others on a number of grounds, but especially because it will add to Auckland's already significant gambling problem. Problem gambling is largely a problem of pokie machines. It is no accident that a disproportionately high number of gaming machines outside the CBD are located in South Auckland in order to take advantage of a poor, desperate population which sees no prospect of social mobility through more conventional means (for example, decent-paid permanent jobs).
Now, SkyCity's boss, Nigel Morrison, has come out swinging in defence of the deal. In doing so, he has unwittingly put on public display the corporate world's contempt for the poor, and the prejudice it employs to justify its shabby behaviour.
According to Mr Morrison, pokies are less harmful than Lotto. Well, that's a surprise to anyone familiar with the problem gambling data. 70% of people who present with gambling problems have problems with pokie machines, not Lotto. (A refutation of almost all Mr Morrison's assertions are in this interview with Professor Max Abbott and the Problem Gambling Foundation's Graeme Ramsey.)
But the gem is this: the greatest risk of gambling is "convenience" gambling by "South Auckland mums" at local pubs and clubs.
**Embarrassed cough**
South Auckland mums? Not Dads? Not mums from West, central or north Auckland? And can we assume that although unspoken, our South Auckland mum is brown  because, you know, everyone in South Auckland is brown? And poor. And too stupid not to lose all their money playing pokies. SkyCity doesn't know of any high-income problem gamblers, for example people who might have stolen millions from their employers to gamble at its casino? No? The problem is all about South Auckland mums, eh?
Moving on, Mr Morrison asserts that Sky City is  "destination gambling". OK, so it's not down-the-road-at your-local-pub gambling. We accept that. But the reason this exonerates Sky City from any - ANY - responsibility is that to get there poor people have to catch the bus. No, really: "The reality is public transport in Auckland isn't that great. You don't just arrive at SkyCity. You make a deliberate decision to go to SkyCity." 
This is odd because it seems to contradict media reports of people who may or may not be from South Auckland driving their cars to SkyCity and leaving their kids in said car while they **embarrassed cough** gambled. Indeed, a former cop we know loathes SkyCity because he got tired of rescuing kids shut in cars while mum and/or dad played the pokies. 
But there's another, more hidden aspect to Mr Morrison's rancid argument. As most people are aware, Auckland's population is projected to grow by up to 1 million people over the next few decades. A number of suburbs have been penciled in as high-growth areas, mostly low-income suburbs along the rail corridor. Yet no money has been put aside by any past or present Council to provide much-needed additional infrastructure to cater for this population growth, and corporate lobby groups of which SkyCity is undoubtedly a member, have lobbied hard to make sure as little public money as possible is spent upgrading facilities in these areas. Yet SkyCity is arguing that the additional machines are needed to cope with Auckland's population growth. 
The government can obviously afford social infrastructure when it wants, even if it is through backhanded corporate welfare. Just don't expect a community near you to get any infrastructure it actually needs anytime soon. Especially if you're a South Auckland mum.