Confused reporting of Catholic position on SkyCity Casino deal

On Monday, the Chair of Auckland’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Peter Garrick, had to issue a clarification of a report on National Radio about the Catholic church’s views on the Sky City International Convention Centre.

The National Radio report said that a commissioner with the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church, Seamus Donegan, told the  New Zealand International Convention Centre Select Committee he would rather see people gamble at the SkyCity casino, where problem gambling is monitored, than at racetracks and pubs.

Garrick said Donegan, “was speaking to the Select Committee today in his capacity as Convenor of the Social Hazards Committee of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese of Auckland.  He is not a spokesperson for the Catholic Church and did not describe or introduce himself as such.”

“Some of the views reported as being expressed by Seamus Donegan are not those of the Justice and Peace Commission or the Catholic church,” he said.

” It is true that Catholic church teaching is that games of chance are not in themselves contrary to justice BUT games of chance are morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for their needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement.” 

  • Because the situation in Auckland is that some families with problem gamblers are being deprived of what is needed for food, rent, medical help and other necessities, problem gambling is of deep concern, as is the availability of gambling venues and any proposed increase in gambling opportunities;
  • The Commission does not take a position that gambling at one venue over another is preferred;
  • One of the main concerns of this submission was our strong objection to the automatic extension of the Sky City licence:

“In summary the potential for gambling harm is being increased and the opportunity to study the extent of that harm and test whether the casino is a net benefit is being put off for 27 years.”


Written Submission:

This submission is made by the Social Hazards Committee of the Justice & Peace Commission for the Auckland Diocese of the Catholic Church (“the Committee”)

The Catholic Church does not regard gambling per se as morally wrong. Provided those involved are playing with stakes that do not eat into money needed to discharge their responsibilities to themselves and others, gambling is an acceptable form of recreation.

However when people gamble to excess, that is to say, gamble with money that is needed for other purposes, it becomes morally wrong. People who become so obsessed by gambling that they are unable to prevent themselves form gambling with funds required to support themselves and others dependent on them or to meet their financial obligations are problem gamblers. It is also morally wrong for any organisations to knowingly exploit people with a gambling problem. These organisations have an obligation to the community in which they do business to identify and assist those patrons of their facility who have a ‘gambling problem’.

The potential for harm from gambling has long since been recognised by governments in New Zealand and safeguards have been built into New Zealand Law.  In this regard Governments have always had to balance:

(a)   Freedom of the public to engage in a legitimate form of recreation;

(b)   Freedom for enterprises involved in gambling to engage in an activity that is considered legitimate;

(c)    Achieving the economic benefits from having casinos, race tracks etc;

(d)   Avoiding or reducing as far as practicable, the harmful effects of ‘problem gambling’.

Increase in the number of Automated Gambling Machines.

The Committee does not regard increase in the absolute number of machines as particularly significant as it apprehends that that the number of people in the casino currently never exceeds the number of machines available and therefore an increase in the number of machines does not automatically cause an increase in machine gambling.

Concessions that may exacerbate problem gambling

The Committee considers that there are features of the regulatory concessions which have the potential to exacerbate the harmful effects of problem gambling, which ‘enable’ problem gambling:

  1. A concession allowing 17% of single terminal gaming machines (i.e. ‘pokie’ machines) and automated multi player tables (e.g. computerised roulette & black jack tables) accepting $100 notes (currently restricted to $20)(“plus $20 concession”)
  2. Introduction of ticket in ticket out technology and card based cashless gambling with stored value limits of $1,000.00. (“TITO concession”)

What these concessions achieve is eliminating ‘breaks’ in machine gambling and disconnecting cash from the gambling process. This directly enables problem gamblers, eliminating tools for habit control.

At present it is not possible to measure what the effects of these concessions will be.

Extension of the Venue License to 2048

The Catholic Church also teaches that a function of government is to pursue the common good, which in the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II refers to:

the good of all and of each individual, because we are all responsible for all”.

The common good includes promoting our economic well being, which comes from job creation including that driven by tourist spending. The common good also includes protecting people in our community who have gambling problems from causing harm to themselves and those who are affected by their problem including, their families, their employers, and their creditors and the potential victims of crime driven by gambling addictions.

From the beginning of New Zealand’s legal casino regime, successive governments have sort a achieve a ‘net benefit’  for the community by striking the right balance between allowing the tourism/job benefits of casinos and minimising the harm of problem gambling.  The 2003 Act recognised that checking the balance is right and the net benefit has been realised, was built into the licensing regime. The sky City venue license runs for 25 years and currently expires in 2021. To obtain a renewal, the current act requires sky city to apply for a renewal this will involve:

(a)   The production of an independent impact report (to be paid for by Sky City);

(b)   The involvement of local government, including possibly conducting a regional poll or referendum on whether the Casino should continue; and

(c)    A public hearing process.

The Bill extends the license to 2048. If the bill is passed in its current form, Sky City will avoid renewal applications in 2021 and 2036. (“the License Extension”)

In summary the potential for gambling harm is being increased and the opportunity to study the extent of that harm and test whether the casino is a net benefit is being put off for 27 years.

Our position

Providing employment is a social good and our Committee do not think it is desirable to stop the construction of the Convention Centre.

If the real trade off here is to increase the potential for gambling harm through regulatory concessions in exchange for the benefits of a Convention Centre, that can only be justified if a net benefit is achieved. The Government is morally obligated to Aucklanders to test that this benefit has been achieved. It can best do this by:

(a)   keeping the license renewal dates

(b)   stipulating that the independent impact report must give appropriate weight to the convention centre  in determining whether the ‘net benefit’ is achieved.

A more appropriate concession would be to define the venue for the purposes of renewal of the license to include not only the casino but also all ancillary activities of Sky City including the convention centre.

If the level of ‘harm’ caused by problem gambling (including harm driven by the regulatory concessions now proposed) does not outweigh the benefits of the Casino and the Convention Centre, which by 2021, could be measured the  license ought to be renewed, if not then the regulatory concessions identified above should be revoked.

Making the concessions identified above and avoiding any study of their effects and renewal process for the license is not consistent with the government’s obligations to the community.




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