SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison says his casino's pokies are only to blame for a minuscule amount of gambling harm, instead placing the blame on Lotto and the TAB.
Yesterday a bill allowing SkyCity to install hundreds more pokies and gaming tables and operate until 2048, in exchange for building a $400 million convention centre, passed its first reading 61-59.
It was supposed to be a conscience vote, but MPs voted along party lines, as expected.
Gambling support groups and the Opposition say the move will create more problem gamblers, but the Government has always maintained the economic benefits outweigh any potential harm – and Mr Morrison agrees.
Appearing on Firstline this morning, Mr Morrison said SkyCity's contribution to gambling harm has been blown "way out of context".
"We've only got 1650 machines, right – there are nearly 20,000 machines in New Zealand.
"If you want to do something about problem gambling, do something about the rest of the machines, do something about Lotto, do something about the TAB – all of which have higher incidences of harm than casino pokies in SkyCity Auckland."
Mr Morrison says only 8 percent of problem gamblers blame casino pokies – of which SkyCity has around 60 percent of the market, meaning 95 percent of problem gamblers won't be affected by any expansion at SkyCity.
"The community is where the issue is, where the gaming thrives in the community through Lotto, through TAB and through particularly pokies in pubs and clubs," he says.
"Bringing them to a safe destination makes a lot of sense."
Mr Morrison says problem gambling isn't even a major issue compared to the other social ills, such as alcoholism.
"The Ministry of Health does a report, and it shows the incidence of harm and problem gambling as a proportion of New Zealand adults is about 0.4 percent – that compares to drinking of 18 percent. The whole perspective of this debate has just been taken way out of context."
Since the plans to build a convention centre were made public, Mr Morrison says they have had expressions of interest from "50 conferences with 90,000 delegates" – before any advertising has been done.
"Clearly a latent and pent-up demand for conventions in New Zealand of a significant size that nobody else can accommodate."
Much of the criticism directed at SkyCity's deal with the Government, particularly from the Green Party, has claimed the casino has effectively bought itself a change in the law. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters went so far as to call the deal "fascist". Mr Morrison denies this, saying it's not for the company to "interfere" in the democratic process.
"It's going to be what it's going to be. It's not for us to interfere in it – we're just a corporate citizen trying to go forward in New Zealand," he says.
"We're the fifth-largest public company in New Zealand, and it's up for the politicians to decide what they want to do."
If the bill passes its second and third readings, the convention centre is expected to be completed in 2017.