By 3 News online staff with NZN
A government deal handing SkyCity Entertainment Group the right to build a national convention centre has just been signed off in Auckland.
The convention centre, due to open in 2017, will cater for up to 3500 guests at any one time, and will be built for a total estimated project cost of $402 million, comprised of $315 million in construction and fit-out costs and $87 million for land costs.
In return, the casino group can change the rules governing casino operations, giving it several concessions, including the right to add 230 new pokie machines and an additional 40 gaming tables to its complex.
SkyCity's casino license, due to expire in 2021, has also been extended to 30 June 2048.
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce made the announcement at SkyCity, where he was joined by SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison and Auckland mayor Len Brown.
"An international convention centre in Auckland will be a major asset for New Zealand and will generate significant spin-off benefits including a projected $90 million annual injection into the economy," said Mr Joyce.
“It’s estimated this new facility will attract around 33,000 more conference delegates each year.”
Earlier this morning on Firstline, Mr Brown said Auckland needs a convention centre to be competitive internationally.
"The country definitely needs a convention centre to really compete up against Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Potentially 1000 jobs in construction, 800 jobs in the convention centre itself – that's good," he said.
The plan has been heavily opposed by anti-gambling lobby groups, who say extra pokies could create hundreds of extra problem gamblers.
As part of the deal, SkyCity will have improved measures in place to discourage problem gambling and money laundering.
Measures will include a predictive modelling tool that analyses data to identify players who are at risk of problem gambling, and a voluntary system where players can choose to restrict the amount of time they play or how much they spend.
A February report by Deputy Auditor-General Phillippa Smith on the deal questioned the process through which SkyCity was awarded the contract, and said there were a "range of deficiencies" in officials' advice to the Government.
It also said SkyCity was given an unfair advantage over other potential bidders because it was the only one told the Government didn't want to contribute any funding, and that regulatory concessions were possible.
Following the report's release, Mr Key said his government had been "totally vindicated".
Labour leader David Shearer said the deal was "shonky".
Construction on the new convention centre will begin next year.