Council submits in support of casino licence

Dunedin city councillor Andrew Whiley wants the Grand Casino in Dunedin to be allowed to continue...
Dunedin city councillor Andrew Whiley wants the Grand Casino in Dunedin to be allowed to continue. He made a submission "as a Dunedin citizen" to the New Zealand Gambling Commission about the casino’s licence. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
The Dunedin City Council is mostly comfortable with the city’s casino continuing — although not everyone is impressed with the amount of money returned to the community.

The council last week approved a submission to the New Zealand Gambling Commission in support of renewing Dunedin Casinos Ltd’s licence.

Its 25-year licence is due to expire in October and the company has applied to operate the Grand Casino Dunedin in High St for another 15 years.

Christine Garey was one councillor who supported the council’s submission, but she said there was room for improvement in how much money the casino gave back to the community.

"At the quantum, I’m not impressed", she said.

Cr Garey said that she was pleased to read the operation was well controlled and due attention was paid to the management of harm.

Deputy mayor Cherry Lucas also suggested much was made of increasing, but relatively small, community contributions.

Cr David Benson-Pope noted a disparity between how much the casino gave back to the community and the larger proportions returned by other gaming sites such as pubs.

Cr Mandy Mayhem said gambling did a huge amount of societal harm and Cr Marie Laufiso said the casino’s existence was "not the first priority for the real people of the city".

However, the council’s submission was approved with an 11-2 vote. Crs Mayhem and Laufiso were against.

One of the councillors for was Lee Vandervis.

He had asked council staff if gambling-related harm might be worse if the casino did not exist and received an answer suggesting this was likely the case.

This was because it was considered a well-controlled environment.

Cr Vandervis also labelled gambling a "need", such as for high-rolling tourists to entertain themselves.

The casino opened its doors for the first time on October 6, 1999, on the first floor of the Southern Cross hotel building.

It rebranded as the Grand Casino in April 2021, reflecting the building’s original name of the Grand Hotel.

The casino’s intention at that time was to "reposition itself to be more authentically involved with the community", the licence application said.

It is required to fund a charitable trust and the Dunedin Casino Charitable Trust has distributed more than $4million in donations since it started in 1999.

In 2022, the trust gave more than $160,000 to 54 charities, the application said.

The casino also granted close to $130,000 in sponsorships distributed across sport, cultural and community entities in that year.

A casino impact report published at the end of 2022 said it employed 89 staff and spent $5.35m a year in operational expenses with suppliers.

The assessment concluded the economic impact of closing the casino would be minimal, which was not considered a surprise, "given the small size of the casino and its domestic and local focus".

Closing the casino could "increase the potential for harm should those Dunedin and Otago residents who wish to keep gambling shift to more dangerous forms of gambling".

"This is a particular risk if the Grand Casino Dunedin gamblers migrate to online gambling."

Cr Andrew Whiley was not part of the discussion at the council, as he had made his own submission "as a Dunedin citizen".

Cr Whiley said the casino was an integral part of the community.

"I see the support and impact that the grant funding injects to many of our smaller organisations, especially in the social sector", he said.

"Casino Dunedin is not just a strong supporter of events like the Business South Business Awards but it is a big part of our city’s tourism offerings.

"It provides the city with a unique venue that attracts visitors to enjoy an evening in town, in a warm, safe and social space that provides great service."

Cr Whiley said the casino was an extremely good corporate citizen, a leading employer and an asset to the city.

Public submissions closed at the end of last month, although further written submissions in response to other parties will be accepted until June 14. The commission will conduct a hearing in Dunedin "at a later date".