Support drops for SkyCity deal

Public opinion has turned against the Government's SkyCity international convention centre deal just days before it is due to be signed off, allowing for 230 extra poker machines at the downtown Auckland casino.

The latest Herald-DigiPoll survey shows 61.5 per cent of those polled disapprove of the deal while 33.8 per cent approve.

That's a sharp turnaround from a year ago when a similar poll found 40.3 per cent disapproved and 57.3 supported it.

The deal will see the casino operator build and operate a $402 million convention centre in return for the extra pokies and other concessions including a 35-year licence extension that will require changes to the Gambling Act. The final agreement is scheduled to be signed off this Sunday.

SkyCity spokesman Gordon Jon Thompson refused to comment on the fact a majority of the 750 people surveyed opposed the deal. However, he said it "doesn't make sense" to compare the June Herald-Digipoll survey with the one done last year.

He said the previous poll question allowed respondents the option of supporting the deal if the number of gaming machines in Auckland declined.

"It would have been more accurate to ask the same question again if you wanted to compare the results, especially given that the total number of EGMs [electronic gaming machines] has come down. The questions are clearly different and are unable to be compared."

While Prime Minister John Key has defended the deal on the grounds total pokie numbers in Auckland will fall, that decline is a result of local authorities' "sinking lid" policy for machines in pubs and clubs.

The survey comes as Mr Key - who conceived the deal with SkyCity bosses over dinner four years ago - faced questions yesterday from Greens co-leader Russel Norman over Transparency International's criticism of the arrangement.

Mr Key said he wasn't worried that Transparency International said the deal raised concerns about fiscal transparency, accountability, and regulatory issues.

"The reason for that is that this deal will be in full view for the public.

"We campaigned on the issue prior to the election.

"The agreement will be in the public domain when it is fully signed by both parties. The legislation supporting it will go through a select committee process."

Mr Key said Transparency International was wrong when it said the SkyCity project procurement process was severely compromised.

- Adam Bennett of the New Zealand Herald

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