PM not keen on SkyCity, centre link

John Key
John Key
Prime Minister John Key appears to have ruled out Queenstown's proposed convention centre involving a deal with casino giant SkyCity.

The Government negotiated a controversial deal with SkyCity Entertainment Group to fund the $400 million Auckland national convention centre in return for concessions including more poker machines, gaming tables and a licence extension.

However, when asked yesterday if he had any appetite to get involved in a deal with SkyCity for Queenstown, Mr Key replied: ''I don't think so, no.''

The Queenstown Lakes District Council, leading progress on a proposed $50 million Queenstown centre, named SkyCity as its preferred operator a year ago.

If SkyCity was involved - and wanted a casino operation as part of the centre precinct - it would require the Government to change the law and enable SkyCity to transfer one or both of its downtown Queenstown casino licences.

Mr Key said the council - which has asked the Government for a $20 million centre contribution - was obviously keen to develop a centre and the Government had ''tacitly given an indication it's prepared to put in cash''.

''The issue is, is it enough? The answer is 'no' on current funding proposals but nor are we necessarily looking to put in a lot more.''

Asked if in discussions council chief executive Adam Feeley had intimated the council was stuck and needed help, Mr Key replied: ''I think they haven't actually finalised every bit of that but council by end of March or middle next month will be in a better position to talk about what the shortfall looks like and what are the options available for them to fill that hole.''

Earlier, Mr Key told a Queenstown Chamber of Commerce luncheon that people wanted to come to the Wakatipu for conferences but it did not have the capacity needed.

''Just as in Auckland where we found a way through that, we're going to have to do that in Queenstown. It's not straightforward and not easy, and I'm not going to say we have a solution today but we have to find a way to allow your council to get a convention centre up and running.''

Mr Feeley has previously described SkyCity involvement as a ''silver bullet'' in terms of negating financial risk for ratepayers, but a recent council agenda item also noted SkyCity's interest or commitment to be involved as ''unknown''.

A survey of residents last year revealed 43% were opposed or strongly opposed to a casino operation at the centre site.

Council-commissioned analysis of convention centre benefits estimates a centre would create 466 jobs and generate between $22 million and $36 million in gross domestic product annually.

- Ryan Keen. 

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