Gaming table numbers dwindle at some New Zealand casinos

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
Some NZ casinos reopen after COVID-19 lockdown

Gaming table numbers are on the slide in New Zealand, with operators instead focusing on lucrative poker machines to increase revenues.

Stuff reports that Dunedin Casino Management, which operates the city’s Grand Casino, applied to vary its operator’s licence via the Gambling Commission.

The High St casino wanted to remove the mandatory requirement to have at least one gaming table open for play between noon and 6pm.

The casino argued it had lost revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic, which included the loss of cruise ship passengers to Dunedin.

The loss of those patrons led to some job losses and the casino needed “to consider different scenarios, and creative ways, to ensure that the business remains viable and competitive,” its submission said.

The casino wanted to operate one gaming table between noon and 6pm if there was a demand, but claimed “this is not possible in the current climate”.

New Zealand Government sees no purpose to gaming tables without patrons

Internal Affairs agreed, noting it served no useful purpose for a gaming table to be staffed when no patrons were playing.

However, the move was challenged by several submitters.

The Ministry of Health noted casinos across the country were reducing table game operations and becoming primarily gaming machine venues.

Gaming machines were considered to be the most harmful form of gambling available in New Zealand, it said.

“If changes to licence conditions keeps going in this direction, then it is very likely that table games will disappear and casinos will not be in keeping with what the public considers to be a casino,” the ministry’s submission said.

The Problem Gambling Foundation said table game hours had also been reduced at Hamilton, Christchurch, Queenstown and Wharf casinos.

It too was concerned casinos were becoming gaming machine venues, which was echoed in a submission by the Salvation Army.

A foundation spokeswoman said casinos would predominantly be operating as “pokies dens” if the availability of table games continued to decline, even if it was just at certain times.

“As pokie machines are the most harmful form of gambling, we wouldn’t want to see this happening,” she said.

“It does seem to make the licence conditions around the ratio of table games to pokie machines somewhat meaningless if this is consistently being changed.”

Relaxation of Dunedin licence justified

The Gambling Commission, in its June decision, relaxed the Dunedin licence so the venue was no longer required to offer table gaming between 6am to 6pm.

“The removal of a minimum open table requirement can be expected to have no effect on the opportunities for casino gambling,” the decision noted.

Grand Casino management was approached for comment.

Between 2015-2020, the only casino recording a change in either table or poker machine number was SkyCity in Auckland, with both increasing.

Those figures are expected to change when the 2021 Gambling Commission is released.

A spokeswoman for SkyCity, which owns five casinos, Auckland, Hamilton and two in Queenstown, said all casinos were subject to licence conditions that controlled the number of gaming machines and tables, and the ratio between the two.

Table games and gaming machines were core features at all SkyCity properties, she said.

SkyCity received interim permission from the New Zealand Gambling Commission to operate only pokie machines at its Hamilton and Queenstown casinos until Covid alert level 1 had been lifted, as the pandemic had significantly reduced patron numbers.

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