SkyCity is looking to launch an online gambling platform, but run it from overseas to get around it being illegal in NZ (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: SkyCity charges on with controversial online gambling plan

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: SkyCity charges ahead with controversial online gambling plan, Defence Force releases review into Afghanistan allegations, and coal use to continue for decades in Canterbury.

SkyCity has come up with a novel way of mollifying the government’s concerns over a planned offshore-based online casino. The NZ Herald reports the company will be paying about $40 million worth of what journalist Chris Keall describes as “tax”. The Department of Internal Affairs doesn’t want the casino set up, but can’t really stop it. If the government refuses the money SkyCity says it will go into the pot given through their community trust grants.

This is a topic The Spinoff’s Don Rowe followed closely last year. He wrote this in May, talking about legal loopholes that allowed offshore operators to aggressively target vulnerable gamblers in New Zealand. And by aggressively, that means literally trying to talk Don into gambling more, when he phoned them posing as a problem gambler. SkyCity had nothing to do with that operation – just to be clear. But they did talk about their position on online gambling, which was that the market would operate less harmfully if NZ operators, properly regulated, were allowed in. Later when SkyCity’s plans firmed up a bit more, Don Rowe wrote a subsequent commentary, questioning whether there was really much difference in practice.

It’s true that millions of dollars is being spent by New Zealanders on these platforms overseas, with absolutely no benefit to the country. Concerns have been raised about the nature of these sites, for example this piece published by the Problem Gambling Foundation. A bit of research found that sites were already operating using .nz domain names – even though they were actually hosted overseas. There were other significant concerns, such as difficulty of getting money back out of sites, or availability of helpline information.

Now, Sky City will not be allowed to market this online casino to New Zealanders, because that would be illegal, so they definitely won’t be doing it. But according to the company, there will be some SEO optimisation, so that if a New Zealander was to find it – well, that’s up to the consumer. It also wont be regulated in the same way that other gambling properties are, like the TAB mobile app.

Internal affairs minister Tracey Martin is “disappointed they are forging ahead”, reports Stuff, and says this episode shows that the current laws regulating gambling are out of date. There’s expected to be a paper presented in April, with public consultation to follow.

Finally, if you’re concerned about your gambling, or that of someone around you, contact the Problem Gambling Foundation through their website, or call 0800 664 262.


The Defence Force have come out with an eyebrow-raising review into allegations made in 2017 Stuff documentary The ValleyThat documentary was about the conduct of New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan, focusing in on a particular incident in which accusations were made that the SAS had mistreated villagers and provoked a firefight while on patrol – that patrol was where Corporal Willie Apiata got his Victoria Cross. Here’s a link to the NZDF media release, from which you can click through to the full review.

However, the way the review was put out came across as rather cynical. I was listening to Newstalk ZB when it came out late on Friday afternoon, and it was rightly treated as an important breaking news story – but clearly the newsroom also had no time to process the details of it properly, so they ran with the top line verdicts from the NZDF.

In Stuff journalist Bevan Hurley’s opinion, the overall picture painted by the NZDF of the review in their media releases wasn’t a full representation of what the review actually said. Journalist Paula Penfold, who fronted the documentary, told Radio NZ the review was inadequate, didn’t talk to the villagers, and was misleadingly spun. She says the review raises more questions than it answers. Just speaking personally, it also seems like an extraordinary coincidence that the NZDF released it on the same day Willie Apiata VC was in the news, launching his organisation for returning soldiers with PTSD.


Coal will continue to burn in Canterbury for decades to come, reports The Press on their front page this morning. Many industrial processing plants in the region are currently consented for burning coal, and transitions away from the heavily polluting fuel are slow going. The largest single plant – Fonterra’s Clandeboye facility – is consented up to 2039. And as an example of the slowness of the transition, Fonterra says it won’t be until 2030 that they stop installing new coal boilers.


ACT is calling for provincial growth fund minister Shane Jones to be sacked, over a previously undeclared involvement in a funding decision meeting, reports Stuff. Mr Jones had many years ago declared a conflict of interest regarding a cultural and tourism facility in Opononi, Northland.

But it has been revealed he also sat in on a ministerial meeting, and vouched for the governance of the facility, which was then approved for $4.6 million in PGF funding. Mr Jones said he had fronted up by disclosing his conflict, and his presence made no difference to the funding decision. ACT’s David Seymour is livid, saying the PM should get rid of Mr Jones, and that the Auditor-General should investigate.


Auckland Council’s stadiums boss has laid down the hard word on Speedway, saying they’re being subsidised by ratepayers and need to get out of Western Springs. The NZ Herald reports the comments of Regional Facilities Auckland chairman Andrew Barnes, who says the sport gets far fewer attendees than others, and the stadium is needed immediately for more concerts. It comes at a tense time for the Council’s stadium strategy, with Speedway last week vowing to fight to stay.

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting take on the whole debate from Radio NZ contributor Jamie Wall. He went out to QBE in Albany, and noted that had a rail line between there and Britomart gone in as intended a few decades ago, it might now be the city’s premier stadium. Perhaps, given the commuter congestion over the bridge anyway, it’s time to dust that idea off again.


Massive protests have been held in Christchurch over the weekend against commercial water bottling, reports Newstalk ZB. Local station host Chris Lynch put a video report up on his facebook page which gives an indication of the size – around 3000 people reportedly turned up. The protest follows a decision by Environment Canterbury to grant a consent for billions of litres to the company Cloud Ocean Water.


Farmers around the Tasman season say the drought they’re struggling with is the worst they’ve seen, reports Stuff. Feed stocks are running low, along with water levels in rivers and wells. It’s forcing farmers towards difficult decisions around what to do with their herds. The small amount of rain that fell over the weekend is not considered to be sufficient to break the drought.


If you’ve got a bit of time this week, go through the full series of Conversations, produced by E-Tangata and the NZ Herald, and supported by NZ on Air. It’s a six part series that tells the stories of Māori and Pasifika women, who have played a role in the cultural shaping of our country. Every one of the videos is worth watching, but the one I want to pick out the most is Pepe Robertson, who came out from Samoa about 50 years ago, and is an expert on New Zealand’s brutal colonial legacy in Samoa.


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Just two good reasons to wag school

Right now on The Spinoff: National party finance spokesperson Amy Adams hits out at the government continuing to have Tax Working Group chair Sir Michael Cullen on the payroll. Laurie Winkless writes about research into building batteries that aren’t made from lithium. Duncan Greive profiles the remarkable thinker and innovator Ian Taylor, who has now set himself on a mission to reshape how New Zealanders understand the discovery of this land. And Lyn Barnes (my former media ethics lecturer, so blame her if I do anything terrible) writes about the increasing awareness of secondary trauma that journalists experience in the course of their work.

Finally, we were inundated with feedback as to why people skipped school during their teenage years – reasons which in fairness were mostly less important than the upcoming climate strike. So we published the answers.


The Ihumātao protesters will be heading to Parliament this week, in a last ditch effort to stop a building development going ahead. It was one of the earliest sites of Māori occupation in the country, and protesters have been occupying it for years now. But they’re unlikely to be receiving a warm welcome from parliamentarians, or even much of a welcome at all. Here’s an excerpt from excellent overview of the political developments from Morgan Godfery’s newsletter Māui Street.

Disestablishing the site’s SHA status would force Fletcher Building to re-apply for consent using the ordinary channels and assessed against the ordinary standards.

“The legal avenues for SOUL to challenge the development at Ihumātao have been exhausted. The development has planning consent and the Environment Court has ruled,” Twyford told māui street.

Instead he is urging “all the parties to keep talking in an effort to find common ground.”

But common ground looks increasingly unlikely with Te Warena Taua, the executive chair of Te Kawerau Iwi Settlement Trust, releasing a strong joint statement with Fletcher Building condemning SOUL and other land protectors at the peninsular.


Whisper it for now, but the Wellington Phoenix could be hurtling towards a home playoff game. Their win over the weekend came against the Central Coast Mariners – who are admittedly terrible – but the Nix knocked in eight goals to really hammer home the point. Seriously, have a watch of the highlights, because it’s always nice to see a local football team get ruthless in front of goal. The win means the Phoenix are now 4th equal on the table, which if they maintain it will mean they’ll have a home semifinal. It seems almost certain that they’ll now at least make the top 6.

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