Department of Internal Affairs launches investigation into Auckland's SkyCity Casino following Newshub's covert filming exercise

The Department of Internal Affairs has launched an investigation after Newshub managed to play the pokies for almost six hours at SkyCity Auckland without being asked by staff to take a break.

Newshub's covert filming at the casino follows a damning audit that identified multiple "systemic" failures at the company's Auckland casino. But the very agencies that oversee gambling in New Zealand are at odds about who's responsible for dishing out penalties. 

"Ultimately, what it just goes to show is that it's a bit of a mess isn't it - the people who are supposed to be monitoring our gambling environment," says former Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin.

The regulator, the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), told Newshub that it "does not undertake enforcement action; this is the role of the Gambling Commission". And the Gambling Commission, which makes decisions on licences, told Newshub that it does "not have a responsibility for monitoring, compliance and enforcement. That role is undertaken by the DIA".

"I find that just as confusing as you do because DIA is the regulator and a regulator must have certain powers to make people adhere to the regulations," Martin says.

But no such powers were ever executed. SkyCity confirmed, "no further action was taken by DIA following the final report of May 2021".

That's despite current Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti saying on Monday there should have been consequences. 

"That is my expectation [that Internal Affairs does something] and that's why I've asked my officials to provide that information to me," Tinetti said.

In a statement, she confirmed the DIA can apply to the Gambling Commission to revoke licences. 

The Act also allows the DIA to prosecute for certain breaches, like, for example, if an excluded player is allowed to enter the casino.  

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Identifying problem gamblers is a repeat issue at SkyCity. The DIA has raised the issues on "numerous" occasions during audits in 2015 and 2019.  

In 2019, a trespassed gambler played for 28 hours straight before it was noticed that she wasn't allowed on the premises. 

The Problem Gambling Foundation says an overhaul is needed. 

"What we've called for years is that there is an independent audit and independent training," says foundation spokesperson Andree Froude. 

Martin agrees, saying an independent body is needed, especially with a surge in online gaming.  

"In my view, this is an issue that is too big for either the DIA or the Gambling Commission," Martin says.

"What's the point of having regulations and rules and so on if there is no consequence?"

Newshub's own covert filming exercise found a lack of intervention when we gamed for five hours and 57 minutes just a few days ago. 

The rules state all reasonable endeavours "must" be made to interact with a customer who's been playing for five hours or more and they should be encouraged to take a 30-minute break. 

Newshub has now been told by the DIA that it's launched an investigation. 

"The Department has already visited SkyCity Casino (Auckland) and requested footage in relation to what was shown on Newshub," a spokesperson says, adding it's still gathering evidence.

"This visit also included an inspection of their staff levels and practices. The initial stages of any investigation are to gather and review evidence to assess what offence or breach has been committed (and the strength of evidence). This may or may not involve interviewing a number of participants or witnesses." 

A SkyCity spokesperson told Newshub it's working with investigators. 

"SkyCity is committed to working cooperatively with our regulators."