Former addict alleges she gambled for up to 18 hours at SkyCity without intervention from staff

The Department of Internal Affairs has applied to suspend SkyCity's casino licence after an investigation into a case where the continuous play rules were breached.  

The move comes after Newshub separately spoke to a woman who alleged she gambled for periods of up to 18 hours straight without intervention from staff.  

The woman spoke to Newshub on the condition her identity was kept secret. She said that in 2017, after she'd split from her partner and was cashed up but vulnerable, she found refuge at New Zealand's biggest casino where she was offered a domestic VIP card.  

"You became someone important, someone pampered by SkyCity, and you started to live the champagne lifestyle," she said.  

She claimed that lifestyle consisted of rewards of complimentary cash, accommodation and concert tickets while she gambled in what's known as the Black Room - a VIP area. She became addicted and said she gambled uninterrupted for long periods.   

Newshub asked her if she was ever asked to take a break while in the Black Room. She said, "No, never. Continue playing".  

"My longest in Auckland was 18 hours," she said.  

Andree Froude from the Problem Gambling Foundation questioned what people would sit and do for up to 18 hours.  

"That's a really excessive amount of time."  

Even on the regular gaming floor, the woman said she played for hours.  

"If it's the normal lounge, not the VIP, I would play for 14 to 15 hours non-stop."  

SkyCity told Newshub: "If a customer has a complaint we would encourage them to get in touch with us or, if they would prefer, they can complain directly to the Department of Internal Affairs." 

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Newshub revealed last year Internal Affairs found evidence in a 2019 audit that a banned gambler played pokies for 28 hours straight before it was noticed that she wasn't supposed to be on the premises.   

Froude said her foundation sees people every day with serious gambling addictions.   

"Often they don't seek help until things have got really bad for them," she said. "They may have lost their homes, they may have lost their relationships."  

There are rules for what's known as "continuous play" which state if anyone games for five hours or more, staff must intervene to ensure they have a 30-minute break.   

In a separate case, the Department of Internal Affairs has asked the Gambling Commission to suspend SkyCity's casino licence. Again, this relates to a complaint it investigated over long hours of play.  

SkyCity confirmed Internal Affairs has: 

  • Applied to suspend their casino licence for a period "in the range of 10 days"
  • A decision on the duration of the suspension might not be known for "a number of months".

SkyCity said it's committed to maintaining the highest standards of host responsibility best practice.

"I've been in this role for 14 years and in that time I have never seen the Department take such a strong step," Froude said. "It is extremely significant and it hasn't happened in New Zealand before."

The threat of having SkyCity's licence suspended prompted a reaction on the markets. It was down 13 percent, wiping more than a quarter of a billion off its market value.   

Salvation Army Oasis national operation manager Lisa Campbell told Newshub it's good to see Internal Affairs taking action. 

She said it's been "an uphill battle" against the gambling industry over many years. 

Campbell said she'd also like to see the continuous play rules reduced to three hours, saying five hours of gaming is too long when you compare it to other entertainment activities like going to the movies.