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“The problem gambler”: Key & SkyCity

Written By: - Date published: 12:05 pm, August 8th, 2013 - 9 comments
Categories: accountability, capitalism, drugs, health, health and safety, john key, Minister for Photo-ops, national, poverty, slippery, spin, trade - Tags: , ,

John Key – financial speculator, gambler, spinmeister, PM as Brand Key – is a walking example of the economic and cultural shift that occurred with the 1980s “neoliberal revolution”:

The rise of Rogernomics, Thatcherism and Reganism was part of a shift away from the focus on production of goods and services, towards financial speculation, derivatives and consumer society.  With this shift came a focus on making money by any means:

through intense marketing,

branding and the selling of dreams;

people became classified by what they bought,

and issues of poverty and inequality became relegated to the realm of personal responsibility – anyone could be rich, it was just a question of hard work.

However, in contradiction to this, the selling of souls to the brand, meant that getting rich from gambling, risk taking, and anything other than hard grind, has become rewarded.  Wealth itself has become a measure of self worth.

Enter Brand Key, and his governance of New Zealand as the CEO NZ-Inc

John Key Nat Billboard Corproate vote

There’s been a lot of coverage of the “dirty deal” between John Key’s government and SkyCity over the planned convention centre and the increase in pokie machines.  Yesterday there was some less prominent coverage of a related case, linking gambling and smoking regulations at SkyCity, with further evidence of SkyCity pushing for law changes to suit their balance sheets.  Patrice Dougan, NZ Herald reports:

Approval for a VIP smoking area at Auckland’s SkyCity casino has prompted a High Court challenge over testing methods.

Lawyers for the Cancer Society, Problem Gambling Foundation and Salvation Army have taken the Ministry of Health to court over its so-called ‘open areas calculator’ – used to determine whether a smoking space meets legislation.

Basically they are challenging the way “open spaces” are calculated.  These calculations result in the “open spaces” being designated as ones where smoking is allowed.

Mr Webb later said the calculator was an “irrational” test, demonstrated by the fact that removing one gaming machine from the Diamond Lounge could change whether it was classed as ‘open’ or ‘enclosed’ because of the extra floor space.

However, there’s more to this issue than mere spreadsheets and number calculations. It goes to the heart of links, established by research, between gambling and smoking.  And underlying that is changes in the promotion and perception of gambling and addiction in post 1980s consumer society.

On 28 July an article by Steve Kilgallon was published on Stuff, reporting on the upcoming court case, indicated how much SkyCity was aware of links between gambling and smoking:

Skycity secretely lobbied the government to change smokefree laws – and allow gamblers to smoke inside its Auckland casino.


The Problem Gambling Foundation says the “cynical” move has “put paid to their [SkyCity’s] claims of being a good corporate citizen”.

SkyCity defended the move as giving it a “level playing field” with Australian casinos, some of which have negotiated exemptions from smoke-free laws.

SkyCity’s move is buried in documents relating to negotiations to build a convention centre in Auckland.

SkyCity pitched their demands around the spin that smoking creates a more enjoyable gambling experience.  However, the Problem Gambling Foundation spokesperson was skeptical:

Problem Gambling chief executive Graeme Ramsey slammed the bid: “They understand the relationship between smoking and gambling and it is an absolutely cynical attempt to keep people gambling as long as possible.”

There is substantial research to show that a significant proportion of heavy smokers are heavy gamblers.  This pdf outlines some of the studies, including these:

Gamblers have high rates of tobacco use and there is a linear

relationship between gambling severity and both smoking frequency

and nicotine dependency (Rodda et al. 2004)

• New Zealand study showed 58% of problem gamblers were daily

smokers versus 22% of non-problem gamblers (Ministry of Health


• Gamblers who smoked daily gambled more days and spent more

money than non-daily smokers. They craved gambling more and

had lower perceived control over gambling (Petry & Oricken 2002)

This is a trend, and does not mean all problem gamblers, incljuding those using pokies, smoke.  And the connection between smoking and gambling is not fully understood.  Some evidence points to an underlying biological predisposition to become addicted to both gambling and cigarettes. However, one of the things  argued is that, going outside for a smoke can help break the addictive draw of a long session at a pokie machine, providing time for reflection.

Loooking at the bigger picture, the whole notion of “problem gambling” has developed post-1980, as laid out in this article: Gambling and the Contradictions of Consumption, American Behavioral Scientist, September 2007 vol. 51 no. 1 33-55. Prior to the, 1980s, gambling tended to be seen as a vice that went against the work ethic of industrial society, and had a tendency to diminish the productivity of the workforce.  it was seen as a social problem.

From the 1980s and beyond, gambling was promoted positively by aggressive marketing.  With the deregulation of the”neoliberal revolution”, more focus has been on self-regulation of the individual.  So any blame for “problem gambling” is put on the individual – they are weak, lazy, etc.  However, that contradicts the positive values promoted by casino capitalism – the very stuff of Brand Key:

key pokies

It’s also interesting that attitudes to smoking also have changed over time. In pre-industrial times, non-European people in the Americas, for instance, used tobacco as a medicine, as well as for ritual purposes.  It wasn’t til the industrialisation of tobacco production that people began to smoke daily.  In the mid-late 19th century, tobacco was largely used in snuff, cigars, pipes and for chewing.  Pipes and cigars tended to be associated with use at moments of relaxation, and were seen to have a therapeutic impact on well-being.

Like all drugs, over-use can be harmful.  But it wasn’t really until the mass production of cigarettes in the early 20th century, that it became easier to smoke regularly throughout the day, and thus become a chain smoker.  The difference between the earlier forms of tobacco consumption is that cigarettes have the addition of being rolled into paper, in an easily handled, and easily carried small package.

So it’s not surprising that Brand Key, and his NZ Inc government, have such a dodgey relationship between SkyCity, gambling and addictions of capitalism and the global phenomena of “insatiable consumerism” – with all its contradictions.


9 comments on ““The problem gambler”: Key & SkyCity”

  1. fender 1

    SkyCity is out of control, can’t some new anti-gang legislation deal to these parasitic community wreckers?

  2. Mary 2

    Smoking, drinking and gambling are accepted as addictions except when it’s the poor that are concerned and especially when it’s beneficiaries. When it’s the poor they’re choices because choices = own fault = own fault you’re poor.

    • karol 2.1

      Very good point, Mary. In contrast the addiction to gaining wealth is regarded as a personal strength/choice for those with most of it.

  3. Critiques of the ‘neo-liberal’ revolution abound along with those theories of ‘financialisation’ that are derived from them.

    Harvey for example has come in for criticism for focussing on symptoms and not causes of the global crisis.
    Roberts, for one, argues that the recession of 08-09 was not caused by rising wages or financialisation but the falling rate of profit in commodity production.

    According to this argument financialisation is really no more than gambling on the prices of already produced commodities when it is not profitable to produce more until production costs are cut drastically.

    Gambling therefore becomes a dominant feature of capitalism along with financialisation as an effect rather than a cause, and it is a very different phenomenon that consumption or consumerism.

    Consumption is tied to production. Capitalists consumption is determined by the return on profits, while workers consumption is tied to wages as a means of reproducing their labour power.

    Only when production breaks down and neither capitalists nor workers can consume productively, does gambling appear to become the defining feature of ‘casino capitalism’.

    Against those however who see ‘casino capitalism’ as an aberration that can be fixed by boosting wages or jailing banksters, Marxists recognise ‘gambling’ as the irrational outcome of capitalism on its last legs having outlived its historically progressive role and now threatening to destroy humanity and nature.

    When the revolution takes place and Sky City along with all other corporations are socialised, you can bet that gambling will not be on the agenda. The Workers Council of Tamaki Makaurau will be able to fit the thousands of delegates of all the local councils into the splendiferous Conference Centre.

    • karol 3.1

      Thanks, red. That gives me some ideas to ponder on. Especially, this:

      Gambling therefore becomes a dominant feature of capitalism along with financialisation as an effect rather than a cause, and it is a very different phenomenon that consumption or consumerism.

      Consumption is tied to production. Capitalists consumption is determined by the return on profits, while workers consumption is tied to wages as a means of reproducing their labour power.

      My bold – because that is indeed the thing that has changed since the 1980s. The focus has being on consumers and getting them to spend – it has tended to split consumption from production. So it is not surprising that (allegedly) left wing parties/MPs (like the contemporary neoliberal apologists that many Labour MPs have become), tend to have neglected the representation of the working classes. They now tend to treat voters as consumers that they try to sell their messages to.

  4. red blooded 4

    Meanwhile, we see the hope and health of too many NZers being sucked out of them by cynical, manipulative leeches. Smoke free should mean what it says.

  5. Pasupial 5

    Fascinating, though unpleasant, video. Standout moment for me was when Wareham (at 5:37) described the paragon of money traders as: “…An individual who had the capacity to live in a world he had created in his own head…”. Sounds like the description of a sociopath to me.

    Planet Key anyone?

  6. Tautoko Viper 6

    Here is an interesting aspect of the problem gambling in Asian members of NZ society.

    “Gambling and concepts of “luck” are age-old and deeply embedded for so many of our Pan-Asian cultures. These days the casino is an extremely popular destination during festivals like Chinese New Year. However researchers recently found the impact of legalised casino gambling to be detrimental to our Asian communities. In 2007 a study found 78% of Asians seeking help for problem gambling were primarily losing money in casinos, with losses four times higher than any other ethnicity. So what of SkyCity Casino’s expansion?

    Lynda Chanwai-Earle hears from researchers uncovering the cost of problem gambling to our Asian communities and she asks Sky City Casino for a response to this investigation. ”


    • karol 6.1

      Thanks. Interesting. Some key points from the audio file:

      SkyCity/Casinos create an atmosphere that people enjoy, thus encouraging them to stay and gamble for longer.

      It’s a rigged game: gamblers will always be playing at a loss.

      Some people loss A LOT – damaging to a lot of lives.

      (corporate dominated) Gambling is increasing world wide and it targets the vulnerable.

      Asian communities are particularly vulnerable to the gambling industry.

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