Last month, the New Zealand Ministry of Health ordered SkyCity Auckland, a widely popular casino and pokies destination, to stop permitting visitors to smoke cigarettes throughout certain areas of the casino. The establishment was advised that smoking could only be permitted in a special areas, and even then only if the proper ventilation was in place. SkyCity obliged at first, but according to a follow up report on the matter, it didn’t last.
The Ministry is now cracking down on all poker machine outlets to ensure the smoking ban is being enforced after what seems to be a blatant disregard for the law by SkyCity. The casino had opened a special high-limit area within the establishment where players could place big bets and smoke to their heart’s content, but had only louvre windows in place for ventilation. The Ministry promised to review the guidelines for ventilation last year, then on September 9th, SkyCity was ordered to ban smoking in the area.
According to reports, the casino complied with the order, closing its high-limit smoking area, but only for about one month. SkyCity covertly re-opened to room thereafter, against the Ministry’s instruction. It wasn’t until last week that officials revisited the casino to conduct a follow up that they discovered SkyCity’s flagrant disregard for the imposed smoking ban. Not only that, the casino has opened a smoker’s lounge, said to be near identical to the high-limit smoking area, equipped with 16 poker machines and louvre windows on three sides.
Officials are unsure of whether the second smoking lounge existed during last month’s review of the establishment. The report stated that 8 smokers were in the lounge area, playing the pokies, when Fairfax NZ arrived at SkyCity to investigate.
The Ministry stated that it is requesting an inspection of the property by the Auckland Regional Public Health Service. Furthermore, it was confirmed by the Ministry that they are still reviewing the standards for permitting smoking areas at pubs and clubs that offer pokies. The debate will be over what constitutes an ‘indoor area’ versus an open ‘outdoor area’. No indication has been given as to when the results of the review will be released.
The situation came to a head last year when the Cancer Society, Problem Gambling Foundation and Salvation Army filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Health for claiming that SkyCity’s high-limit smoking area, known as the Diamond Lounge, was legal due its being classified as an outdoor area. On September 30th, 2013, a judge ruled against the Ministry of Health, stating that having a roof and louvre windows on three sides should not constitute being outdoors. The Ministry responded by stating it would review its guidelines, and didn’t bother to inform SkyCity that the room must be closed until a year later, although the new guidelines have yet to be issued.
In SkyCity’s defense, a statement was issued saying, “Along with hundreds of hospitality operators nationwide, SkyCity had relied on the ministry’s guidelines when constructing its open air smoking facilities for customers…” According to the current guidelines, SkyCity should not have been forced to close the smoking area in the first place, at least not until new regulations are enforced.