Frustrations are growing as approval on the planned New Zealand International Convention Centre (NZICC) for Auckland’s SKYCITY is continually pushed back.

Approval has been delayed by community objection to an alleged deal that would allow an extra 500 pokie machines to be installed on top of 1600 presently in operation, should the casino build the $350 million centre.

Conventions and Incentives New Zealand (CINZ) is hopeful the auditor general Lynn Provost will soon approve the deal between the government and SKYCITY so construction can begin.

CINZ has been barracking for an international convention centre in Auckland for many years so the region can capitalise on lucrative international conferences and conventions.

“We need to get on and build it as the delays have been too long,’’ CINZ chief executive Alan Trotter said.

“The sooner the deal is consummated the better, as New Zealand desperately needs to go to the next level in terms of new infrastructure.’’

But the debate continues at a time when recent figures by the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs show New Zealanders lost a record $2.07 billion at the TAB, on pokie machines, casino games, and Lotto last year, reported The New Zealand Herald. This equates to more than $3600 for every single person in the country. The Department of Internal Affairs attributes the rise to “growth across SKYCITY’s casinos and the Christchurch casino reopening after the February 2011 earthquake.”

Losses at casinos were the highest, rising eight per cent to $509 million.

Yet the Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain acknowledged that when comparing the record losses to the previous 2004 record of $2.04 billion, “total gambling is in fact reducing in New Zealand”.

The New Zealand Herald further reported that a SKYCITY spokesperson says gaming revenue across its NZ and Australian casinos was 4.9 per cent, and its host-responsibility program was considered “one of the best in the world by gambling experts”.

A parliamentary select committee is claiming there is on-going secrecy around the deal between the government and SKYCITY, and is demanding transparency. The Ministry of Economic Development has invoked privacy to keep details of its negotiations with the casino top secret, reports Stuff.co.nz.

The debate around the alleged deal is one of losses and gains for the country, with the planned centre estimated to boost New Zealand’s economy by more than $90 million a year.