March 19, 2024

New CEO to be named at SkyCity amidst new hotel opening

By Ramona Depares

It’s exciting times for SkyCity Entertainment following a period of new project announcements and other upheavals, rumors are intensifying about the upcoming appointment of a new CEO.

The brand, which is considered one of the best online casino NZ offerings, has seen its fair share of shake ups in recent times, plagued with news relating to responsible gambling and other matters.

Now, it looks set to continue dominating the gambling landscape with significantly more positive news, with the opening of a new 5-star hotel expected to take place in the short-term future, and the appointment of a new CEO to herald the start of a new, and a more positive era.

And with current CEO Michael Ahearne stepping down at the end of the first quarter of 2024 to rejoin his family in Europe, SkyCity Entertainment officially announced that the recruitment process for the new CEO has been launched.

The quest to find the right person to head one of the top NZ online casinos is not going to be a simple one. If you, too, are asking yourself what this is likely to mean for the brand that’s so beloved by Kiwi players, Minimum Deposit Casinos New Zealand experts are here to shed some insight.

SkyCity made headlines in 2023

2023 could possibly have been described as SkyCity’s annus horribilis, following a series of issues and allegations that almost threatened its status as an NZ best online casino. And, although SkyCity chairman Julian Cook praised the outgoing CEO with Financial Review journalists for leading the casino through a “complex and demanding period”, many industry experts wondered whether the events of 2023 would have a domino effect on the brand’s performance.

Things started taking a dark turn for SkyCity, which enjoys a reputation for offering one of the top paying online casino NZ sites,  as early as December 2022 it made headlines for being under investigation by the Australian gambling regulator. The investigation resulted in the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) launching court proceedings due to alleged legal anti-crime shortcomings at SkyCity Adelaide.

As soon as news broke out, SkyCity embarked on a drive to address these shortcomings effectively, refining its anti-crime operations and investing in appropriate professionals to tackle the issue. These measures included an Adelaide AML senior management committee as well as a specialist Financial Crime team to monitor day-to-day compliance in a move that ended up being copied by a number of top online casinos NZ in an effort to avoid similar action being taken against them.

The court case, however, ended up dragging well into 2023 with SkyCity facing the possibility of completely losing its license to operate in Adelaide. The Australian gambling regulator even went as far as to enlist the help of a retired Supreme Court Judge Brian Martin to further investigate whether the punishment was appropriate.

As of September 2023, SkyCity was facing the possibility of a 10-day license suspension. Analysts also indicated that SkyCity casino could be liable for fines by 2024, leading the company to make a provision of AU$45 million ahead of the potential penalty.

Reuters reported that this was part of a broader strategy being followed by the Australian regulator, and that SkyCity was not the only online casino real money NZ brand to face such probes, with other competitors across Australia also being investigated and fined.

The news did take a heavy toll on company shares, with the New Zealand Herald reporting a drop of 16.4% to AU$1.815 as a result of investors rushing to resell their stock. While the shares currently remain undervalued, financial experts at have predicted a swift upturn in value, as the brand has taken rapid and strong steps to rectify the situation while re-establishing itself as a best online casino NZ site.

Events took an even tougher turn due to the company’s drop in profit throughout the year, with profits for the second half dropping to $68 from the $72 in the previous period. However, the NZ Herald attributed this drop to fluctuations between the NZ and the AUS dollar, rather than the legal proceedings that are on-going..

Things came to a head with an announcement in October 2023 that CEO Michael Ahearne had resigned and would be officially stepping down in March 2024. Ahearne had been promoted to CEO in 2020, after joining in 2017 and eventually serving as the Group COO. The search for a new incumbent began immediately, and the role is not a simple one to fill as the newcomer will be required to effectively lead one of the best online casino NZ sites out of its current predicament and back to its usual strong market footing.

The new CEO will also be responsible for the launch of the new SkyCity Entertainment 5-star property. Horizon by SkyCity is set to open its doors in Auckland in March 2024, its 938 rooms across three hotels securing SkyCity’s position as the largest single-site accommodation provider in New Zealand.

Designed by Moller architects, the project is expected to be one of the biggest Auckland has ever seen. The hotel complex will showcase ultra modern architectural features, with a curved glass facade, a pedestrian laneway, air bridges and a direct connection to the city precinct. World-class dining and entertainment options will all be a short stroll away within the complex itself.

While SkyCity has reported the project to be on track for completion by launch date, the upcoming months will undoubtedly be challenging ones for the new CEO. While there are ample rumors floating about who this may be, with some sectors quoting the possibilities of poaching directly from competitors and others suggesting that the newcomer may be a complete outsider to the NZ online casinos landscape, we can only wait for the official announcement to be made.

Background of SkyCity Entertainment

The name SkyCity Entertainment has always been synonymous with entertainment and hospitality and, since it opened the SkyCity Auckland complex back in 1996. Over the years, it has become known for providing Kiwi gamblers with the best online casino NZ services, respected for taking a customer-centric approach and for being one of the top paying sites.

1996 also saw the opening of the group’s original Auckland casino, following this up fast with casino launches in a number of New Zealand and Australian cities. The flagship Adelaide casino opened its doors in June 2000, followed by SkyCity Queenstown as part of the Otago resort town.

The group is not only known as a big player on the NZ online casinos landscape. The name SkyCity is also synonymous with a vast number of other leisure and entertainment services. In 2001, SkyCity Leisure was born after the group bought shares in cinema operator Force Corporation and rebranded it.

The upward trajectory continued intensifying after 2004 saw the group buying a 41% share of Christchurch Casino. Although Skyline Enterprises, which was the other majority shareholder, opposed the deal, the gambling regulator still gave it the green light. This move cemented SkyCity Group’s position as leaders on the gambling and leisure market, although it eventually resold the Christchurch shares to Skyline, replacing them with a 40% stake in Queenstown Casino to the tune of $5 million.

More leisure acquisitions followed with the purchase of Darwin Casino and Hotel from MGM Mirage. The property was then rebranded to SkyCity Darwin. The period between 2016 and 2019 was characterised by multiple casino purchases and transfers that represented huge growth for the group, allowing it to diversify its services within the entertainment and leisure industry and to go beyond regular casino operations. The launch of a number of fine dining restaurants, chic bars and even convention centers solidified this position.

Finally, 2019 brought with it what was to be SkyCity Group’s most ambitious gambling project: the launch of an online casino that could legally service Kiwi players. SkyCity online casino brought with it a fair amount of controversy. Operated by the Malta-based Gaming Innovation Group on behalf of SkyCity Malta Ltd, it successfully complied with all the requirements of the NZ gambling regulator so as to be able to join the ranks of the top new online casinos NZ.

Now, thanks to the opening of Horizon by SkyCity and the appointment of a new CEO, SkyCity Group is expected to put all the issues it faced throughout 2023 behind it and to focus on reviving a period of growth and development.

Challenges, hurdles and all, SkyCity Entertainment remains one of New Zealand’s biggest success stories. The secret behind its success is possibly not much of a secret at all, as the company’s history is testament to its ability to adapt and to be innovative in a notoriously competitive environment.

And, with the advent of a new CEO, all eyes are on this market leader to see what new developments may be in store for the group.

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