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High-stakes game played at Casinos

Chris Hutching

Friday 19th December 2003

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A high-roller game is under way at Christchurch Casinos between Queenstown businessman Barry Thomas and London-based Aspinall over a major shareholding stake.

Thomas, chairman of Christchurch Casinos, said yesterday a statement by Sky City to the NZX midweek confirmed his suspicions that talks had been going on without his knowledge about a rearrangement in the shareholding of the casino.

Late last week Thomas deposed Christchurch Casinos managing director Arthur Pitcher, an appointee to the casino board of 41% shareholder Aspinall, which was in talks with Sky about selling its holding. Pitcher retains his job as chief executive.

Aspinall has demanded Pitcher be reinstated as a director or its lawyers will serve an injunction.

Thomas is also chairman and a significant shareholder in Queenstown tourism and investment company Skyline Enterprises, which has 41% of Christchurch Casinos and wants the Aspinalls' stake if it is for sale.

Thomas is supported on the board by another Skyline director, Philip Hensman, against London-based director James Osborne. Stephen Lyttelton is an independent director.

Thomas said he removed Pitcher because he wanted a "neutral position" on the board. Ironically, Sky City is a 60% joint-venture partner with Skyline Enterprises in the Sky City Queenstown Casino.

Pitcher said yesterday he was constrained from commenting but he understood he was still a director even though the Companies Office records show he resigned on December 12. According to the constitution of the company, directors may be removed on a resolution.

Meanwhile, Aspinall (NZ) has issued its own statement, saying Pitcher cannot be removed without its approval.

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