Nigel Morrison SKYCITY

SKYCITY head honcho, Nigel Morrison, has unexpectedly stepped down from the board just as the firm was embarking on two major projects. (Image: AFP)

The boss of SKYCITY, the New Zealand casino and entertainment operator, is leaving his post after eight years.

Chief Executive and Managing Director, Nigel Morrison stepped down with immediate effect just as the firm had finalised plans to expand its Adelaide casino.

He will work out the rest of his tenure this month, leaving on April 29.

During his time at the head of the gambling empire, SKYCITY had grown massively and had even secured a deal with the NZ government over the building of a $700 million convention centre.

However, the deal has been mired in controversy over $450 million worth of government concessions for its gaming operations.

From Crown Pioneer to Casino Bigshot

While shares rose on the news of Mr. Morrison’s departure, questions still remain over the future of SKYCITY’s failing Darwin casino. Rumours have persisted that the firm may dump the casino altogether although chairman, Chris Moller, was quick to dismiss the idea.

Mr. Morrison’s career has been a story of exponential rise. He was instrumental in developing the Crown Casino in Melbourne alongside Kerry Packer. He joined SKYCITY boasting nearly 20 years of experience in the gaming industry in Australia and Asia, including a position as COO of Crown Limited. After joining SKYCITY in 2008, he turned the firm’s fortunes around and led it into the upper echelons of the NZX stocklist.

He kickstarted the mammoth International Convention Centre project, and a refurb of Adelaide’s railway station, saying he would, “like to see those two through and that’s another three to four years.” It seems as though he will not see either project through to fruition.

Construction Begins On SKYCITY Convention Centre

Work tentatively began on Auckland’s multi-million dollar convention centre in February, with PM John Key turning up to dig the first hole. It’s expected to be completed in 2019.

However, the project has been mired in controversy after it emerged that SKYCITY would be allowed more pokie machines in its casinos in return for funding the new international centre. Sweeteners for casinos in return for financing public projects are nothing new, of course. However, the whole deal has been heavily criticised.

Just last month, Crown Resorts was forced to build a public viewing platform in its new Barangaroo hotel tower which adjoins the firm’s new casino. Although Crown are yet to make a comment, it’s unlikely they will object if it means they can carry on with their lucrative new gambling project.

Morrison Lines Up Successor…Or Does He?

It’s not known who will take over from Morrison, but just two years ago the SKYCITY Entertainment Group chief executive namechecked chief financial officer, James Burrell, as a potential successor.

“I think internally, he’s a strong candidate but I’m not thinking of leaving, absolutely not,” Morrison said in 2014. The pressures of an “extremely demanding” job may have changed his opinion pretty quickly.

However, for now COO John Mortensen has been appointed as interim Chief Executive while the search for a successor continues.

Nigel Barclay Morrison Factfile

Age: 57

Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce, Melbourne University

Previous employment:

Corporate Finance Partner at Ernst & Young, Melbourne
Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer, Crown Limited
Group Chief Financial Officer, Galaxy Entertainment Group Limited Managing Director and Chief Executive, SKYCITY
Executive Director, SKYCITY
Awarded CPA ‘Career Achievement’ award