The allegations that the Australian supermarket and grocery store chain Woolworths has collected personal information on high-stake pokies players in 22 of its pubs in three states have been confirmed by an internal investigation. Furthermore, the investigation showed that the collected personal data was shared among the pubs of the brand in order to help staff find the most appropriate incentives to encourage VIP players to increase their losses.
In addition, Woolworths’ staff members in 22 pubs were found to have given free drinks to high-roller customers to encourage them to stay in the facility and continue gambling.
In February 2018, the Member of Parliament Andrew Wilkie, who is known as one of the most eager anti-pokies campaigners, revealed that staff at the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (ALH) which is currently owned by the grocery and supermarket giant, were collecting personal data of their customers in order to maximise the company’s revenue. At the time when this was brought to light, one whistleblower who has once worked in one of the pubs revealed that the information was written down so that staff members could make them stay as long as possible to put as much money into the poker machines as possible.
Now, the Chief Executive Officer of ALH Bruce Mathieson Jnr confirmed for Fairfax Media that some staff members had been fired as a result of the investigation, but refused to provide more details as state gambling regulators were still engaged in the investigation. Mr. Mathieson Jnr also refused to comment whether the investigation’s findings would have a further influence on the long-term relationship between ALH Group and Woolworths.
Woolworths Faces Criticism for Pokies Misconduct
At the time when the scheme was initially revealed, MP Wilkie shared that two whistleblowers who had used to being part of Woolworths’ staff shared the information with him. As he explained at the time, the subsidiary of the supermarket giant which owned and operated the pubs and its poker machines had been spying on the regular customers of the pubs as part of its attempt to maximise its profits. It had also shared the drinking and gambling habits of problem gamblers in order to make them stay longer in the facilities.
Currently, the ALH Group operates about 550 retail liquor shops and 330 venues in Australia, offering approximately 12,500 poker machines to local residents. The pokies revenue which is currently generated by the brand equals to about 10% of the total yearly revenue of the Australian supermarket and grocery shop chain.
As a result of the whistleblowers’ evidence, Woolworths faced increased criticism for spying on its customers’ gambling habits and recording personal information. The scheme used by the company has been called “immoral” and resulted in broken community trust for the operator.
Now, the company has revealed that a customer service program was operating in certain venues in Queensland, as well as in a small number of pubs in New South Wales and South Australia, over a six-month period in 2017.