Woolworths, the Australian supermarket and grocery store chain, is once again in the centre of investigations over allegations that its pubs’ staff members have illegally offered free drinks to poker machine players to make them stay and play longer. For the time being, the offering of free or discounted alcohol in order to induce gambling is a criminal offence.
According to the claims of a whistleblower, pubs’ staff were instructed not only to offer the enticements to players but were also taught how to cover up the practice. The New South Wales (NSW) gambling regulatory body revealed for the ABC News that currently, there is an ongoing investigation of over 50 ventures operated by Australian Leisure and Hospitality (ALH), in which Woolworths holds a 75% stake.
The Liquor & Gaming NSW confirmed that it has issued special notices under which it managed to obtain a significant volume of information and records and to question both current and former staff members and patrons of ALH. A spokesman of the regulator has further revealed that the investigation started almost a year ago.
Free Drinks Used as Enticement to Make Players Continue Gambling
Evidence for the transgressions of the operator has been provided by a former employee of the company, who has claimed she was one of the ALH staff members who had been specially instructed to give free drinks to pokies players.
As reported by the ABC News, the former gaming room attendant Emma Pearson claims that staff at an ALH hotel in Western Sydney where she used to work were also taught how to cover up the illegal practice by putting the free drinks through the till at the main bar, rather than the one of the gaming room and write on the docket that it was a local’s birthday.
Despite the fact that neither Woolworths nor ALH have released an official commentary on the matter, David Curry, the chief of the Regulatory and Corporate Affairs at ALH, said that the pokies’ operator has been cooperating with the NSW gambling regulator. Mr Curry further denied the allegations that ALH provides any complimentary service of alcohol in Australian gaming rooms.
For the time being, over 300 licensed venues with a total number of approximately 12,000 poker machines are owned by ALH across Australia. According to data released by the Alliance for Gambling Reform, these pokies generate no less than AU$1.5 billion on an annual basis.
Investigation into Woolworths and ALH Started in February 2018
The investigation which is being held by the Liquor & Gaming NSW was given a start after Andrew Wilkie, an independent Member of Parliament and a long-time anti-pokie campaigner, unfolded allegations that Woolworths and its gambling subsidiary ALH were spying on their pokie-playing customers.
In February 2018, Mr Wilkie reported that the company spies on its poker machine customers without their knowledge and keeps their personal information, including gambling and drinking habits, in a special database and uses it to encourage people gambling. After facing the allegation, the company started an internal investigation. At the time when it was completed, however, ALH refused to hand over the full report to the gambling regulatory body citing legal privilege and instead provided a summary of the findings to the Office of Liquor and Gaming.
Mr Wilkie, however, said that documents provided to the regulator after the internal investigation did not meet proper standards.