The poker machine business of the Australian supermarket giant Woolworths is facing massive penalties or even cancellation of gaming licences following investigation reports’ proof that the company has been providing its pokie customers with free alcoholic beverages to keep they playing on the machines longer.
The subsidiary through which Woolworths is operating the poker machines, ALH Group, is currently facing disciplinary proceedings as a result of the probe started over some whistleblowers’ allegations against the company.
As Casino Guardian has previously reported, Woolworths’ majority-owned ALH Group, which is currently the largest provider of poker machines in Australia, had been accused of secretly compiling personal details about its customers, including their gambling and drinking habits, favourite sports teams, beverage preferences, etc., in order to use that data to encourage players to spend more time playing pokies, and respectively, generate larger losses.
At the time, the allegations made by some whistleblowers were backed by federal Member of Parliament and long-time anti-gambling campaigner Andrew Wilkie, who presented a series of screenshots as evidence that ALH Group has been using their customers’ personal details to make them continue gambling. Some of the pieces of evidence revealed that staff members were rewarded with vouchers at the times when their venues reached betting targets.
Poker Machine Venues’ Staff Offered Various Enticements to Keep Patrons Spending
The first formal action taken by the Government into the case saw the gaming regulator in New South Wales (NSW) start disciplinary proceedings against two pubs which are operated by ALH Group – South Tweed Tavern and Westower Tavern. The regulatory body has described the illegal practice used by the venues’ staff to offer free enticements to players as “systemic”.
The Liquor & Gaming NSW’s investigation covered more than 50 venues offering poker machines and included interviews with venues’ management, staff and other witnesses, surveillance and reviews of CCTV and records. A spokesman for the NSW gaming regulator explained that the complaint which was filed with the authority alleged that the practice of offering free alcoholic drinks to gaming patrons was systemic at the two above-mentioned venues.
The regulatory action has added to the criticism faced by Woolworths to quit the joint venture with Bruce Mathieson, as part of which the Australian supermarket chain operates 330 gaming venues across the country and has over 12,000 poker machines. For some time now, anti-gambling campaigners in Australia have been pressing the company to leave the controversial poker machine industry, saying that pokies are not compatible with the values expressed by Woolworths and were a threat to the reputation of the brand.
An internal investigation in ALH Group, which was conducted by Woolworths in 2018, confirmed that staff members in 22 of its pubs situated in three Australian states actually collected personal details of high rollers. The collected information was also shared among the brand’s pubs, so that staff members were informed what enticements to use to make players gamble more and increase their losses.
Now, Woolworths’ pokie unit faces the chance for penalties including formal reprimands, monetary fines amounting to up to AU$110,000 and even the possibility for suspension or cancellation of operating licences. An ALH Group’s spokesman explained that the NSW regulator complaint was associated with activities at two of the brand’s hotels in 2017.