Fri, Feb 15, 12:24pm by Staff Writer
A report by the ABC has revealed that dozen of Woolworths pubs are being investigated over claims staff illegally gave free drinks to pokie players to keep them gambling longer, as a whistleblower alleges staff were instructed on how to cover up the practice.
The NSW gaming regulator has told the ABC it is investigating more than 50 venues run by Australian Leisure and Hospitality (ALH), which is 75 per cent owned by supermarket giant Woolworths.
Liquor and Gaming NSW has hold the ABC it has “issued coercive notices to obtain a significant volume of information and records, and formally interviewed current and former ALH staff and patrons.”
The investigation has been going for close to a year and has been described as “comprehensive” by a spokesman for the regulator.
It is a criminal offence in NSW to provide free or discount alcohol to induce gambling.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 2018 that Woolworths has long tried to distance itself from its growing pokie machine empire.
In its annual report – in 2017 a 128-page document full of photos of smiling families – you won’t find mention of the words poker machine once.
A confidential report titled NSW Clubs Industry Insights and Tends drafted by industry consultants PKF for Clubs NSW describes a vast and growing gambling business.
The report charts the net profits of poker machines across Australia in pubs and clubs, revealing staggering profits per machine in NSW equating to $100,000 per machine per year, at an average of $272 per machine per day.
This translates to about $1.2 billion in net pokie revenue for Woolworths alone from its holdings across the country.
NSW Treasury estimates confirm the government is aware of the growth of pokie profits from pubs, expecting by 2021 that pubs will, for the first time, pay more gambling tax than clubs at an expected $893 million.
Whistleblower Reports Woolworths Instructed Pub Staff to Offer Free Drinks to Keep Pokie Players Gambling #Gambling #PokerMachine #Pokies #GamblingEnticement #Woolworths #NSW #Australia https://t.co/y3YqwMttOe
— Casino Guardian (@CasinoGuardian) February 14, 2019
Despite Woolworths’ apparent embarrassment in its involvement in the industry, ALH is fighting aggressively to increase the reach of its machines.
In Victoria it appealed the Supreme Court to challenge a local government decision to block one of its pubs from installing 40 machines in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
A former employee-turned-whistlebower, who has provided evidence in the investigation, told the ABC she and other ALH staff were told to give free drinks to poker machine players.
“If they were a regular gambler, or they paid high dollars on our machines then they’d give them a free drink of whatever they drank,” Emma Pearson, a former gaming room attendance said.
“They’d tell the staff to do the same, and that was right up the line – manager and staff, supervisors, everyone.”
Ms Pearson claims staff at a western Sydney ALH hotel where she worked at were taught to cover up the practice of providing free drinks to gamblers by putting them through the till at the main bar, rather than the gaming room.’
“We were told don’t put that through the gaming computer so if we get audited or checked, it wont come up on that till,” Ms Pearson said.
ALH owns more than 300 licensed venues across Australia, including 12,000 poker machines.
The company will not declare how much money it makes from pokies, but the Alliance for Gambling Reform estimates that it is at least $1.5 billion per year.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie told Parliament in February 2018 that Woolworths spied on people playing poker machines in their venues.
“Woolworths spies on its poker machine customers without their knowledge, keeps a secret database of personal information, and uses that information to encourage increased gambling,” Mr Wilkie said.
The Liquor and Gaming investigation began after Mr Wilkie’s allegations in Parliament.
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