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ALH visits city mayors to spruik pokies benefits

Mon, Apr 1, 1:22pm by Staff Writer

Pokies magnate and multi-millionaire Bruce Mathieson Junior has personally visited local mayors and offered to pay for community services for at least one council as part of a campaign for more favourable treatment for gaming venues.

The Age is reporting that the chief executive of Woolworths’ pubs and pokies business ALH Group is meeting with mayors across suburban Melbourne to argue the machines benefits for the community.

The move is set to counter the anti-pokies campaign that is gaining momentum across the nation, thanks to activists including Reverend Tim Costello.

According to one mayor, Mr Mathieson offered financial support services, including ones to treat problem gambling.

The gambling lobby is concerned that councils have an increasingly anti-pokies stance, which is squeezing suburban pubs and clubs of their revenue.

In late February, Mr Mathieson and ALH colleague David Curry travelled to Ringwood and met with Maroondah mayor Cr Rob Steane.

Cr Steane told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald that in the meeting, Mr Mathieson talked about ALH’s business plans, including for the Manhattan Hotel, the company’s only venue in Maroondah.

“The meeting finished with Mr Mathieson advising that ALH are keen to support community groups and/or projects that seek to respond to problem gambling,” Cr Steane said.

ALH is Australia’s biggest pokies venue operator and is 75 per cent owned by supermarket giant Woolworths.

The Bruce Mathieson group owns the remainder of ALH.

It is a leading member of the powerful pub and gambling lobby, the Australian Hotels Association.

Some councils have not welcomed Mr Mathieson’s lobbying, including Cr Shane McCluskey from Monash in Melbourne’s east.

Cr McCluskey has confirmed he would not be taking up the offer of a meeting with Mr Mathieson.

Mr Curry, on behalf of ALH, confirmed meetings with local mayors, but said the company would not comment on the detail of the discussions.

One council source who was present at one of the meetings with Mr Mathieson said the pokies baron’s lobbying “did not sit well with us”.

Mr Mathieson’s town hall charm coincides with a local government campaign by pubs lobby the Australian Hotels Association and a separate push by Community Clubs Victoria to campaign ahead of the 2020 local council elections.

Mr Mathieson wrote to a string of councils in February arguing the economic and social contribution made by ALH in each municipality and by the company’s 300-plus licensed premises and more than 15,000 staff nationally.

He also detailed the number of jobs his pubs generate and the support his hotels provide to local schools, clubs, community groups and charities.

Big political spend by pokies lobby in last year’s Victorian election

ALH also spent big at the most recent Victorian state election according to a recent report.

Victoria’s pokies-owning pubs poured their biggest ever political donation into the Daniel Andrews-led ALP as part of a $1 million campaign to deny the Greens the balance of power at the state election last November.

The Age is reporting that the Australian Hotels Association imposed a special one-off levy on pub poker machines to help bankroll donations of at least $500,000 to Labor and about $300,000 to the Coalition parties.

It also funded independent who preferenced with major parties.

The gaming industry feared the Greens winning the balance of power in Victoria due to their strong anti-pokies policies, including the phasing out of poker machines from pubs and clubs and introducing $1 maximum bets.

The community clubs sector also contributed to Labor’s dominant election victory and the routing of the Greens with its first ever state election campaign aimed at ‘mobilising’ the 600,000 members of its gaming clubs and encouraging them to vote for the major parties.

Pubs and clubs were alarmed when opinion polls last year pointed to a close election result, with one pub industry insider describing it a hung parliament as a ‘crisis’.

“Our clubs were under threat,” Community Clubs Victoria president Leon Wiegard told The Age.

“We didn’t want the Greens to have the balance of power with their draconian ideology.”

The Australian Hotels Association is the major lobby for pubs, hospitality and gaming, with members including Woolworths’ majority-owned ALH group and Australia’s biggest poker machine venue operator Crown Resorts.

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