NSW regulator issues bumper fines in July

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
Geelong punters lose millions as pokies reopen

The New South Wales gambling regulator has been busy this month, issuing a number of fines.

Casino News Aus reports that July may be less than three weeks in, but the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority is making the most of it by issuing record-setting fines.

Liquor and Gaming New South Wales issued a fine of $172,000 to the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group for actions taken by Woolworths.

Woolworths owns 75 per cent of ALH, which is the third-larger pokies operator in Australia.

The fine of $172,692 on July 12 is the largest fine of its kind to date.

The penalty stems from inspections by Liquor and Gaming NSW at more than 50 ALH venues in the state.

Four of those inspections transformed into formal investigations, which resulted in two serious gaming infractions.

Westower Tavern in Ballina and South Tweed Tavern were the two violating clubs.

The government accused those venues of “systematically” supplying gaming patrons with free alcohol.

Both locations tried to encourage gambling by giving free liquor “shouts”.

Not only did employees offer alcoholic drinks for playing, the management at those locations encouraged the employees to do so.

They targeted regulator visitors to the pokies and high-stakes gamblers.

The NSW regulator found that staff encouragement to offer free drinks was “documented and managed through reports and staff emails.”

The investigators concluded that daily reporting targets weer tied to gaming profits and staff performances.

In addition to that record fine, the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority reprimanded the locations by forbidding them to operate poker machines for two weeks.

This could lead to more significant costs that the $172,000 fine.

Liquor and Gaming NSW chair Philip Crawford noted, “an operator owned by one of Australia’s biggest and most recognisable companies should run its businesses to the highest legal and ethical standards and be mindful of its capacity to cause harm to vulnerable people.”

Not the first time Woolies has been under the microscope

Woolworths has been scrutinised for years regarding its offerings to customers to entice gambling.

The company even conducted its own investigations into the matter.

A whistle blower came forward in 2018 to allege that Woolworths staff at two dozen locations offered free drinks to customers to keep them at slot machines for longer.

The connections between ALH Group and Woolworths also came under fire, as investors grew concerned about the pokies threatening the entire Woolworths brand.

This led the to the company combining its drinks and pubs sectors into a separate company.

The Endeavour Group would operate approximately 1,500 liquor stores and 327 pubs, about 30 per cent of Woolworths’ business and be worth nearly $10 billion.

The plan began to take shape before the end of 2019.

The new NSW discoveries, investigations and penalties puts the spotlight back on ALH and Woolworths.

And it couldn’t happen at a more inconvenient time as the businesses try to recover from months of shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Less than a week after Liquor and Gaming NSW levied the historic fine against ALH, the regulator topped itself.

It fined Dee Why RSL $200,000 after an investigation into the suicide of club member Gary Van Duinen in 2018.

Further, the club must establish a third-party exclusion scheme for problem gamblers, one that will be available to their family and friends to implement a ban on that gambler from entering the club.

The regulator has also assigned a gambling marshall to monitor the Dee Why RSL gaming area to ensure that anyone in the club understands and addresses gamblers with potential problems.

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