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Woolworths board heard from activists

Mon, Jul 8, 12:22pm by Staff Writer

People who had their lives damaged by gambling spoke before the Woolworths board in the leadup to the supermarket giant’s decision to get rid of its poker machine and liquor businesses, South Coast activist Kate Roberts said.

The Nowra-based Gambling Impact Society had members of its “Lived Experience Project” speak to the board over the long campaign to convince the retail giant to get out of gambling.

This week, Woolies announced it would do just that, a move that was welcomed by Ms Roberts.

“We’re very pleased they are getting out of poker ownership,” she told The Mercury.

“Obviously, it still means poker machines will be passed on to another buyer, but it’s been a major conflict, in terms of presenting themselves as the fresh food people, and wholesome, and good service for the community – and at the same time obviously raking in billions through hardship of others.

“We think there’s an alignment for caring for their customers – and we have been part of the movement to encourage that, including having lived experience members come and talk at their board meetings in the past.”

“We are one of the founders of the Alliance for Gambling Reform [which has] been working very hard to get this outcome.”

Saying Woolworths was evolving into “a food and every needs ecosystem”, chief executive officer Brad Banducci announced Australian Liquor and Hospitality would be sold.

But recent cases where Woolworths-owned premises had been offering incentives for gamblers to stay playing had the company facing heavy penalties, and large shareholder Perpetual had told the Woolies board to get out of pokies.

“I have no doubt that Woolworths received some very significant publicity about some absolutely poor hotels in the past 12 months where there have been some quite devastating [actions] to provide incentives to keep people gambling,” Ms Roberts said.

“Hopefully they’ve taken that on board, because they’ve certainly been under scrutiny recently with regards to some of those behaviours.”

“I think that’s another good indication of why ethically, businesses need to take regulations into account, but more importantly, [consider] the morality and ethical stance of a business that’s associated with products that are doing our community harm.”

Woolies falls foul of pokies regulations

Australian supermarket giant Woolworth’s pokies business is facing heavy penalties or the cancellation of gaming licences after investigations found evidence it has been providing patrons with free alcohol to keep them gambling longer.

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that Woolworth’s majority-owned ALH Group, Australia’s biggest provider of poker machines, is facing disciplinary proceedings in the wake of the probe into whistleblower allegations implicating dozens of its venues.

The company had been secretly compiling personal details about gamblers such as drink preferences and favourite sports teams in a bid to encourage prolonged pokies sessions and heavier losses, it was alleged.

A series of screenshots, revealed in whistleblower evidence first presented by federal MP Andrew Wilkie in 2018, outlined what actions ALH staff would take to encourage patrons to stay gambling.

“Started slow, picked up after 9,” one note said.

“Coffees, drink shouts and toasties trying to keep them in.”

They also said staff were rewarded with vouchers when their venues hit betting targets, and were urged to “do whatever you have to do to keep people in the room.”

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