Dozens of Woolworths pubs are currently under investigation for serving free drinks to pokie players, illegally to help keep them gambling for longer. A whistleblower is now blowing the cover off these pubs, claiming that the staff was instructed by pubs to cover up their practices.
The NSW gaming regulator is currently inquiring over 50 pubs that are majority owned by Woolworths, a supermarket giant which holds a 75 percent majority stake in Australian Leisure and Hospitality (ALH). Liquor & Gaming NSW told ABC that it has issued coercive notices to obtain records and information from the pubs and has already interviews former and current patrons and staff of the pubs.
The regulator’s spokesman said that the comprehensive investigation has been going on for almost a year. Serving free or discounted alcohol to patrons to enable gambling is a criminal offense in NSW. The investigations began after independent MP Andrew Wilkie revealed that ALH and Woolworths are spying on people playing poker machines without their knowledge and even maintains a secret database of their personal information which is being used to encourage increased gambling.
The whistleblower in this case, Emma Pearson, is a former gaming room attendant at one of the pubs who noted that the regular gamblers or high rollers at the pubs were given free drinks or whatever they chose. She also said that the staff was asked to do the same and everyone from the managers to supervisors knew about it.
While working at a western Sydney ALH hotel, said that the practice was covered up by putting the drinks through the main bar till instead of the gaming room. The staff was told not to put that through the gaming computer so that it doesn’t appear on the till if the machines get audited. Staff would write that it was a local’s birthday on the docket at the main bar.
Neither ALH nor Woolworths has commented on the issue yet, but ALH head of regulatory and corporate affairs David Curry released a statement, denied the allegations, adding that they are working closely with the regulator. ALH owns over 300 licensed venues across Australia which have over 12,000 poker machines. The company does not declare its pokies revenue, but the Alliance for Gambling Reform suggests it could be at least $1.5 billion a year.
The company opted for an internal investigation and promised to forward its findings to the state regulators. Interestingly, documents obtained by ABC under Freedom of Information show that the company did not share its full report with the regulator. It only provided a summary of its finding and obscured detailed data on the grounds of legal privilege.